Twitter tied to ratings growth, finds new Nielsen-Social Guide study

By Cory Bergman 

Updated: We’ve been waiting for the outcome of this study for over a year, and now Nielsen — along with its new acquisition Social Guide — have released new data that shows a positive correlation between Twitter volume and TV ratings. In fact, Twitter is one of a small handful of variables tied to moving the ratings needle.

“We expected to see a correlation between Twitter and TV ratings, but this study quantifies the strength of that relationship,” said Andrew Somosi, CEO of SocialGuide. “We see three key factors. While prior year rating accounts for the lion’s share of the variability in TV ratings, Twitter’s presence as a top three influencer tells us that Tweeting about live TV is likely a significant indicator of program engagement.”

For premiere episodes, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in ratings for 18-34 year olds, according to Nielsen’s study. A 14% increase correlates with a 1% ratings increase for 35-49 year olds. For midseason episodes, the correlation is stronger: a Twitter volume increase of 4.2% and 8.4% associates with a 1% rise in ratings for those two age groups, respectively. Nielsen said it’s still working on measuring the correlation with season finales, which it expects to be strong.

“The TV industry is dynamic and it was important for us to analyze multiple variables to truly understand Twitter’s impact on TV ratings,” said Mike Hess, EVP of Media Analytics for Nielsen. “While our study doesn’t prove causality, the correlation we uncovered is significant and we will continue our research to deepen the industry’s understanding of this relationship.”

Today’s study is a bit of a watershed event in the history of social TV. The relationship between social and TV ratings has never been established, but Nielsen has provided the strongest “statistically significant” correlation to date. For those waiting for rock solid evidence of causality, you may have a long wait — causality is mathematically tricky to prove, and a strong correlation may be enough evidence to finally put the social ratings debate to bed once and for all.

“Society will need to shed some of its obsession of causality in exchange for simple correlations,” explain the authors of the new book, Big Data, who explore how social data sets — among others — is related to consumer behavior. “Finding associations in data and acting on them may often be good enough.”

Certainly, Nielsen and Twitter have a vested interest. They recently announced the creation of the Nielsen Twitter rating, an upcoming product for media companies and advertisers alike. Both companies have yet to release the methodology behind the new metric, yet today’s announcement is clearly a precursor. With the data above, TV organizations can begin to estimate ROI numbers against their Twitter efforts.

Of course, Twitter isn’t the only platform that correlates with ratings. Back in 2011, Nielsen released a study that found that online buzz — blogs, boards and other community activity, not including Twitter or Facebook — are postively correlated with TV ratings. In November of that year, Twitter announced it was working with Nielsen to gain better insight on Twitter’s role.