If Twitter is any indication, people are really into scandals, murder, motorcycle gangs, zombies and Cookie. Nielsen Social conducted a recent study that analyzed 113 primetime television programs from premiere to finale paying special attention to the total number of episodes within each show’s season (taking place between September 2014 – May 2015) individual tweeters engaged with and discussed on Twitter. The main findings? Viewers actively engaged around certain shows on Twitter are extremely passionate and loyal, bolstering audiences and conversations around these shows, drawing in new viewers and tweeters while big, buzzworthy moments or episodes drive more fans and casual viewers to join in on the social conservation taking place around that show.
In what should come as little surprise, the study revealed that ABC’s megahit “Scandal” came out as the top program amongst viewer loyalty on Twitter, with social loyalty defined as individuals who tweet about three or more episodes of a show over the course of one season. After all, anyone who knows a bit of history behind “Scandal” can attest to the fervor of the show on social media, as fans gather each week to dissect and freak the freak out over each scandalous twist.
“Scandal” is arguably one of the first shows to truly engage a rabid social following and audience. Debuting quietly as a midseason show in 2012, “Scandal” slowly built up a loyal and passionate audience over the course of its first and second seasons, with cast members live-tweeting each episode and fans getting more wrapped up in Shonda Rhimes’ twisty, OMG-worthy rollercoaster ride that by the time its second season was coming to an end, it had become a bonafide smash: the must-see show of the social media era. Now heading into its fifth season, the show has only grown increasingly popular ever since, prompting new viewers to catch up via streaming and binging so they won’t be in that gut-wrenching position of being spoiled by foolishly logging onto Twitter without having watched that week’s episode.
Coming in a close second place amongst viewer loyalty on Twitter was “The Walking Dead,” which also happens to be cable’s highest rated drama series. Rounding out the top five are freshman series “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Empire,” both among the biggest breakout hits of last season and “Sons of Anarchy,” which rode off into the sunset with its much-anticipated farewell season this year. All of these programs posted a loyalty rating above 21% and the individuals behind the conversation were shown to be quite influential tweeters, with the study finding that these authors tended to post at least 3 tweets per episode and have 50% more followers than the average viewer – statistics that should no doubt make TV programmers and network executives salivate over utilizing these makeshift guerilla marketers to increase buzz, conversation and awareness around their programs.
The study also found that the total number of individuals tweeting about a particular show throughout the season is actually larger than the number of loyal individuals that tweet about a given show every week. An average of 10 times as many individuals tweeted about a show at some point throughout its season in total compared to the number that tweeted in an average week, showcasing that more causal fans and viewers jump in and out of the conversation at will on social media over the course of the season. Typically, the total number of individuals tweeting is highest around the premieres and finales of each program, gradually decreasing from the premiere, spiking around the midpoint of the show’s season and then dipping again before gradually increasing until finale time.
What also contributes to a show’s social conversation on a week-by-week basis and the coming weeks afterwards are big moments, twists and stunts. These are key moments that advertisers and networks can harness the increased interest and conversation around a show after a big moment occurs in order to engage and retain these more casual viewers into becoming loyal viewers. A prime example of this would be “Grey’s Anatomy” which late last season (SPOILER ALERT) killed off original character Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd, leading the show to earn its highest ratings in three years, and created a deluge of social media posts, outrage and mourning. That huge event no doubt brought back more casual viewers who haven’t watched the show, now heading into its 12th season, for quite some time and gave them a reason to join the social conversation.
Whether its for hardcore devotees to discuss their favorite shows down to the tiniest, episode-to-episode details, a casual place for viewers and fans to chat about a show they like or a platform to garner buzz and new viewers through rampant word of mouth, Twitter has undoubtedly become the 21st century version of the watercooler.