Social Media Hasn’t Replaced TV Viewing, It’s Connected It

Sixteen years ago, academic and data geek Robert Putnam hit a national nerve with his essay “Bowling Alone” about our collective loss of ‘social capital.’  By 2000, he published a book expanding on his premise that Americans were growing disconnected from their families, communities and nation due to culture trends like two-career families and television, which reduce our participation in groups.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonAn article posted to Ad Age yesterday might gladden Robert’s heart…somewhat. Despite DVR’s, the declines in live TV viewership over the past few years are reversing.  Appointment TV has made a resurgence as Facebook, Twitter and cell phone based social media outlets now drive live tune-ins.

Apparently, we still like to watch alone, but we link up as part of a larger social group through talking, texting, posting and commenting. As we watch, e like to gripe about the White Sox bullpen, seek explanations for the Bull’s careless ball handling and whine about the Blackhawks disappearing offense. Okay, maybe that’s just me but the point is we form very active, regularly scheduled communities around live television viewing.

Robin Sloan, who works with Twitter’s media-partnership groups says “If you look at the tweets about a TV show, a huge proportion come from when the show is airing live, not an hour later.” Tweets and status updates have a shelf life shorter than shredded cheese in a warm refrigerator; it’s all about commenting in the now.

And how much do we like to tweet?  At this year’s Super Bowl, the most-viewed TV event in history, viewers launched over 4,000 tweets per second in the game’s final minute, earning that game the highest volume of tweets for any sports event.

We may be alone physically, but not socially. A whopping 86% of mobile net users watch TV with their mobile devices. Further, the communities that form range from the very broad, like for the Super Bowl, to the very, very engaged, like the people who tweet and text about “Glee.”  “Glee” earned the Number 2 spot on Trendrr.TV which measures TV chatter across various social media, which sounds awesome for ratings.  Unfortunately, the show itself ranked 77th on Nielsen’s prime-time list.

So a cheesy show about awkward high school types inspires awkward types to tweet cheesily just like high school…  Hmm, that figures.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

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HE’S THE ANGRY BIRD WIZARD/THERE HAS TO BE A TWIST…

Wow, that doesn’t work. At all. Pete Townshend could never set his seminal rock opera Tommy in today’s world. Of course, the real irony is how Tommy’s isolation as ‘that deaf dumb and blind kid‘ perfectly mirrors our own posture during gaming, particularly mobile: we are a nation of loners, standing bored at a bus stop, headphones on, playing in silence.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OLSONUnlike the raucous, crowd-laden pinball galleries of old, today’s digital gaming is a solitary pursuit. It fills the empty hours, the inevitable waiting periods, the lifeless moments between life’s moments. Sociologists may bemoan how this furthers the notion of “Bowling Alone” but what hits me is how once again, fast adoption of technology signals the end for another industry with breathtaking speed.

In the early 90’s, pinball machine manufacturers were at their peak, cranking out over 100,000 units a year.  Today, there’s just one company left, Stern Pinball of Chicago, making 5,000 units annually. And most of those sales serve the collector market.

That’s the nature of progress–even old favorites inevitably come to mark quaint, if noisy, moments in history.

Except pinball may not be dead just yet. Like so many other industries, it’s beginning to find a second life serving the incredibly under-served masses in China, where 10,000 arcades flourish in a throwback nod to the American heyday.

So maybe pinball will get a bonus play. Hopefully, for another twenty years or so.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, OLSON

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The Challenge for Marketers Regarding Social Networks: Embracing the Narcissism

Back in the mid-70’s, I used to ride the bus to junior high with a kid called “Tiger” Jackson.  Actually, none of us called him “Tiger” but apparently someone in his family did and he liked the sound of that a whole lot better than “Bill Jr.”  Tiger was never particularly popular but he was always the first to have any comedy record–George Carlin, Steve Martin, The National Lampoon Troupe–and somehow, the mere act of owning and sharing that material lent him a consideration he wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

I hadn’t thought about Tiger in three decades but yesterday we had a long discussion about social networks with a client that is getting very active in that space and facing the challenges every corporation does as they make the foray into the less-charted world of earned media.  As we explained the “Hey Everybody!” nature of Facebook and the “Hey anybody!” nature of Twitter to a curious if bemused seventy-year old, the question of “But…why?” came up again and again.  “Why do people spend so much time on these networks?”  “Why do they stop what they’re doing to write about it?”  “Why do they think anyone would care?”

We try to answer these queries with intellectual theses about the need for connection in a socially-isolating world where people bowl alone…  We wax philosophical on how technology empowers a cognitive expansion of our collective Dunbar numbers…  But at it’s heart, this need to broadcast what we’re doing, what we think, or what we have found to an unseen audience that includes friends, nodding acquaintances and a considerable amount of total strangers, bears more than a trace of narcissism.  “Look at me!  Follow my links!  Enjoy this comedy brought to you…by me!

Picture 2I type this fully aware that this insight indicts me and my social network habits perhaps most of all.  I write this blog most weekdays, creating lessons on marketing for…well, for whomever stumbles across them.  But I want people to stumble across them so I send out links to these posts over Twitter and LinkedIn.  Every morning during my commute, I try to find some topical story to inspire a one-liner for my Facebook status update.  I tell myself that I do these things because I need firsthand knowledge of social networking or that writing about contemporary advertising forces me to develop an intellectual discipline during these rapidly-evolving times.  And all of that is true.

But that hardly explains why I check my blog stats everyday to see how many people read the post.  Or why I secretly thrill when a friend on Facebook ‘likes my status’ or someone re-tweets a link.  Or why so many people on twitter spend hours each day, forwarding links like a modern day Tiger Jackson.  All of that springs directly from narcissism; a narcissism every client wading into the waters of social networking with hopes of spreading their messages would be well advised to keep in the forefront of their minds.  As an advertiser in social media, your wants and needs will always fall a distant second to your audience, unless you find a way to align your needs with theirs.  If that seems unthinkable, just read the first few paragraphs of this MobileInsider post by Steve Smith.  As he winds up for his pitch against ill-considered mobile phone apps, he says this: “For the benefit of those consumer brands that weren’t listening the first few hundred times this has been said, consumers do not wake up in the morning thanking the lord they live in a country where they get to worship your brand and see life through its narrow self-serving lens. That only happens in the retro-fantasies of Don Draper and the households of top executives at many of these major brands.”  Ouch.

Adjusting to the foundational narcissism that fuels social networks not only presents a real challenge, but a direct juxtaposition to the necessary narcissism of every corporate marketer.  Which is why these are, and will continue to be, very interesting times…

Of course, if you feel differently, I welcome your comments.  Even if you think my thinking is way off-base, the narcissist in me will take comfort knowing you responded.  Bless you.

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79