Social Television: Starring You

Television has entered a new era due in large part to the interaction between television programs and social media. Thanks to Twitter, fans are able to have a real time ongoing dialogue as a show is being broadcast. Mobile technologies allow for these interactions to occur anytime, anywhere, regardless of television air times, resulting in massive opportunities for the television stations. Networks have capitalized on this by creating show specific Twitter handles in addition to episode specific hashtags. Furthermore, numerous programs, including news networks, utilize user-generated content in their programming to drive the conversation and enhance their telecast. The first official integration between Twitter hashtags and television programs was during Comedy Central’s roast of Donald Trump on March 15, 2011. Positioning the hashtag “#TrumpRoast” in the bottom left hand corner of the screen, Comedy Central’s roast of Trump drew its largest Tuesday audience in its history. The hashtag was used more than 27,000 times on Twitter during the telecast.

Nowadays, it’s rare to watch a television show without a hashtag lingering in the corner of the screen. Several shows have now made it a habit to include anchors’/celebrities’/guests’ Twitter handle when introducing them to the program. Television shows have benefitted greatly from incorporating social media into their programming, particularly live shows. Special events, such as awards shows (#oscars) and sporting events (#sb50), are especially popular for live tweeting. This past year, the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards became the most Tweeted non-sports program ever, drawing 2.2 million people who sent 21.4 million Tweets. The VMA’s most tweeted moment of the night (247,525 tweets) came when Kanye West announced his intention to run for President in 2020 while accepting the Video Vanguard Award [pic 1]. Since Nielsen Social began tracking Twitter TV activity, only the Super Bowl has generated more tweets than the 2015 VMA’s.


Social media and television have become so intertwined to a point that it is now standard practice to create or obtain Twitter handles for all programs. Twitter handles have therefore become extremely valuable. Despite being against Twitter’s terms and agreements, the practice of buying and selling Twitter handles is quite common. The most famous example is the case of Chase Giunta who was reportedly offered $20,000 by JPMorgan Chase for his Twitter handle, @chase. Not wanting to violate Twitter’s rules, Chase denied the offer but still had to surrender the handle after Twitter worked with JPMorgan Chase to hand over the name based on alleged trademark issues that Giunta was powerless to fight. Giunta’s story speaks volumes about the power of Twitter branding and the lengths companies will go to in order to secure a “pure handle,” that is, one that doesn’t include “the real” or underscores or a number.

Certain shows such as @midnight are now highly interactive, incorporating large amounts of user generated content. The premise of @midnight is that there is a panel of comedians that play a series of trivia based games and earn points for each correct or funny answer. The audience (both in studio and at home) plays a large part in determining who wins the game. Each show actually begins with host Chris Hardwick introducing a trending meme/video/quote and asking the panel of comedians to craft funny responses or choose the correct answer among multiple choices. Additionally, each contest includes a game known as “Hashtag Wars” in which panelists create phrases that go along with a given hashtag theme. The hashtag theme of course extends to Twitter where the home audience in encouraged to make their own witty, comedic tweet that could potentially be featured on-air during the next episode.


In addition to shows utilizing social content in their programming, networks have also used television content to drive higher engagement with its social audience. The relationship between social media and television is beautifully symbiotic. The social trends and online promotion drives more viewers to the television show and video clips from the shows posted online attract more followers and fans. Television networks have several tactics to get the most out of this relationship. For instance, shows such as The Voice have begun placing relevant hashtags on the screen during dramatic moments, most commonly when contestants are eliminated. Another common tactic is to use what is called a “madlib” hashtag (a favorite of late night hosts), which is meant to be used at the beginning of a post that starts a sentence a user can finish. Some programs have gotten very creative with their Twitter presence, most notably HBO’s True Blood. HBO created multiple Twitter accounts for various characters whose tweets are phrased similarly to how they’d speak on the show. The significance of social media’s interaction with television has become so apparent that a new industry centered around TV stations interactions with viewers has emerged. Companies such as Spredfast,, TV Interact and Vidpresso have all emerged with the same mission in mind: to help broadcasters more efficiently leverage social media. It’s intriguing to wonder what these shops and the networks themselves will develop as the relationship between social media and television evolves. Will there one day be a show entirely driven by social content? A show that only takes place on social media sites? A show that is also a unique social platform? The possibilities are endless.

How do you envision this relationship evolving?


  1. In response to your question on how this will continue to evolve, I think Apple’s latest Apple TV refresh shows the trends towards apps on your television continuing with strength. It will be interesting to see how shows such as @midnight adapt, perhaps adding an element of interaction directly on the TV through an App. @midnight is an interesting example that I am glad you highlighted. It is clear that Chris Hardwick and the Nerdist brand is on top of digital trends. But even a show like @midnight still has delayed interactions, as the Twitter-winner of the hashtag war is not highlighted on the show until the following evening. Perhaps the real evolution of this phenomenon will be these comedy/entertainment shows reverting to a live format to engage with the audience in real-time. Thanks for posting

  2. It is amazing to see just how far companies will go to obtain a pure Twitter handle or Facebook username. The most interesting post that I thought was mentioned above is about Chase bank offering $20,000 to someone in order to hand over their Twitter handle. This is a clear indicator the future of all businesses, television and other forms of media will be dominated by social media in the future.

    Thinking about your final question, I believe social media and television will inevitably become very closely integrated. As in people all over the world watching a show will be able to interact with the people on the show and possibly change outcomes to shows. This will engage the fans of shows and will create further collaboration to create the most spectacular shows ever viewed. In terms of businesses, Goldman Sachs recently began advertising via Snapchat, as the bank was losing a lot of talent to Millennials traveling to the exciting and modern Silicon Valley. Banks such as Bank of America are no longer just lending money to people; they are gathering information about customers and beginning to make suggestions for certain aspects of their lives such as the best place to live.

    We are not able to comprehend what the world will be like given our limited view of the capabilities of technology at the moment, as this is only the beginning…

  3. TV networks will continue to create a richer and richer TV experiences for the end user via social media. Hashtags are the current rage to help guide the conversation, but our cell phones/second screens can do so much more for us. Take a show like Game Of Thrones, for instance (Jon Snow shout out!). George RR Martin created this immensely complex world full of a seemingly endless number of plot lines. Show runners Benioff and Weiss are restricted by the amount of information they can contain in a single season, let alone an episode, based on the format they’re working in (TV). HBO now offers features that take you deeper into the world of Game of Thrones. You have the ability to discover behind-the-scenes videos, cast/crew commentary, detailed set photos, etc. via alerts that are timed throughout the episode. While this is currently only available on your iPad/computer (I think) I see this becoming much more commonplace on our TVs. I agree with John D. above in that apps on TVs will make this transition possible forever changing the way we interact with our favorite TV shows.

  4. I’ve always appreciated how Jimmy Fallon, Colbert and others have used hashtags as performance art. It’s a really powerful way to interact with fans. Also very relevant during live broadcasts (e.g. Emmys, Oscars, etc). The downside is that my practice is to DVR Patriots games and skip the commercials. Have to make sure you go nowhere near SM until the game is over.

  5. ariellebudney · ·

    I think the relationship between social media and television has grown to the point where television networks are dependent upon social media. Getting people to watch television live is increasingly difficult with the number of platforms we have available to us. Netflix has started a culture of “binge-watching” TV shows where we watch a show all at once, on our own time. Streaming services have made it more difficult for networks to get consumers to come back each week for new episodes. Social media is now important to the networks because it gives us an incentive to watch something live, otherwise we risk reading spoilers. With the number of television networks producing high quality shows, the television landscape is more competitive than ever; strong engagement and fan interaction on social media is now critical to maintaining an advantage.

  6. It’s really interesting that you bring up how almost every show in modern television utilizes some sort of additional social media advertising to engage with its audience. I remember when reality shows like American Idol simply utilized phone calls in order to vote for contestants. However now it is noticeable that similar programming such as The Voice and Dancing with the Stars also incredibly encourage the use of hashtag voting. Whether it be to market the series in general or promote some sort of additional contest, twitter hashtags and handles have become almost essential for the everyday TV viewer. Aside from television alone, the increase in on-demand programming has furthered this potential as you no longer have a set time at which you can interact with a show (depending on the weekly time it is aired) but you can view it at the convenience of your laptop or tablet, making the interacting aspect of social television constantly possible.

  7. I find social media to be an invaluable tool while watching sporting events (particularly baseball), whether watching the game on TV or attending in person. It is the go to source for the latest updates, from the perspective of both fans and reporters, which can sometimes be even faster than watching the game live on TV. It has completely changed the job of sports journalists, with many of them using Twitter to provide up to the second updates on the state of the team and interact with fans, even long after the games are over. I think this applies to TV in general, where social media allows for an ongoing conversation on that particular show or topic. In reference to how TV shows could change due to social media, perhaps the direction a plot takes could depend on where the audience on social media wants to take it. I think that once TV is completely online, the social experience will become further integrated with it, which has implications for the shows themselves as well as advertisers.

  8. You make some great points of the rapidly growing use of hashtags during television shows. I personally think it’s a way to get online users to sit in front of a TV when a specific show is on air, rather than waiting for it to be on Netflix or Hulu. That being said, I do think that television is trying to have a competitive edge by using this marketing strategy, especially with the rise of Apple TV and of course, Netflix and Hulu. It will be interesting to observe how this will pan out in the future, depending on whether or not TV will ever completely be online.

  9. The big and probably only downside of the social media and TV is the spoilers. If I miss an episode of my favorite show, someone always ends up spoiling it for me by making comments of what happened on social media. Loved all your examples of how tv is using social to engage with the audience.

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