Think social media will drive viewers to TV programs? Think again

Content owners increasingly are turning to social media in hopes of being able to deepen relationships with regular viewers, and, perhaps more importantly, to attract new or occasional viewers to specific programming. But a new study suggests that while social media can help enhance existing relationships with viewers, if it’s used to often, it efficacy decreases. And, in the case of non- or infrequent  viewers, social media may have little–if any impact–on drawing them into the fold. The study, from the Council for Research Excellence, found that word-of-mouth is far more likely—five to 10 times more so–to attract new or infrequent viewers to a TV show than Facebook, Twitter, or other social apps.

“While our ‘Talking Social TV’ study found social media incrementally influential in drawing viewers to new shows as opposed to existing shows,” said Beth Rockwood, senior vice president, market resources, of Discovery Communications, who chairs the CRE’s Social Media Committee, “these latest findings suggest social media may have a stronger role in building relationships with a show for existing viewers than in drawing newer viewers to that show. If programmers already have a regular viewer watching their show, they can engage them further.”

The study helped the CRE identify two distinct types of viewers—the “repeaters” and the “infrequents,” Rockwood said. It also helped it “understand the relative roles of demographics and program genre in determining the impact of social media, and to observe the effects of different forms of communication on viewers.”

For instance, the study found that social media holds more sway with repeaters who are over 55 and white, and for infrequent viewers who are Hispanic, African American and male. It is also interesting to see the type of content that has most impact.

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CRE said a second study into the relationship of social media and TV viewing, encompassing a lengthier survey of respondents using mobile apps as diaries, is expected to launch later this year.

The academic review of the study was conducted by a team including The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Some other findings include:

  • For repeaters, the first encounters with offline word-of-mouth, or a one-to-one electronic communication such as an email or text, or a social-media communication, are related to higher viewing — while subsequent communications can have diminishing returns.
  • For repeaters, those receiving an initial social media message were found more likely to watch a show by one percentage point, with diminishing returns after each additional exposure to a social media message.
  • For infrequent viewers, social media and show promos were found to be less related to high viewing than offline word-of-mouth, which peaks at a four-percentage-point increase in the likelihood of sampling the show.  More than five social media exposures are needed to obtain the same one-percentage-point lift as one offline word-of-mouth exposure for these infrequent viewers. This suggests social media plays a role in encouraging sampling, but a smaller one;
  • Social media plays a stronger role for genres such as reality (a nearly four-percentage-point increase in likelihood of watching), sports (more than a two-percentage-point increase) and talk shows (approximately a one-percentage-point increase).

The CRE is an independent research group funded by Nielsen.

Click here for more details on the research.

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