What came first – Twitter or TV?

There have been 2 pieces of news doing the rounds in the last week on how Twitter influences TV viewing. In the US, Nielsen has just released a study that shows that, on average, an 8.5% jump in Twitter conversation about a show generated a 1% increase in ratings. And closer to home, UKTV have said that they believe Twitter conversation has driven TV ratings for their shows.

Putting aside that a 1% increase in ratings seems to be a derisory uplift (1% of a TVR of 3 puts it up to a whopping 3.03), and the good PR for Twitter, there is a danger that we lose sight of the bigger, more significant relationship between TV and Twitter: that TV is a huge driver of conversation on Twitter. The TV-on-Twitter phenomenon shows just how much TV still drives popular culture and what we talk about with each other. Second Synch’s data neatly shows the conversation patterns on Twitter mirror the rhythms, peaks and talking points of shows on TV. It doesn’t really happen the other way round.

A Twitter vs. TV debate is not particularly helpful, because the really useful and interesting bit for advertisers is the interplay between the two – and the opportunity to tactically or strategically be a part of conversation around TV, ideally adding value in some way. But it does throw up a point to consider: to what extent does social media really shape what we do, or is it more of a mirror of what’s happening in the world, in our lives or on our TV screens. This is a fundamental point, because it relates to if/how social media really drives behaviour or perception change in advertising. I don’t think there is an answer to this question yet, but it’s something as an industry we need to continue to interrogate.

For the record, I think it does – but not in the same immediate, linear way that broadcast advertising does. Which leaves a big question: how do brands influence behaviour, at scale, through social media?