What Marketers Can Learn From Consumers’ Social Media and TV Habits

The 2 often go hand in hand

Social media allows marketers to evaluate the impact of their ads and fine tune accordingly. - Credit by Veenaben Patel/Getty Images
Headshot of David Schweidel

Social media and television viewing make strange bedfellows.

Social media makes it easier for fans of television programs to connect with each other and have shared viewing experiences. Unlike television viewing parties that required everyone to convene in the same physical space, however, social media facilitates social interactions without requiring viewers to congregate in the same place. If you’re engaged with the program you’re watching to the extent that you’re talking about it online, that increased attention may spill over to the advertisements embedded in the programming. On the flip side, if you’re busy engaging in online conversations about the program you’re watching during commercial breaks, you’re not necessarily going to be paying attention to the advertisements that air during the program.

Recent research has investigated how social media activity about television programs (what we refer to as “social TV” activity) affects different outcomes that may be of interest to marketers. One metric that marketers monitor is online word-of-mouth surrounding their brands. Advertising may spur more online conversation compared to the volume of conversation that was observed before the advertisement, controlling for other factors that might explain the difference.

The content and timing of the ads play a large role in how much word-of-mouth changes following the airing of the ad.

Looking at it this way, social media monitoring can provide marketers with a quick and cost-efficient means of evaluating the impact of their advertisements. From here, they can determine which of the factors under their control can be fine-tuned to improve the performance of the ad. This includes not only the content of the advertisement but also the networks and program(s) where the advertisements appear.

With regards to online word-of-mouth surrounding brands that advertise in television programs, as you might expect, the content and timing of the ads play a large role in how much word-of-mouth changes following the airing of the ad.

With regards to timing, ads occurring in earlier ad breaks generate more online word-of-mouth for the advertisers. Additionally, ads that feature digital tie-ins such as web addresses or hashtags also perform better. Research has shown that some programs were more conducive than others to generating online word-of-mouth for their advertisers.

In an analysis of the 2015 television season, among the programs that generated higher-than-expected amounts of brand-related word-of-mouth following advertisements were X Factor, Glee, Supernatural, Scandal and The Vampire Diaries. On the other hand, advertiser-related word-of-mouth was lower than expected following advertisements in programs including The Big Bang Theory, 20/20 and Modern Family. While Scandal, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family all had high ratings, the extent to which brands benefited in regard to increasing online word-of-mouth varied considerably across these programs.

Moving beyond online word-of-mouth for advertisers, research has also looked at how advertising in programs that generate high levels of social TV activity affects the performance of retailers that were advertising during those programs. Comparing traffic before and after a retailer’s advertisement and looking at the number of online purchases made at the retailer for consumers who visited the website right after the advertisement aired, research demonstrates that television advertising increases these measures. It also shows that advertisements that occur in programs with higher levels of social TV activity generate more purchases. Interestingly, the effectiveness of advertising in these socially popular shows depends on the content of the advertising. Advertisements that are more effective—namely, funny and emotional ads—generated the largest increases in online shopping at the retailers.

So, what does this mean for marketers?

Social media surrounding television programs can play a role in the performance of their television advertisements. In the case of generating brand-related word-of-mouth, some programs are more conducive to this than others. This would suggest that advertising in programs that have social media strategies for engaging viewers offers a benefit to advertisers.

When marketers are advertising in socially popular shows, they should be mindful of the mood portrayed in ads, as emotional and funny advertisements do a better job of grabbing viewers’ attention. With data on social TV activity available, such information should be considered by marketers when making decisions on ad buys and negotiating ad rates.

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@dschweidel David Schweidel is a professor of marketing at Emory University's Goizueta Business School and is a member of our Adweek Academic Council.