Live Tweeting: Commentary or Free Advertising?

As of 2015, live tweeting has become an integral part of how we experience television. Turn on any primetime show and you’ll probably see a hashtag in the corner of your screen urging you to weigh in on what you’re watching. While this is a great way to have a conversation with the world, it’s also a great ploy by networks and showrunners to get free advertising. By tweeting about a show and using a relevant hashtag, you are generating interest by those reading your tweets and are pretty much acting like a giant, walking billboard.

Live tweeting has become so integral to the TV experience that Nielsen TV Ratings developed a way to record and count not only the tweets about shows, but also the people reading the tweets, to measure program ratings. On average, the audience viewing the live tweets are That’s a lot of potential viewers to advertise to. Even negative tweets contribute positively to the ratings system. Though you may be bashing a show you hate, if you use an official hashtag, you are generating interest from everyone who sees the tweet, adding to the Nielsen Ratings. Even if you feel strongly about a certain show, you may want to think twice before posting.

Top rated shows like Empire, Scandal, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, and many more, create conversations with their hashtags. Writers and actors interact with fans and answers questions, while the fans themselves are free to discuss the plot while it’s happening. Teen Wolf includes specific hashtag cues in the corner of the screen that help to focus the conversation and to keep it catalogued. The show trended the hashtag #RIPAllison when a beloved character was killed off and fans—myself included—vented their frustration or mourned with each other over this shocking death. The marketing team over at MTV knew that the killing off of this character would generate a lot of buzz, so they created the hashtag to contain all of the tweets so that they could be counted for ratings.

Scandal, one of television’s biggest shows, has hashtags specific to the show and its fans. They call themselves the #Gladiators and they get #ScandalThursday trending every Thursday as well as big, pivotal moments in the show like #youwantmeearnme and #TheSecretIsOut. These hashtags create ongoing conversations that change on a week-to-week basis and involve almost everyone with a Twitter account. Whether you watch one of these shows or not, you will most likely see a tweet commenting on it and maybe it’ll be enough to spark your interest and get you into the show itself and to tweet about it, continuing the cycle. That’s what networks are hoping for.

By tweeting about a show while it’s happening, you may also be able to affect the show. Programs like NBC’s The Voice count tweets as votes to decide which contestant stays and which contestant goes home. The hashtag #VoiceSave can be used at a specific time in the show to save a singer who’s in the bottom three. When Carson Daly tells the audience to go on Twitter to save their favorite artist, NBC is ensuring that people are watching the show live—and not DVRing and watching it at a later date—lest they don’t get a chance to cast their vote. It’s a brilliant marketing decision from an industry that feared that the invention of the VHS and the DVR. Networks used to believe that recording shows would affect their ratings, and therefore cause their advertisers to drop them. Involving live tweeting within the show itself guarantees live viewers that you can then advertise to.

Last year on The Voice, the May 13th episode earned the record for the most tweeted-about TV series episode. 1.92 tweets were tweeted about the episode and those tweets were seen 29.8 million times by 3.8 million people. That’s an incredible amount of people having a conversation about the show and NBC benefits from the free advertising. Despite being one of the most highly talked about shows on the air, Scandal was beat out by the new show Empire with the amount of tweets per episode. Empire averages about 381,770 tweets per episode while Scandal averages 355,012 tweets per episode. If you’re going by the Nielsen TV Ratings equation, roughly 1.9 million people have heard about both of these shows. That’s an incredible amount of people being reached just through Twitter alone. Fox and ABC have their advertising cut out for them when all they have to do is build a fanbase and let them talk.

Tweeting about a TV show is kind of like wearing a Hollister shirt. You’re in high school and you want to wear the coolest clothes that everyone is talking about, so you buy a shirt on clearance with the Hollister logo right smack dab in the middle. Now, everyone knows that you shop there and they might be a little jealous—now they might want to shop there themselves. All Hollister did was make the shirt, you provided the advertising. Just like the network provided the show you cared so much about that you had to tweet it.

This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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