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Methodology Matters: The Key to Social TV Measurement Is in the Details

5 minute read | December 2016

In a perfect world, consumer behavior would be easily measureable, interpretable and actionable. For social TV, that would mean social media users chatting about or referencing TV content would habitually mention designated hashtags and program accounts in their respective posts, allowing programmers and measurement providers to know exactly just what it is they’re talking about.

But social media interactions, with their truncated text, acronyms and inside jokes—including those about TV programming—aren’t just imperfect, they’re a world all their own. After all, audiences interact with programs in real time, posting their thoughts or sharing others’ posts as quickly as events unfold on screen with little regard for “official language.”

In order to get a total snapshot of social TV activity, measurement needs to account for the diverse and ever-changing ways consumers interact with programs. With that in mind, a recent Nielsen study took a closer look at two key considerations: classifiers and content type. With respect to these two considerations, Nielsen determined that:

  1. Classifiers, or the set of keywords used to identify and measure program-related activity, need to extend beyond the use of official program accounts and hashtags.
  2. The holistic social TV picture includes engagement with two types of content, “owned ” (posts from network, program and talent accounts) and “organic ” (generated by TV audiences), so measuring social TV engagement needs to do the same.


Developing a comprehensive classifier set of keywords, phrases, names, hashtags and accounts that people could mention while posting about a particular program is one of the keys to capturing total social TV activity. Audience members will sometimes use “official hashtags” or mention a show’s verified program handle, but they don’t always do so.

In fact, the study found that only 47% of Tweets sent about primetime series programing during the 2015-2016 broadcast TV season mentioned an official program hashtag. Consider it this way: the industry would miss more than half of all program conversation on Twitter if measurement was dependent on official program hashtags alone. And measurement doesn’t get much more comprehensive by adding official program Twitter handles. The interactive chart below demonstrates how much activity is measurable by various types of program terms and beyond.

And this pattern exists in varying degrees across genres.Out of all Tweets related to primetime reality series, just 34% included an official program hashtag. For comedies and dramas, the share of activity was slightly higher at 44% and 57%, respectively. And when programs aren’t airing, official hashtags play an even smaller role. Notably, only a mere 26% of non-live activity mentions program hashtags.

Limiting measurement to just the official hashtag and program account is not a reflection of the total engagement that is happening across programs. As demonstrated in the ranking below, quantifying program activity solely on official hashtag and handle mentions would alter the ranking of the most social shows. For the week of Nov. 2, 2015, nearly half of the top 10 most social programs would see their ranking drop as a result of this limited measurement.


Two types of conversation make up the total social picture for TV programming: owned and organic. Understanding engagement with both is essential to unlock value in social TV. Nielsen analyzed engagement with Tweets for new series episodes during October 2016 to better understand the breakdown between these two key pieces and found that 19% of engagements, including Retweets, replies, and quotes, were with content posted by owned accounts, like network, program and talent handles. Engagement with organic content, or Tweets originally authored by television audiences, accounted for the remaining 81% of engagement. So, for every engagement with an owned Tweet, there were just over four (4.1) engagements with organic Tweets.

With the majority of social TV engagement stemming from organic Tweets, trusted measurement of this social audience response is essential for networks considering the effectiveness of their marketing and on-screen stories in driving organic program buzz.Each individual piece of owned content however is more engaging. For that same month, there were an average of 70 engagements with each owned Tweet that was engaged with on Twitter, compared to just 8 engagements per original organic Tweet.Networks have a unique opportunity with owned properties to create quality content, post it at the right time and promote it strategically to drive engagement. Through analysis of engagement with owned Tweets, networks can understand how effective their owned posts are at driving different types of engagement compared to averages across new episodes.

There are two main takeaways from these findings.

First, capturing the total social conversation around TV programming requires tracking more than just official program handles and hashtags. In order to provide comprehensive social TV measurement, it’s imperative to consider a wider set of classifiers, like character names and organic program hashtags. Limited classifier sets not only result in underreporting of total program activity, but may also affect program rankings.

Second, understanding engagement with both organic activity and owned accounts is important for programmers seeking to fully understand program activity. While organic activity drives the lion’s share of engagement, there is significantly more engagement per Owned Tweet, providing networks with a clear opportunity to drive this portion of social buzz through strong content and optimized timing of posts.


Nielsen measures U.S. Twitter activity related to TV programs on English- and Spanish-language broadcast and national cable networks from three hours before through three hours after linear telecasts, local time, and on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis.

Analysis of the role of comprehensive classifiers included Twitter TV activity for new/live primetime episodes of series programs with official program handles from 9/1/15 – 5/31/16. Nielsen measurement uses a comprehensive classifier set that includes official program hashtags and handles as well as organic hashtags, program names, character names, talent names, talent handles and other program-related phrases.

Analysis of engagement with owned and organic Tweets included Twitter TV activity for new/live series episodes in October 2016. Owned Tweets are those originally authored by talent, program, and network handles. Organic Tweets are those originally authored by TV audiences.  Engagement with those Tweets includes Retweets, replies, and quotes. 

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