Social media is revolutionising the way viewers engage and interact with their TV screens especially when it comes to voting on major reality shows like The Voice, writes Peter Anson
The power of social media can be seen on a daily basis as members of the general public take to popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to voice their opinions on national and global news and events.
With the potential to reach millions of people in a matter of minutes, social media is the quickest and most effective way to share your thoughts on a particular topic and be part of a movement to initiate change.
It's no surprise that brands are looking for ways in which they can monetise social media, and influence opinion towards their brands in a positive way by communicating with consumers through multiple online channels.
Whether consumers are hitting 'like' on a brand's Facebook page, retweeting or hashtagging hot topics on Twitter in real-time, consumers are telling the world what's important to them.
The rise in social media users can be partially attributed to the fast adoption of smartphones. Facebook now has more than one billion users, of which 680 million access via a mobile device, and Australia has one of the highest penetration rates for smartphone use in the world.
With social media driving so much of the conversation, and with so many Australians connected to social media anytime and anywhere, the integration of social media with TV is a perfect fit.
A recent Australian survey into the influence of social media on TV viewing habits found 43% of respondents use social media while watching TV, 42% chose to watch a TV show following a friend's recommendation on social media and 38% were made aware of a TV show from Facebook or Twitter commentary.
Considering these findings it's no wonder that TV networks and production companies are fast developing more sophisticated social TV integration to drive audience engagement, increase loyalty to boost ratings of live viewing and increase advertising and sponsorship revenue.
We've already seen some of Australia's top rating TV shows very prominently promote social conversation to drive viewer interaction. The Voice successfully harnesses the immediacy of social media by promoting artists' hashtags and airing viewer commentary during performances, and The X Factor ensures all contestants are socially accessible – with Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as through additional contestant-specific video content regularly uploaded via its YouTube channel.
These leading reality shows have also embraced social media to support the viewer empowerment of voting. Traditional voting platforms like phone and SMS are still widely used, but the popularity of social media by the key demographic audience of these shows can capture incremental vote activity as a result of increased engagement.
The return of Big Brother in 2012 brought with it the first use of paid Facebook voting for Australian TV, where the program incorporated an option for viewers to vote to save their favourite Big Brother housemate by purchasing Facebook credits.
Via social media, TV viewers can experience deeper involvement with the show's brand, as well as the hosts, contestants and the wider audience.
Social media users already have an opinion and the most valuable way to share this opinion is to cast a vote that impacts the outcome of the very show the viewer and their social peers are following.
Voting via social media is easy, provides a great user experience and offers additional content. For example, during the last series, Big Brother sent Facebook users a personalised 'thank you' video from the preferred housemate once a vote has been cast, and viewers were able to share their vote by Twitter, post it to their Facebook timeline and invite other friends to also download the Facebook vote app.
How a particular TV contestant trends on Facebook or Twitter is not a true reflection of the final vote results, but positive and/or negative social media feedback can certainly drive additional viewer interactivity, including counter commentary and additional votes.
Tracking user feedback in real-time online allows the production company to find out what viewers like and dislike about a show to improve the viewer's experience. Companies that listen to what social commentators are saying about them and take immediate action don't go unnoticed, and can significantly reduce negative comments being posted online.
Specially created apps by the TV networks such as Fango and Jump-In provide viewers with easy-to-access exclusive content and increases their sense of connection with a show by enabling them to participate in program discussions and real-time polls.
The Block used this to great effect during the Room Reveal episodes, with viewers sharing their thoughts on who they wanted to win, which was displayed almost instantly on screen as a percentage showing how many viewers agreed or disagreed with them.
The integration of social media with television not only connects viewers with a TV show as it airs, it also lets them follow the social media activities of their favourite shows, presenters and contestants afterwards to make them feel even closer to them, providing an endless supply of information that no other platforms can come close to replicating.
Peter Anson is chief executive at Salmat Digital