Twitter edges closer to TV with advertising deal

Jack Dorsey, chairman of Twitter and CEO of Square speaks at a conference of the New Economy Summit 2013 in Tokyo on April 16, 2013.

Oh, the power of Twitter. We had a sobering reminder today of social media’s impact. The Associated Press said its Twitter account was hacked, but not before an AP tweet about explosions at the White House sent the stock market into a brief dive.

Also today, we have another reminder of Twitter’s commercial promise. Twitter has inked a deal with advertising giant Starcom MediaVest Group that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It's all about helping advertisers take advantage of the connection between television and Twitter.

What's the connection? When we watch TV, nearly 90 percent of us are simultaneously checking our phones, computers, tablets -- or all three. Initially, that had television networks in a panic, says William Ward, professor of social media at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

"There was a lot of fear, like, 'Oh my god, they’re not watching our shows, they’re doing other things,''' he says.

Then networks started to see social media as a tool to deepen their relationships with audiences. "Glee" profiles a social media fan every week (Gleek of the Week), and AMC’s zombie hit, "The Walking Dead," displays hashtags on the screen that viewers use to connect and chat on Twitter -- while they're watching the show.

If you think these TV shows are wasting their time with these efforts, the numbers prove otherwise. A recent report from Nielsen found that Twitter engagement has a major impact on TV ratings. Now there's just one thing missing, says Ward: "People are using and engaging with TV shows on the social screen, but they haven’t really connected it together to monetize it."

The Twitter-Starcom partnership plans to find ways to cash in on that connection. "If you think about Twitter as a real-time marketplace, a 24-7 marketplace, that certainly is a really exciting place to be," says Lisa Weinstein, president of Starcom's global digital data and analytics group.

Andrew Frank, research vice president at Gartner, says it's a good deal for both parties. "From the point of view of TV, it’s the chance to reach into something new," he says. "For Twitter, it’s a chance to tap into the massive revenue stream of the television world."

Under the deal, Starcom clients would pay to have promoted material on Twitter. Starcom and Twitter are also creating a lab to explore new advertising possibilities. And those possibilities could be lucrative says Michael Serazio, assistant professor of communications at Fairfield University and author of "Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerilla Marketing."

"The holy grail for advertisers right now is engagement," he says. "TV networks and Twitter will try to coordinate and harness all of that energy and buzz and social media momentum around a particular plotline or character."

Serazio says the Twitter-Starcom partnership is all about finding ways to convert this new audience engagement and connection into cold, hard cash.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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