We may not know everything about social media's effect on a show's ratings -- most measures of success are anecdotal at best -- but a new book, aptly titled Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage Audiences by Connecting Television to the Web, Social Media, and Mobile, attempts to establish best practices for harnessing the social TV movement. We spoke to the book's authors, Mike Proulx and Stacey Shepatin, senior vice presidents at Boston's Hill Holliday ad agency, about their findings, their favorite examples of socially integrated TV shows, and the viability of social TV in the future. Check out the interview below:
TVGuide.com: Everyone is buzzing about "social TV," but for people who aren't familiar with the idea, how do you define it?
: Social TV is the merging of social media and television or the impact social media has on television.
What are some recent examples of TV shows that do a great job of integrating social media?
The Voice does a terrific job of having #TheVoice hashtag appear during the moments that people are most likely to tweet about. So instead of having a persistent hashtag during the show, they're flashing it up during moments when people are going to notice it most, and create that social traction.
Shepatin: I think that the shows that are using [social media] as part of the content — like Jimmy Fallon does — it allows people to be a part of the show. What he does is pretty memorable. He's using Twitter to create content for the show. And I think he was sort of the leader who was doing it before anybody else.
How important do you think it is for talent to engage with fans? Do you think eventually it will be required of them?
Shepatin: People love to hear from the talent on the show — it's something most fans want, to get closer to the stars. The problem is: Can the talent do it the right way? Do they want to do it? Is it part of their contract to do it? I do [think it will eventually be required], just like how they're required to do a certain number of events to promote the program.
Proulx: I will say that there's something a lot more genuine and pure about it when talent decides to do it themselves.
Is there someone in particular you've noticed that with?
Proulx: Piers Morgan. He obviously has a vested interest in making his show as successful as possible, but he came to the realization that Twitter was an important tool on his own.
In the book, you question whether social TV is "engaging or exhausting."
: It is exhausting and tiring. During the Super Bowl I used every single second-screen app and experience possible, just to see what it would be like. To be honest, I wasn't able to pay much attention to the game itself, which is the whole reason why I was watching the Super Bowl. I was so concerned with what was happening on [social media].
Do you think viewers will get overwhelmed by all the choices and burn out eventually?
: The issue right now is there are just so many — too many — choices for engagement on the second screen. And that's part of the problem. The users are going to have to make some decisions on where to put their loyalty and where to invest their time and energy.
So it will be the survival of the fittest...
Proulx: It's not feasible to think that everyone is going to use all these apps. The users are going to have to make a choice, and that's how the consolidation is going to happen that we predicted. Twitter is the simplest, and to me, the most rewarding way of being part of that shared co-viewing experience around social media. But I don't think the second-screen apps will go away; they'll just continue to get better and become something that will reach more of a mass audience.
Do you think it will ever get to a point where networks are taking social buzz into consideration as much as Nielsen ratings?
: We don't believe social ratings will ever replace Nielsen ratings. We see it as an additional layer that gives us data we've never had before. It gives us this unfiltered focus group of insight based on all these social impressions that audiences are creating while they're watching TV.
: Definitely. If you look at The CW in particular, they're really struggling ratings-wise, but there's so much interaction with their programming on the second screen and people wanting to access their shows, that they definitely have to take that into account when they're looking at the viability of the show long-term.
Proulx: And not only is it showing up in the volume of social engagement, but it also shows us how people are actually reacting to the content on television — what moments resonate, what are those trigger points. It gives is this instant feedback loop that we've never had before.