Social media not yet the TV water cooler

DetailsJoseph O'Halloran | 10 March 2015

Contrary to current received wisdom, and some studies, word-of-mouth, or water cooler conversation still holds more influence over viewers than social media says the Simon Business School (SBS).

In its review of the effectiveness of social media within the modern TV environment, in a paper entitled Talking Social TV 2, the business department at the University of Rochester recognised that for the 115.6 million television viewing homes in the US, watching a favourite programme is no longer like it used to be.

Specifically, it noted that the TV world now very much includes social media and mobile devices, with individuals tuning-in with a second screen and interacting in new ways, meaning viewer feedback is almost instantaneous.

Given this growing trend, SBS suggests that one would think social media is dominating the battle for TV viewership. Yet even though it still found social media, especially Twitter, brought clear benefits to TV shows in real-time, the SBS research discovered that offline word-of-mouth was more influential to get a new viewer to watch a new programme, thus increasing a show's ratings.

The results also showed how that for individuals who watch the same programme regularly, known as repeaters, and infrequents — defined as individuals who do not view the same show regularly — offline word-of-mouth was the strongest form of communication that influences their television viewing. For infrequents, social media communications were actually more influential than promotions for shows, whereas for repeaters the opposite is true.

Researchers took into account the potential effect of all forms of communications on different types of programmes, whether network or cable, new or returning. According to their model, they predict that reach-focused word-of-mouth would raise ratings for returning shows like The Voice, as well as new shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

"Our research, which included a major data integration effort, shows that television viewing is influenced by all types of communication, whether it's social media, offline word-of-mouth, or a text message," commented Mitchell Lovett, associate professor of marketing from SBS and a lead researcher on the project.