How social media is becoming as important a live event as the live event itself

February 5, 2013

I won’t ask you if you missed the Super Bowl Sunday night. But did you miss Twitter? Good luck re-living that today.

With every major event we now experience as a country, whether it’s the Super Bowl or the presidential inauguration, it becomes more evident that the conversation on social media is as tied to the event as is the process of physically tuning into the broadcast. There’s nothing new about this — the rise of social media and the second screen has been clear for years — but as soaring numbers for social media sharing are revealed after each event, we shake our heads at just how quickly things have changed.

Even within a year, the connection between television events and their small screen counterparts has grown at a remarkable rate (13.7 million Super Bowl-related tweets in 2012 versus 24.1 million last night, and from 100 million active Twitter users in September 2011 to 200 million in December 2012).

That growth is changing how we view and consume media and how advertisers work to reach us. Suddenly, they can fairly reliably cross-promote between television and online, and consumers are increasingly sucked into experiencing both events in real time. And I say events, because watching Twitter during an event like the Super Bowl is an experience in itself.

One predicted trend that hasn’t come into existence yet is the merging of the television and social experiences into one, as Om once predicted and brought to my attention this morning. People are still pretty much watching television on televisions and tweeting from phones or laptops. As we wrote this morning, the majority of Super Bowl viewers did so through traditional broadcast methods, and tweeting from your TV still hasn’t exactly caught on.

But with every event comes the inevitable blog posts from Twitter and Facebook and Instagram about how this was the most-tweeted or the most-photographed or the most-shared event EVER. Frankly, those posts will only be newsworthy if the numbers ever decline, but that seems unlikely at this point. The dual forces of television and social media are dragging us into experiencing live events as they happen, turning on its head the idea that portable computing devices and streaming will let us watch whatever we want whenever we want. And they are setting different standards for how viewer engagement is measured: we all know the Nielsen ratings are a bit of a joke in this day and age. With Twitter’s reported acquisition of social tv analytics company Bluefin Labs, it’s something everyone is interested in figuring out.

My friend’s attempt to watch last week’s heart-wrenching Downton Abbey episode a day later was cheapened when a pivotal plot point was spoiled by a parody account for the Dowager Countess on Twitter (obviously do not click that link if you live under a rock and haven’t watched yet). It was a rough way to find out. And the experience cured my friend of wanting to DVR an episode ever again.

Because if you care about the content and you’re tied to the internet as so many of us are, saving anything for later is a losing battle. And the rapid wit of the Oreo jokes on Twitter during the Super Bowl can’t really be appreciated at a later date. Even as the Dowager Countess parody tweet ruined the episode for my friend, it probably entertained thousands of Downton fans who felt more in the know when they saw it, and felt more connected to the show as a result. There’s nothing like seeing a witty remark from someone you follow about an event you’re also following — suddenly it’s a joke you share with other people. And that experience is extremely hard to replicate after the fact.

Most of us will have to accept the fact that seperating live events from their social media counterparts is a losing battle at this point, but for brands like Oreo, the knowledge that they have a dual-platform audience creates real possibilities. And as they proved last night, can be a delicious combo, both for advertisers and witty twitter users who want in on the joke when it happens.

(c) 2013, GigaOM.com.

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