I reblogged this earlier today without commentary and that may have been a mistake.
Last night #Sharknado trended on Twitter creating a significant amount of tweet volume for the show. Despite this, The Atlantic points out that it did so-so in ratings when compared to a show like Game of Thrones. (But for a $200,000 production investment, as Adam notes, SyFy was probably very happy with how Sharknado performed.)
Why would anyone compare the Twitter volume of Sharknado to Game of Thrones in the first place? Well, you do it if you want to say that tweets don’t equal ratings and show that Social Media sucks.
But of course, that’s just silly.
If you don’t understand how social works in television, the above chart by The Atlantic could be very misleading.
If you want to understand the connection between TV and Twitter, you need to understand where the numbers come from and then you need to understand the trend.
How To Understand The Numbers.
Measuring social activity around TV can be tough and almost everybody underreports. Some audience use hashtags. Others do not. Some will talk about a character or a plot point and not mention the name of the show. And not everybody tweets about a show during premiere because not everybody watches a show the same day. All of this raises questions about the numbers being shown above.
Are these the number of tweets during premiere or throughout the whole night?
Is this measuring the use of the hashtag #Sharknado vs hashtag #RedWedding? Does it also include “shark & tornado” “sharks & tornado” #GameofThrones #GoT “Game of Thrones” “Stark Family” “Wedding”?
Game of Thrones is heavily DVR’d which means that HBO is likely to see a significant amount of their total activity in Live + 3 days that could almost double the GoT total. While I don’t know SyFy’s expectations around this movie, I wouldn’t think DVR activity (or post-premiere tweets) would be high.
How To Understand The Trend.
People tweeted about #Sharknado because it’s ridiculous. Even if someone isn’t watching #Sharknado, seeing other people tweet about #Sharknado is going to make you tweet about the ridiculousness of the word #Sharknado.
It doesn’t take a whole lot to get something to trend when you’ve bought the Twitter promoted trend for the evening (I’m fairly certain SyFy did.) If you don’t know how promoted trends work, think of it as a way of first bootstrapping awareness for a thing and then guiding activity around the conversation that results from getting their attention.
If they did buy the trend that means that far more people were exposed to the #Sharknado hashtag than were actually watching the show. This meant that the chances of people tweeting about #Sharknado because they saw a ridiculous hashtag named “#sharknado” was pretty damn high.
Layer all of this activity on top of one another and you can easily generate enough volume for an organic trend.
Sharknado did just fine but Game of Thrones is actually the more “social” show.
The real story in comparing the social activity around GoT and Sharknado can be found in looking at the conversation over a longer period of time.
Two days from now, nobody will care about Sharknado. They won’t tweet about the characters, they won’t have long forum discussions about the plot points or storyline. Perhaps SyFy can build curousity off of the event of Sharknado but they can’t build loyalty in any significant way.
The tweet volume for GoT, however, is high during the season, and it still does well in the offseason. It is a show that people will talk about year round because it is a good show with compelling characters and a great storyline. And that’s the kind of thing you can build a franchise around.