Many marketers and advertisers keep close tabs on Nielsen ratings for marketing inspiration and deciding where to focus their advertising dollars. Similarly, the advent of Twitter and its real-time pulse on viewer sentiment has also led marketers to closely follow which TV shows are regularly mentioned on Twitter.
Recently, Nielsen and Twitter came up with another way for everyone to keep track of popular TV shows. They released the first installment of Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, a weekly ranking of TV shows based on the total number of unique users who saw a related tweet on Twitter.
I am sure some people expected the list of Nielsen Twitter TV rankings to correlate with the traditional Nielsen rankings. They did not. At all.
The biggest reason for the disparity in the rankings is that Twitter is not yet representative of the general US population. While almost 90% of Americans have heard of Twitter, only 18% of online US adults are Twitter users. According to the Pew Research Center, Twitter is most populated by 18- to 29-year olds. Yet, even among that group, only 30% of them use the site.
Also, Twitter users are more likely to have some college education and earn above $75,000 per year.
Lastly, another thing to keep in mind is that some shows have fandoms that are vociferous in their support of a show, where their voice belies their actual size. (For an example, think of almost any Joss Whedon show.) Naturally, some of those tiny-but-loud fandoms will take to a platform like Twitter as moths to a flame to show their support.
In comparison, Nielsen's traditional TV ratings are a reflection of the viewing habits of a more representative cross-section of American households. The company selects households based on the extent to which they represent all television-viewing households. Nielsen also tries to get a representative sample as close a match to the US population, as determined by census data, as possible.
If you are a marketer who uses TV ratings for inspiration or to decide where to place your company's ad dollars, you must consider whether Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings is useful for your brand, given your target audience compared to Twitter's user base. If you are targeting young, educated, urbanites with higher incomes, advertise away and join in the conversations about the top-ranked shows in the Nielsen Twitter TV Rankings.
However, for now, advertisers going after a larger segment of the population need not take as much stock in the new rankings and would be better off sticking to the original Nielsen ratings.
So, What About Facebook?
One final note, because a mention of Twitter seems incomplete without a mention of Facebook... Some people are saying that posts and hashtag mentions on Facebook would be a better barometer of a show's popularity than the ones on Twitter since more people are on Facebook.
I am inclined to agree with them. Two thirds of the US adult population are Facebook users and 94% of US teens are also on the network. Different people share different things on Facebook and certain groups are more likely to share on Facebook than others. However, since Facebook is more representative of the general population, some marketers would be better off waiting for a no doubt, in-development Facebook TV ratings or working with Facebook to identify marketing opportunities tied to popular TV shows on the widely used social networking site.