Twitter and TV – a pause for reflection

Twitter and TV – a pause for reflection

Nigel Wally

Decipher’s Nigel Walley is a massive Twitter fan and counts himself as a ‘super-user’. He is also a massive fan of broadcast TV and likes the story the two are somehow mutually beneficial – but now feels it is a myth that has spun out of control. There is no data, he says, to back up the wild claims flying around and, if anything, the data disproves them…

I have finally recovered after AdWeek. I went to four conferences and followed two more on Twitter, which was over-kill. As I sat in the final conference, my overriding thought was how those of us in new media have yet to make the case for a central role for the web and social media in marketing budgets.

It was like 2003 all over again. There were some truly dreadful presentations from new media types, but the area that bothered me most was the perpetual over-claiming for the role of Twitter around TV.

I am a massive Twitter fan and probably count as a ‘super-user’. I am also a massive fan of broadcast TV. I like the story that they are somehow mutually beneficial, however it appears to have spun out of control.

It has leapt from an observation of concurrent use, to an implication of symbiotic dependence, to the point where now Twitter are peddling the line that not only do they influence TV audiences, but that a brand advertiser can get material benefits from co-ordinating Twitter campaigns with TV ad spots.

The only problem is that there is no data to back any of this up. Or if anything, the data disproves it.

The difficult truth is that the majority of people within the UK television audience don’t use Twitter. This fact, that it only ever represents a small sub-set of an audience, has huge implications for Twitter as a measurement tool, let alone as an audience driver or advertising medium.

Around TV, Twitter flags up ‘noise’, which is fun, but it is not ‘representative’ or ‘attributable’ noise. It can be used to create fun TV charting tools, for the Twitter-using audience but it does not imply that Twitter can affect audience size apart from a small number of exceptional shows.

We would recommend a blog by Paul McGrath of CBC who has done a simple analysis of the difference between correlation and causality around Twitter and TV audiences. He makes the case that most Twitter stats quoted around TV are correlations and do not imply a causal relationship – if anything, Twitter benefits from TV success not the other way round. He shows that Twitter is an interesting gauge of the audience, i.e. reflecting noise, but is not a measurement of it, or even a driver of it.

As a comparable measurement system, the BARB panel is also a sub-set, but it makes no claim to be anything other than a panel. But it is one in which a huge amount of work has been done to make its profile representative and relevant to the industry that uses its data.

Secondly, the data sets it quotes are tailored to a specific job: calculating broadcast audience sizes and allowing the targeting and evaluation of TV ads. Unlike Twitter, it claims no other role.

On Twitter’s more pro-active claim of being an advertising medium in the TV context, it is clear that Twitter does not let you talk to a TV ‘audience’ as they claim; just a self selecting sub-set.

If you are buying or selling social ad formats that relate to TV shows, you need to show who this sub-set is, and how they relate to the main broadcast audience. There is a complete absence of any data on this in the case studies I see Twitter present. I would suspect that for most TV shows the answer is that it can’t.

A major problem is that Twitter, and all the other social media formats, don’t seem to understand the difference between ‘scale’ and ‘reach’. Social media loves ‘scale’. We see too many social media presentations that quote the number of people that have accounts, or how many people use a service daily, or how many total interactions may have happened in a given moment. These are just scale numbers. Most of those interactions have no implication for the marketing industry and aren’t usable.

It’s just willy-waving, or what Thinkbox would amusingly call ‘number-wanging’. Advertising doesn’t work that way.

This is a synopsis of a longer blog. Click here to see the full length version on the Decipher blog.

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