Last week, I mentioned an announcement of a partnership between Twitter and GfK (a research firm) in providing an "offical" measurement of TV-related conversations on Twitter. This comes on the back of similar partnerships with Nielsen (for the US) and Kantar (for the UK.)

This is an area that I've been watching for a while — a couple of years ago, I did some analysis at work around online mentions of TV programmes, comparing volumes of mentions to TV audience sizes. I then spent a fair amount of time prototyping and then building my own little Twitter-tracking application which would plug into TV listings to create an ongoing measurement of TV programme mentions on Twitter. I ended up shelving the project for a number of reasons — not least because a company called SecondSync were doing something very similar (but as a proper business, rather than just a coding hobbyist project.)

What has been clear to anyone paying attention to the world of television is that a few different trends were all colliding;

The rise of social media. People talking to one another online about (among other things) television.

Twitter — the ideal platform for this kind of conversation for a number of reasons;

  • Public — most tweets are visible to anyone who wants to see them (as opposed to Facebook's 'semi-private' nature — much of what happens on Facebook is only visible within limited social circles, either to friends of the poster, or 'friends of friends.')
  • Searchable — put a keyword into Twitter's search, and you can see anyone's tweets mentioning that keyword. Hashtags make this very easy to do, encouraging public content to become part of a public conversation.
  • APIs — Its reasonably easy to plug into Twitter's data feeds and automate the searching process. Which means that its fairly straightforward to count mentions of keywords and see the volumes of mentions.
  • Real-time: Twitter's design focusses on what is happening right now (as opposed to "interesting things your friends have shared", which has been Facebook's focus — with a lot of their innovation revolving around figuring out the most "interesting" stuff to put at the top of your news feed.
  • Marketing — Twitter have made a concerted push to position themselves as the de facto platform to talk about television. (Zeebox were looking like they might replace them because they were focussed on just talking about TV, but I don't think the idea of only talking about TV has really caught on.) And, as this analysis by my colleague Mat Morrison shows, Twitter gets a lot of news/media attention for its size.

So, despite a much bigger audience, Facebook has been kind of left out of the "social TV" conversation — we don't really know what other people are talking about, we don't know the scale of conversations around particular topics, but we do know that while Twitter can be viewed as a network of conversations tied together by common hashtags, there is no way to connect a conversation I'm having on Facebook with that of, say, a teenager in Taunton or a mother in Middlesex that happen to be about the same thing, at the same time. Unless we have mutual friends, those other conversations might as well be happening on MySpace, as far as my experience is concerned.

Last Thursday, Facebook made an announcement;

Today we’re announcing an international partnership with SecondSync, a social TV analytics specialist, intended to help clients understand how people are using Facebook to talk about topics such as TV.
The first output from this partnership will be a forthcoming white paper, Watching with Friends, showing how different types of people use Facebook to talk about TV across a range of programs in the US, UK and Australia.

Interesting for a number of reasons;

  • Apparently Facbeook have been privately sharing some numbers with TV networks in the US, but this is the first time we will get a proper look at what is being talked about on Facebook – not brands being 'talked about', but 'natural' conversations. (There was a very limited tool some years ago that was apparently hacked together in Facebook's early days, but seems to have long since been forgotten.)
  • The fact that its beng done by a firm used to doing it on Twitter would suggest that there should be a degree of comparability between the figures. At the very least, it should give us an idea of the difference between programmes that are talked about on Twitter, Facebook – or both. In other words, we start getting a proper idea of 'social TV' – not just 'Twitter TV'.
  • The fact that its being done by a firm based in the UK should be good news for those of us in the UK media industry.
  • The fact that its also being done outside of the UK indicates that SecondSync have been developing their business/technology. Which is nice to hear (although a little frustrating on a personal level…)
  • Some visibility into Facebook conversations should give us (that is, researchers/media types) some better idea of what is actually going on, outside of our own circles or brand pages we are involved in.
  • Which, in turn, should tell us a bit more about TV audiences and viewing behaviours.