Social Media and the impending Zombie Apocalypse

Posted on 28. Oct, 2011 by in Stats & Trends

I’ll admit I am something of a TV addict – American drama and cookery shows being my greatest weaknesses – and like many people I follow conversation online during and after programmes have aired to get a feel for the impression others got of whatever it is we watched together as strangers, miles or even continents apart. As such, I was interested to read the Nielsen study released earlier this month quantifying the impact of social media buzz on TV ratings – noting that in the 18-25 age group an increase in social buzz of 9% means a 1% increase in overall ratings figures which isn’t bad at all.

There’s a lot being said on the impact of social on television and our viewing behaviours at the moment and I’m keen to consider the subject in more depth – having said that, it’s Halloween weekend so I think we can do better than just picking apart the stats and arguments.

Instead, we can use zombies – yes, zombies – to illustrate the social effects and mull over the implications as we chew on televisions figurative social entrails with dead eyed relish. Yum.

I’m not talking about any old zombies, rather, I want to look at AMCs The Walking Dead, which, as its second series (sorry, ‘season’) kicked off, managed to set the record for the most watched basic cable drama in the US (Mashable, 2011) and cause something of a stir in social media – the two being a little more than just coincidence.

1. Pre-air social media and AMCs tactics

Before Season two premiered in the US on 16th October AMC ran a short webisode series on their site to whet the appetites of fans with a full complement of sharing buttons so that the videos could be spread at the click of a button. The twitter account also began to tweet about season 2 in earnest back in July – tied in to the San Diego Comic Con panel where the season 2 trailer was first shown – an event filled with social media savvy individuals who helped to amplify this first burst of activity.

The main Facebook page has a number of fun tabs and an international tab to take visitors from outside the US/Canada to their local zombie hoard. The UK page has a particularly nice little video app where you view the world as someone trying to survive the zombie apocalypse – you can also personalise this with Facebook connect to bring the action a little closer to home with photos of friends and family and your town on the news. The app was shared widely over Facebook helping to fuel the buzz further.

In addition, like many shows on both sides of the pond have been doing for recent series, hashtags are subtly placed on screen for the duration of the programme, with cues to tweet or share on Facebook aired before the programme and during breaks. This helps to facilitate conversation by making it easier for users watching the show to track comments and talk all the more amongst themselves.

2. Viewer activity in social media

Mashable also offered a nice summary of the data on the premiere, including the increased use of entertainment check-in service GetGlue for season two as awareness both of the series and the app increased between seasons.

GetGlue Walking Dead Season 2 Premiere check-ins

In the month before the premiere aired approximately 139, 800 tweets and 21,800 blog posts mentioned the show, an average of around 4,660 tweets per day. Within the 24 hours surrounding the premiere this rocketed to approximately 87,200 tweets and 3,700 blog posts in a single day*. These social mentions helped to increase total conversation ahead of the international premiere of the show on October 18th – key for a programme for whom 50% of the core audience is outside of the US. (*data from Sysomos MAP, Oct 2011) as well as helping to attract new viewers who could watch the season premiere via online catch up and then tune in for future episodes.

This infographic at AdAge is also well worth a look to see the peaks in conversation before the season started right up to episode two.

So what does this really tell us?

Well, firstly, the appetite for suspense filled zombie drama certainly doesn’t look set to wane any time soon, but more relevantly it helps us to see the effects of social media and television on each other.

Social activity before a TV programme, like any product launch or promo campaign, will help to increase buzz and thus anticipation for the main event – meaning, in the case of TV, you get higher viewing figures, better online engagement and new channels of communication with fans through social. This may seem obvious, but it is the scale of the effect of this activity which is important. Investment in this area before airing – instead of relying on organic word of mouth and offline media alone which is regionally restrictive and inflexible in terms of user viewing – has a significant and measurable impact on actual viewing, which come renewal time is what really matters for TV producers.

In turn, television provides a natural conversation topic, which aided by on screen cues or otherwise, encourages real time conversation – which in our times is frequently through social media. The term ‘watercooler chat’ is bandied about a lot with regard to television discussion but has really come to mean something else – by the time you get to work you’ve already shared your thoughts on last night’s True Blood, XFactor, Frozen Planet (see Ed Beard’s Polar bears and Dual Screening for an analysis of twitter chat surrounding this week’s show), Apprentice or whatever else might take your fancy with your online connections and the watercooler is saved for, well, drinking from.

Now, to get you in the mood for whatever you might be up to this Halloween, check out the fantastic – and slightly chilling – Walking Dead season 2 trailer and have a Happy Halloween!

(trust me, it’s worth watching to the end)

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