How social media are changing Television, with a focus on Twitter

January 5, 2015

Written by Alessio Stringari


In the last few years internet and social media changed completely our daily lives. The way in which we relate with other persons has radically mutated since the introduction of social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Nowadays news travel at the speed of a tweet, everyone with its smartphone has become a reporter, with just a finger touch users can spread news about accidents, natural phenomenon, sport etc. These innovations not only are changing people’s lives but also the “old” mass media have to adapt themselves in order to “survive” in this new environment. According to Hermida & Thurman (2008) websites such as YouTube, MySpace and Wikipedia enable any user to upload videos, comments, photos and much more online, becoming what is defined as User Generated Content (UGC). At this point newspapers, broadcasters, radios have to make a decision: embrace this new technological and social development or risk to face shrinking figures in the number of customers.


The purpose of this paper is to analyse how social media and in particular social networks like Twitter are changing the principal mass media or rather the television. The approach of this essay is composed of a first part based on a literature review to examine the existing works concerning this phenomenon and in the second part the focus is on three different case studies that aim to explore deeply the potentiality of social media in the Television business.

Literature Review

As often happens with new technologies and internet related innovations also the terms social media and social networks are frequently misunderstood or used as a synonym. Although this implication is wrong because the two terms have different meanings that now we are going to define. Social media as claimed by Kaplan & Haenlein (2010) is a set of different internet applications established in the Web 2.0 environment that allows the creation and sharing of User Generated Content. Furthermore as stated by Mangold & Faulds (2009, p.358) “Social media encompasses a wide range of online, word-of-mouth forums including blogs, company-sponsored discussion boards and chat rooms, consumer-to-consumer e-mail, consumer product or service ratings websites and forums, Internet discussion boards and forums, moblogs (sites containing digital audio, images, movies, or photographs), and social networking websites, to name a few”. Therefore social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are just a slice of a broader entity named Social Media.  The cases in the coming part are based on the social platform Twitter, therefore in this section we explain what this website is about and how does it work.

Twitter is a social network and microblogging website founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Evan Williams and Biz Stone. This particular social media “allows people to publish (tweet), reply to, and forward posts that cannot exceed 140-characters in length” (Smith, Fischer & Yongjian 2012, p.103).  Every user has a profile page, where is possible to find all the texts or “tweets” sent by this particular user. Although Twitter is not limited to publish something in your personal board, every tweet has the capability to reach potentially every person registered on Twitter (except the case of private profile, in that case only the followers can read the tweet).

One of the main characteristic of Twitter is the use of the so called “hashtag”, that means writing the word or argument that interest you and put at the beginning the # symbol. In this way you can show to your followers that you are talking about a specific topic and by clicking on the hashtag you are able to see all the tweets regarding this topic.

A research conducted from Jansen et al. (2009) shows that 19% of the tweets analysed mention either a company, organization or product brand. Furthermore 20% of these tweets are about expressing opinion, personal point of view, positive and negative feedback about brands, company or products. This figure shows how the word-of-mouth generated on Twitter and other similar social network can have a significant impact on the companies mentioned.

Over the centuries word-of-mouth (WOM) has been considered as a vis-à-vis conversation between customers, consumers about a product or a service experience (Sen & Lerman, 2007). Yet we now live in a high technological environment, where WEB 2.0 is at hand from morning to night; for WEB 2.0 we meant all the “computer network-based platforms upon which social media application/tools run or function.” (Weinberg & Pehlivan, 2011). Consequently we have to distinguish between the old-fashioned WOM and the brand new Electronic WOM, eWOM include any comment, both positive and negative, made by current, potential or past consumer about a specific company, product or service through the use of Internet and WEB 2.0 based applications (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004).

Focusing on the television business, one of the daily choices of every viewer is about which television shows, news and broadcaster decide to pick. As suggested by Romaniuk (2007) one of the common assumption about WOM is that dissatisfied people share more their negative experiences compared to satisfied users, in order to prove it the author analysed  the effect of WOM in the selection of different tv shows. The results indicate that the reach of WOM was mostly low, but positive word of mouth was prevalent and likely to influence people compared to negative word of mouth. 

Nowadays in the modern environment, more and more power is gained by the “WOM 2.0”, and Twitter, due to the characteristics discussed before, can be selected as the ideal social media where people are able to share their opinions. As mentioned by Hanna et al. (2011), interactive technologies enabled the change from a passive WEB 1.0 model to an active and participant WEB 2.0, where consumers are both the initiators and receivers of information and contents. In the following section we are going to analyse how practically social media are changing television, using examples from TV shows, sitcoms, Breaking News and the social network Twitter.   

Case studies

I.         TV Shows

Taking a cue from the inspiring article of Hanna et al. (2011) we are going to examine how the Twitter community, without any organised campaign, can affect a TV show. In the mentioned academic research it has been analysed the effects of a social media campaign on the American music show Grammy Awards, which helped to achieve the best ratings in years. The show was nominated program of the week with more than 26 million viewers and an increase of 32% in the profitable segment of 18-34 year old.

Otherwise the example chosen for this paper is the Italian Music Festival of Sanremo, the most important music award in Italy, first broadcasted in 1951 which in the last years experienced shrinking number of viewers and low percentage of young audience.

The purpose of this case is to prove, or at least show, that eWOM can impact the viewing results of a TV show even without any organised campaign from the show producers.

During the 2012 edition (in the years prior to 2012 Twitter was barely known in Italy) more than 244.000 tweets were using the hashtag #sanremo, with an average of almost 50.000 per evening (source: As shown in the table below, the red lines representing the number of viewers (in thousands) have a similar trend as the blue line which stand for the number of tweets mentioning #sanremo. Even we can only assume there is a positive correlation between the number of tweet and the number of viewers, additionally we have to consider that #sanremo related words were in the Twitter trend topics during all the Festival days and that created even more eWOM.

img “stringari_image” alt=”Sanremo data 2012"

img “stringari_image” alt=”Sanremo data 2012"



II.         Breaking News

Compared to other Social Media like Facebook or YouTube, Twitter is considerably faster and straightaway. Many political leaders now communicate theirs ideas and statements first on Twitter, for instance Enrico Letta (Italian prime minister), on the 13th  of February 2014 posted on Twitter that he was going to resign as prime minister the following day. Twitter hence has become one of the main sources of information for news broadcaster all over the world; it is not possible for them to avoid it, they are “compelled” of using Twitter both in order to get news and share news.

Another major example of the capability of Twitter is during extraordinary events like earthquakes. Taking once more Italy as a model, during a recent earthquake that hit a region in the north east, Twitter was the first source of information, with users promptly tweeting using the hashtag #terremoto (earthquake in Italian). Even before the office of Geology released any press report about the epicentre and power of the seism, it was possible through the number and geolocalization of the tweets attest quite precisely where the earthquake hit most. Moreover Twitter was not just a social media, it has been used to help rescuing persons from remote zone where the landline communications were damaged.

img “stringari_image1” alt=”terremoto hashtag earthquake”

img “stringari_image1” alt=”terremoto hashtag earthquake”



  III.         Sitcoms 

Previously we analysed how social media transformed TV Shows and Breaking News, but also TV series have been affected by this innovation. When any of the most famous sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother” or “The Big Bang Theory” are aired, on Twitter the spectators immediately start to comment their favourite scenes using the dedicated hashtag and at the same time interact with other fans to share their personal opinions. But since not all the viewers of a sitcom are able to watch it live, the phenomenon of the “spoilers” grown considerably in importance, for spoiler it meant the fact of commenting in a place (for instance Twitter or Facebook) where other persons interested in the show could be “spoilered” by reading some comments that will break the surprise effect.

Can broadcasters do more other than invite people to comment using the dedicated hashtag? Yes, they do, an interesting sample is the exploiting of Twitter from the producer of “The Big Bang Theory”, whom created for each character of the sitcom a personal Twitter page (using the artistic name) that allows them to enhance eWOM even in the days that the TV series is not aired.


img “stringari_image2” alt=”Sheldon Cooper Twitter”

img “stringari_image2” alt=”Sheldon Cooper Twitter”



General Discussion and Conclusion

Even if the aim of this paper was very challenging, I found this topic particularly interesting to research and the analysis of a phenomenon like social network could be rewarding and demanding at the same time. The findings show that television is not fastened in the “World 1.0”, it is moving following the latest social trends, especially in order to not lose younger audiences.

As mentioned by Chorianopoulos & Lekakos (2008) Television is moving towards a concept of Social TV, where viewer are not passively watching contents but they are actively participating and interacting. This could be achieved thanks to the latest technologies, such as interactive televisions or more often via smartphone and social media applications.

Albeit Twitter is not the social network with the largest number of users, it is growing at exponential rate all over the world, and as shown in the previous cases is having a remarkable effect on the television galaxy, definitely changing it. 


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