Do Second Screen Campaigns Have Marketing Potential on Twitter?

Earlier this year, New York-based TV channel WNET/THIRTEEN hosted #wnetinno, an internal innovation day aimed at discussing social media engagement around TV shows.

The second screen is the hot new topic. It was the topic of an SES New York keynote this year – because studies show that the modern technology consumer has developed a new pastime: tweeting while watching TV.

We teamed up with WNET/THIRTEEN to conduct a small experiment on second screen to share the results on Search Engine Watch. The experiment was only a few hours long, yet provides some anecdotal evidence for the potential to develop second screen-based campaigns on Twitter.

The small amount of activity data we analyzed with Topsy, showed that people using social media while watching live TV are:

  • Willing to engage in public Twitter conversations with brands.
  • Interested in links shared on the show hashtags.
  • Starting new public conversations based on the show, using their own hashtags.
  • Ready to check into a show on GetGlue.
  • Proud to be featured in the show.

TV shows seem like a natural way for people to take part in a wider public discussion that isn’t necessarily aimed at their immediate followers.

The Second Screen Engagement Experiment

We created an experiment to test to whether a second screen audience might spontaneously emerge around any live topic on TV via Twitter.

Chief Digital Officer, Columbia University Sree Sreenivasan opened the #wnetinno discussion with a presentation on social media in he which suggested that companies consider using hashtags to “create a digital fence” around public conversations on Twitter.

We created our own hashtag promoting the show #OrchestraofExiles and restrict the experiment to activity around a single hashtag.

Creating the Digital Fence

Choosing a relatively obscure topic like #OrchestraofExiles, we were confident that we were not interrupting an already popular hashtag on Twitter.

Restricting the activity to an obscure hashtag around a very niche topic, the experiment would be easy to monitor and it would be unlikely that we would miss any responses the conversation might generate.

As all we wanted to test was whether audiences might engage at all – not how much they would engage. We wanted to find out if people would engage and then, more importantly, how particular Twitter features like #hashtags and @replies were used.

A Very Short Engagement

To generate the conversation we our plan to live blog the first airing of the TV show Orchestra of Exiles from our personal Twitter accounts on #OrchestraofExiles, highlighting links and tweeting quotes.

Two days before the show aired and an hour before, the main THIRTEEN/WNET channel also tweeted a about the TV show on the #orchestraofexiles hashtag. The official PBS show page, official PBS video page, and YouTube trailer for the show were all shared on Twitter ahead of the air date.

The Results

On April 15, when the show aired, the Twitter activity on the hashtag was: #OrchestraofExiles peaked at 53 tweets in first hour and slowed to 29 tweets in the second hour.

Prompted by TV discussion points new hashtags such as #palestineorchestra emerged on Twitter during the airing of the show. The hashtag which got the most exposure was the official one, but an “unofficial” hashtag #morethanviolinist got a surprising amount of reach. The creator of that hashtag was someone we engaged directly on Twitter during the show – via replies, retweets, and favorites.

The total number of #Orchestra of Exiles tweets was 191 over 3 days. When the show aired there were the number of tweets on the last day, compared to the first had almost tripled.

#OrchestraofExiles Trend – Daily total tweets (Apr 13th = 36 / 14th = 47 / 15th = 90)

Orchestra Tweets Day

During the show, one Twitter user checked into the show on GetGlue. A musician whose work was used in the show, Joshua Bell, also tweeted about the show.

Hashtag Mutation Second Screen

Potential Number of Tweets

Cause to Consider the Second Screen

This experiment is hardly conclusive, but does provide some useful anecdotal evidence for some interesting second screen events that happen on Twitter.

This small test shows that social media managers who engage in short bursts of live tweeting and curating conversations on second screen hashtags can bet on a good response. There will be tweets worth retweeting and new hashtags emerging.

A socially engaged audience is already present and correct; spontaneously engaging in a second screen conversation on a current TV documentary.

Usage of second screen devices, like smartphones and tablets, is replacing traditional habits such as reading a paperback, listening to radio, or watching TV. Modern consumers are spending more time using their tablet devices.


The results above show that active brand participation on Twitter in the approximately two hours before, during, and after the show aired combined could improve the reach and influence of the brand. And it shows especially well that active participation in, and curating of, the wider public conversation at large can easily lead to new hashtags being created.

Many smaller audiences may be possible to engage beyond the scope of the original “Digital Fence” hashtag. AdMob’s 2011 study reported that consumers are spending upwards of 2 hours a day on tablets – perhaps those 2 hours are around your show?

Social media managers should consider making an engagement plan for curating outlying second screen conversations and looking out for newly invented hashtags.

The comparatively high number of retweets on tweets with video links in them show that the short 2-hour periods before, during, and after TV shows could be an ideal time for TV channels, production companies, and brands to host a rare, “live event” style conversation with viewers following the show via second screen.

Before Show Second Screen

Live TV Drives Social Media

People are actually consuming more live TV than they were four years ago. AimClear, Brafton, and ClickZ recorded some of the statistics Mike Proulx’s keynote at SES New York.

People are watching more TV than ever, on average viewing 35 hours per week. That’s 4.46 hours per day, up from 4.39 hours per day in 2008. This year, 40 million people tuned into the Oscars, an increase from years past. If TV is dying, why are ratings increasing?

If time spent using tablets now accounts for nearly half of the time the average American spends watching TV, yet live TV consumption is actually increasing, then there is fairly good reason to think some of that time there really is second screen behavior which is probably driven by social media updates. That seems worth testing.

Ninety three percent of cable programming is watched live (only 7 percent time-shifted).

Seventy-eight percent of second screen device activity is unrelated to the show being watched. Only 23 percent of smartphone users engage in TV programs – the first places users turn to are texting, talking on the phone, and online forums.

Only 23 percent of smartphone users might not sound impressive, but that is an awful lot of smartphone users. Besides, as Oreo proved during this year’s Super Bowl blackout, responsive brands can generate a huge and instant response to an event on live TV via social media.

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