Re-syndicated from

The new television season is upon us, and the trade press has been abuzz, not only with talk about which new shows will thrive and which will die, but also about social media and so-called social media ratings.

Senior TV executives are joining the conversation. Some see social media as a powerful amplifier and “the connective tissue that links everything together.” Others take a more tempered approach, saying, “Social media is a driver of buzz and engagement, but it’s not the core driver of revenue or ratings.”

What has been completely missing from the discussion is that when it comes to social conversation about TV shows, the action is still overwhelmingly offline, not on social networking sites. In fact, more than 80% of conversations about TV shows take place face to face, whereas only 2% are via social media. (The rest are either by phone, text, email.) While the social media conversations can be easily measured, the real world conversation is both far bigger in numbers and often quite different from what gets talked about online.

While some talk about social media as “word of mouth on steroids,” the facts suggest it’s just not true for most shows. The VMAs on MTV did quite well in social media, with reports of more than 5 million posts. The premier of this season’s Jersey Shore is said to have generated about a million social interactions. But MTV is the exception, not the rule.

And indeed, after these MTV successes there is a steep drop off. For example, the show with the next-highest social engagement on the day of the Jersey Shore premier was CBS’s Big Brother with about 50,000 mentions in social media. Compare this to the almost 2 million conversations per day that highly talked about TV shows get, according to my firm’s TalkTrack® research, which measures both offline conversations as well as online. Social media conversation for a show like Big Brother is only 2.5% of that total.

So what’s the perspective look like when we take a “total social” view of TV during 2010-11, factoring in the water cooler conversations as well as tweets?

First, there was more talk about TV shows than there was the year before – word of mouth was up 6%. And it was up far more in the Spring (+16%) than the Fall (+2%). So as the new season begins, there is a lot of WOM momentum to build upon.

CBS was not only the ratings winner, but its shows are the word of mouth winners as well. CBS’s shows saw a 10% gain in word of mouth about its shows versus the prior year. Fox is a close second, although its word of mouth was largely flat on a year-over-year basis. This translates into 10.4 million conversations on a typical day about CBS shows, and 9.3 million for Fox. While NBC shows sparked more conversation than ABC, ABC’s WOM was up sharply (+40%) from the prior year, while NBC’s was down (-21%). Original cable programs trail CBS, Fox and NBC, but their word of mouth levels doubled versus the year before.
The most talked about shows include an interesting mix of top rated shows, and shows that capture word of mouth at a level that far exceeds their ratings. Word of mouth winners that were also in the top 10 of the ratings include NCIS, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, CSI and Criminal Minds. Shows whose word of mouth far outperforms their ratings success include: Family Guy, Two and a Half Men, House, Glee, Law and Order, and — the only original cable show at the top of the most talked about list — Jersey Shore. Compared with the previous year, Two and a Half Men, Dancing, Glee and Jersey Shore all saw large gains in word of mouth, while CSI and American Idol took the biggest dips.
If you want to get the conversation going about your TV shows, think female and think young. These are the most frequent talkers when it comes to TV shows.


It’s now on to the new season, and time for the word of mouth to begin anew. If you want to know what’s really being said, make sure you listen to all the voices and not just the digital few.

About Ed Keller

Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group, has been called "one of the most recognized names in word of mouth." His new book, The Face-to-Face Book, was recently published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster. You can follow Ed Keller on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, or contact him directly at



PreviousFacebook Adds Subscribe Feature NextShelly Palmer Radio Report - September 16, 2011

Get Briefed Every Day!

Subscribe to my daily newsletter featuring current events and the top stories in technology, media, and marketing.