Current attempts at television-based social media integration are failing, hard.

How do we fix them?

To find the solution, we first need to fully understand the problem.

2screen / dual-screen / second-screen — all are different names for the kind of integration that I’m referring to and it’s something I’ve been kicking around in my head ever since I went to my first 2screen event back in October 2010.

It was a big deal then and it’s a bigger deal now.

With the increase of iPad penetration and the continuous growth of the smartphone market, the notion of 2screening is becoming more and more commonplace. In fact, a recent Neilsen survey found that 80% of tablet and 78% of smartphone owners used their device while watching TV at least once during a 30 day period.

In the app-world, services such as ZeeBox and Sky Sports for iPad are doing very good things indeed. Both integrating news, stats and social media streams into your second screen; providing a suitable data-based accompaniment to your visual consumption.

However, I want to talk about television-based social media integration (not app-based).
This kind of stuff –

That’s how Sky One’s ‘Got to Dance‘ handles it and many other broadcasters follow suit. BBC One is getting in on the act too, here using a Twitter wall backstage for the UK edition of ‘The Voice‘.


What do these examples all have in common?

Fundamentally, they are all bringing (or at least attempting to bring) the conversation from the second screen, to the first. Which, correct me if I’m wrong, kind of defeats the object of the second screen.

Whether it’s reading out tweets during the credits of Celebrity Juice on ITV2 or talking about Facebook wall posts inbetween programmes on BBC3, broadcasters seem to be obsessed with sharing (read ‘owning’) viewer social media.

Recognising that conversation takes place away from their platform(s), TV + social media work best together when television directs its audience to the conversation medium, as opposed to smashing them in the face with it via another.

Sorority Girls, an E4 TV show, flashes up their hashtag both at the start and at the end of their show as well as when going into ad breaks.

This is good! This is television saying –

‘Hey, perhaps some people are actually watching our shows when they’re on and, instead of going to the kettle during an ad break, they’re turning to Twitter!’

– and giving the audience a your hashtag at this point is a very good idea. You own it, you guide it, you track it.

Ignoring The Voice for a second, the BBC actually do this quite well, both with Question Time and Have I Got News For You, for example:

via Roo Reynolds

Little pointers like this give you, the viewer, the option of tracking (and joining) the back-channel. If you understand what it means, you join the conversation. Perfect.

I guess this is one big plea to broadcasters to just stop reading out tweets and Facebook updates on the telly. Seriously, it just doesn’t work.

Finally, and returning to the opening image of this post, the new trailer for Prometheus aired recently during the first break of Homeland. Channel 4’s own announcer was employed also, asking viewers to tweet their reactions using the hashtag #areyouseeingthis.

So far, so good. Right? Right.

Except that, 20mins later (during the next ad break), those very tweets were displayed onscreen for all to see.

via Digital Examples

Yes that’s actually a TV ad you’re seeing there, with (clearly moderated) tweets displaying instead of your usual commercial break. Mental.

Reports state that this activity reached a potential audience of 15m users. (Note: POTENTIAL audience. That’s the number of every tweet with the hashtag, multiplied by their sum of their followers – ie: not a real number). And while this kind of exercise is a great advert for Twitter, it leaves existing fans and users feeling a bit… empty.

In closing, encouraging viewers to join an online conversation is one thing, replaying that conversation to them 20mins later is just a pain in the oculars.




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Author: James Whatley

Experienced advertising and communications strategist working in brand, games, and entertainment. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

31 thoughts on “Current attempts at television-based social media integration are failing, hard.”

  1. Totally agree with you there James, I’m currently working in an app that might help this.

    James Reply:

    App-based though chap, I’m looking an *acceptable* TV-based solution. Integration is key (there’s a lot of chat about how the whole Prometheus thing won on pure ad/PR spend alone!), but how do you make it work – properly?

    Looking forward to seeing what you’re up to, either way 🙂

  2. What annoys me is when Channel 4 shows “Pictures from YouTube” without any other credit. Not sure if this is on topic. It just comes over that social media are becoming something else, or at least there is an attempt to present such.

  3. The Beeb don’t always do it well. I remember the last series of The Apprentice they repeatedly tried to force a hashtag change – from #theapprentice to #BBCTheApprentice (or #TheApprenticeBBC, I forget which) – they weren’t happy enough with everyone watching and talking about their show, they wanted a little too much control. Maybe they’ve improved now (I’m not watching this series), but that still sticks out for me a year on.

    Steve Ward (@CloudNineRec) Reply:

    The example of this is shown in James’ piece ref Have I Got News For You – #HIGNFY has been changed to #bbcHIGNFY – adding BBC, just in case we er… forgot. 😉

    Sian Reply:

    Heh, I didn’t notice the example until after I’d commented 🙂 I’ve never seen anyone using #bbcHIGNFY. The #HIGNFY is the one the Beeb should be pushing. I can see the reasoning on a new show, but pushing to change something that already exists is really foolish.

    James Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by Sian, to Steve’s point, this seems to be a programme-wide policy now. I can see the reasoning behind it, but don’t try and retro-fit – that’s just painful.

  4. What kills me is when they use a non-exclusive hashtag. ‘Chat about this show using #teamfollowback’ or something equally lame.

    Of course, this isn’t restricted to TV shows, but I’ve seen TV shows do it, too. If you’re going to give someone a hashtag to use, make it one you’ll be able to actually track. No one can track the level of conversation (in a real way, at least) for #sxsw, for example.

    Unless of course your goal is simple regurgitation of the hashtag, and not engagement….

    James Reply:

    Spot on re: the non-exclusive hashtag. To Sian’s (and Steve’s) point above, the BBC have recently taken to adding ‘BBC’ to theirs *just in case you forget who it is* — but also (probably) to demonstrate ownership as well as difference.

    Here in the UK, Celebrity Juice does great guns on Twitter (their celebrity mini-games are awesome and I’m *fairly sure* that the twitter reaction to one of them made one game become a regular feature), however I don’t know any other broadcaster that is [publicly] demonstrating their use of the back-channel…

    That’s what I’d like to see next: demonstrable usage of that data

  5. Good discussion point here James – the reality is, at least the recognition of the significance of social media comment is being acknowledged – however tweets 20 minutes later, kind of defeat the instancy of comment, and the potential online conversation that developed thereafter. I can see days coming of a hashtag-led twitter stream racing across the bottom of the screen as per texts on shows like Big Brother and some Kids shows gone by. Certainly I’m surprised hashtags aren’t in the corner of the screen for the whole show, rather than purely at the starting credits.

    There are some good examples of audience conversation manipulation out there though. Saw a presentation by RedBee Media, showing examples of Tweet-per-second charts on BBC Newsnight on a series of shows, which suggested that they deliberately prompted a pre-planned touchy comment or opinion (what I call an `OMG moment`) at the same point during the show in consecutive examples. The chart looked exactly the same, and almost suggested they used the most naturally active period to create mass switch-over through Twitter/Facebook through a moment of controversy or major talking point. Clever – if slightly manipulative, as opposed to naturally conversational.

    I think `genuine` social TV integration can only be managed on live shows – and as yet, I agree that I don’t think they’ve worked out properly where it fits in; until we see Toby Moore’s onscreen socially interactive TV screen prototype in action, that is I guess!! 😉

    James Reply:

    Time delay sucks in social, so yes – that 20min gap does seem a bit silly, however a lot commentary I’ve read about it says that it acted more-like an ad for Twitter over anything else… which is quite telling.

    Good words buddy, thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. I rarely watch live TV, so I’ve mostly missed out on this. Considering that more people are watching time-shifted shows than ever before, I wonder if there’s a way to curate the best tweets & have them played back to you while the show is in progress.

    James Reply:

    See, that’s a good shout. Something like a Storify that replays in time with the show that you’re watching? I can see that working, perhaps as a Zeebox feature.

  7. This very topic dominates way too much of my non-work related ranting.

    It smacks of tokenism. A gesture toward online conversation without really understanding what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.

    I’m not sure what the answer is; it feels like making the hastag ‘visible’ at points during the show isn’t doing enough, while reading out tweets mid-show is too much. Perhaps the middle ground is using the show to actively direct and moderate the conversation? Offering the prize of a TV shout-out to the best comments as incentive.

    Maybe. But I do feel that the instinct to aggregate – tweets-per-second and whatnot – is still not fully understanding the conversation and the value of TV + social. And soon, a focus on the nature of the conversation and trying to understand it to make better shows or drive more meaningful engagement will become the primary aim.

    James Reply:

    Ha! Someone at work said that exact same thing today! – ‘We’ve put a hashtag on it, so that means we’ve done social media, right?’

    There *is* some benefit in putting social signposts at the right points throughout the show(s), as it speaks to those who are ‘in the know’, so to speak. Aggregation works, but only on the second screen.

    It’s how you integrate onto the first screen that is the conundrum at hand. Current efforts are a little like watching your Dad dance at a wedding…

  8. I struggle with a couple of things when thinking about television-based social media integration. First, television is one-way entertainment. It is output, a medium for one-to-many communication. Trying to make it interactive feels weird, because it is weird. Remember the public television pledge drives? Can you imagine if they just played phone calls of people calling in to pledge $20? That would be horrible. How is reading tweets any different? Exactly your point about why there is a back-channel, this is why it exists.

    Having said that, being able to measure how many people are talking about your show must be invaluable to television producers. That brings me to the second thing I struggle with. For any layer of interaction on television to work, you have to align the goals of the television viewers with the goals of the television producers.

    Goals of viewers – Chat about what’s happening with friends, or fellow fans to:
    1. learn more, be the trendsetter
    2. be the expert, command influence
    3. find like-minded people, feel a sense of belonging

    Goals of producers – Measure data to:
    1. gather more demographic information on viewers
    2. prove influence and audience size
    3. drive advertising revenues

    Right now, it seems like most attempts at television-based social media integration are focused solely on the goals of the television producers, which is why they leaves such a bad impression on viewers. How do you flip that so what you see on television highlights the reasons fans are sharing on social in the first place? Figure that out and you’ll build a happy community.

    James Reply:

    I really should add ‘+1’ buttons to these comments, that way I could +1 your comment Sarah 🙂

    Nicely put.

    Steve Ward Reply:

    Ha – ditto James. Read this on the phone earlier and thought – wow – what a great comment. +1, ‘Like’, “respec’!!” etc, also. 🙂

  9. HA! Amazing.. Mashable just published this –

    “Watch What Happens Live: Behind the Scenes of Bravo’s Most Social Show”

    Rory Reply:

    That is a good article and one of the things that pops at me from that article and a thing I forgot to mention below was aggregation and compliance. Not just collating all the conversation but editorially picking the best, most valuable comments and tweets (not necessarily from those deemed “influential” due to some unknown rating system but from fans and bringing them to air. Ensuring that all the on air mentions are compliant and balanced isn’t an easy thing either.

  10. There are several things in my mind that need to be clear to people as to why “social” is still in it’s infancy in regards to integrated TV experiences.

    There needs to be so much buy in across all the relevant areas, broadcaster, production company, talent, technology, continuity, online editorial, PR, Marketing etc that it is a big piece of work to do and manage successfully.

    The format needs to be right. Million Pound Drop is a good example but new formats that are devised from the offset with social or other interactions need to come to fruition and the development process in television isn’t generally as fast as technology (IMO)

    In regards to Sarah Blue’s comment re: goals focused on the television producers, I think that was true but things are shifting. Got To Dance (for the last 2 years) and BGT this year allowed people to interact and influence the outcome of the show.

    There is still lots more to do and I’d expect much richer cross platform experiences from all the broadcasters who should be working closer with all the relevant stakeholders.

    Disclaimer – I have worked on and am currently working on products/shows mentioned in this post.

  11. Boxfish ( is a startup that seems to be working to fix this disconnect between app and television, as their long-term goals include reworking how consumers use a remote in tv discovery. For now, it seems like a lot of social tv integration is purely for metric/analytical use, rather than content creation/curation…

  12. I think I’m still on topic. I did a video for YouTube of Hannah Berney singing At Last at Queen’s visit to Exeter. Did Graham Norton mention it? No he did not. Just slomo of JessieJ and suggestion she should be less nice. So is the Voice supposed to include backup dancers or not? I think the panel should be fully briefed at least.

    Social media are not there to extend proper telly. There should just be some accurate reporting.

  13. Some great points, especially how pulling in discussion from the second screen to the first kinda defeats the object.

    I’ve been interested in social tv for a while so was excited when I got invited to demo a new app from the people at Orange last week, you can read my thoughts here –

    In summary, I think Orange ‘get’ more than other apps I’ve seen that the exclusive content is what will make an app like this really work.

  14. Have you tried Stevie? It’s a bit different, being a social media app that looks like a television broadcast and not like an app.

  15. Twitter hash tags are one thing, but genuine 2nd screen content provided by TV shows is another. For shows like dancing on ice you could get real-time reviews from past contestants or professional skaters (as one example) but bookies odds would not be welcome by most.

    I think second screen action needs to be subscriber-led in these kinds of shows, so being app focused is ideal.

    An area that interests me is transmedia narratives. In some genres of tv, such as crime, the second screen could be used to show separate narratives that support the central narrative, providing additional clues or red herrings, giving background on characters etc… This is something that I would like to see, but they would increase the costs and at the moment there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the majority if people are willing to interact in this way. I do, however, think that satellite narratives are the future of second screening.

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