remote control television

Twitter’s sweet spot is creating real-time conversations about current events. As such, the platform is a natural match for television networks. The skyrocketing popularity of social media and mobile devices have changed how executives and viewers think about live TV, and Twitter is taking the lead in that shift.

Looking through Twitter’s  activity over the past year, the company has made some smart strategic moves to stay at the head of the pack. Here’s a review of how Twitter got a jump in the world of social television and the steps it’s taken since then to revolutionize how we watch television.

Dominating Hashtags


When television networks started looking for ways to get viewers involved with their shows and commercials, the natural way to foster those conversations was with hashtags. This powerful Twitter feature creates a log of real-time discussions that can be searched later, which is helpful for both viewers and networks.

At the time hashtags made their first appearances on TV, Twitter was the social channel that leveraged the tool most effectively. While other networks have also long relied on hashtags, Twitter’s availability on any computer or mobile device made it a more natural fit as a second screen option. Plus, it highlights trending hashtag topics, giving brands extra incentive to get their fans talking so that a bigger potential audience might get hooked on vibrant, topical conversations.

Once a few brands hopped on the Twitter bandwagon, including hashtags in commercials, this tactic started to become more and more common. Soon, individual programs followed suit, encouraging fans to chime in with conversations while they watched.

Talk shows in particular were able to get large audiences involved through Twitter. Hosts Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brian use hashtags on their accounts to generate buzz for their daily broadcasts. Some shows took it even farther, such as Psych on USA Network, which created an entire transmedia game to engage fans in the week between air times.

Smart Acquisitions

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Twitter laid further groundwork for making inroads in television through strategic acquisitions. It purchased Bluefin Labs in early February. The company specializes in social TV analytics. Another major buy came in the form of Trendrr, a social TV-focused firm. Trendrr developed a tool called “Curatorr” that was designed to work with Twitter to provide new experiences combining real-time TV with social media.

The strong television bent of these big purchases gave Twitter access to more tools to attract interest from networks. With the right means for tracking and analyzing its efforts in social TV, Twitter began to position itself as a valuable partner for industry leaders who want to get a jump-start on the new trend.

Specialized New Features


Like any savvy social network, Twitter is frequently developing and testing out new features for its members. Several of the developments in the past year have had a distinct focus on television programming and viewers.

First, the network rolled out an advertising feature called Twitter Amplify in May. This tool lets marketers promote television clips on the platform. Several television networks have gotten involved with Amplify, which mostly started off with sports replays. The early list of Twitter’s partners for Amplify included several sports media juggernauts, such as ESPN and

Over the summer, Twitter opened up the ad targeting product to any advertisers running national commercials in the U.S., further connecting the social platform with traditional television marketing. It also signed on CBS as a partner — a major network to add to the program.

Also, the involvement of top television networks with specialty Twitter advertising features shows how seriously those networks consider the potential for combining social media with live TV shows.

Another development came when the network began trials of a trending shows feature that highlights links to popular television programs at the top of the Twitter timeline. These interactive tweets link to pages with additional information about the show. Twitter started the small-scale testing in August on its iOS platform, a reasonable choice for the growing second screen crowd. As of Nov. 20, the feature became available to all mobile users.

Partnering With Nielsen

Nielsen ratings

Nielsen has been the gold standard for television ratings for years, and placement on those charts can mean life or death for programming. The increasing use of second screen devices and other technologies for easier recording and rewatching of shows called the ratings strategy into question. Rather than succumb to the new trend, Nielsen and Twitter formed a unique partnership to include social media buzz in calculating a show’s audience size.

The tool will gather information about how many people tweet or read tweets about top shows. Just like the traditional Nielsen ratings, it can estimate the size of audience and number of impressions. The tool launched in October 2013.

Not only does an affiliation mean more credibility for networks in understanding how their programming performs, but it opens up new opportunities for sales teams as well.

What’s Next?

woman with binoculars

Twitter has shown that it is serious about making television a key part of its business model going forward. The company could take that interest in many different directions, but we’ll have to stay tuned to see where the network goes next with social TV.

[Image credits: Edwart Visser, Beth Kanter, Victor1558Garrett HeathMichael StyneMark Roy]