An interesting thing happened on Twitter this past Wednesday. (There's a sentence I'm not so sure I'm thrilled to write; to the Twitter averse, please bear with me). I had been tracking Twitter trends ever since waking up to hear one of my roommates yell out "Happy Birthday Nick is the number one trending topic on Twitter right now!" Yes, that's Nick Jonas she was referring to (and a part of me died inside).
Twitter is an exceptionally useful real-time search tool, as well as an insightful glimpse of what's on the forefront of the general public psyche. For pop culture junkies like me, the explosion in Twitter use has made it possible to track popular fandoms and zeitgeisty events. During last Sunday's VMAs Twitter was bursting at the seams with talk of Kanye and Taylor (personally, I couldn't care either way), and H1N1 (Swine Flu to the uninitiated) has held ground on the trending topic list since it first coughed its way onto the scene. During nearly every episode of So You Think You Can Dance, sure enough, the show acronym SYTYCD ends up as a trending topic, and the same can be said for many television shows with large fan bases who tweet while they watch.
Clearly, Twitter is a great way for those in the TV world to track audience response. During the Fringe finale last spring, a finale I missed at the time, the Twitterverse was exploding over the episode's final minutes (SPOILER ALERT: No one you might care about dies! The island is maybe NOT an island. Oh, wait. Wrong J.J. Abrams show), and the ending was instantly spoiled for me, thanks to my persistent curiosity and obsessive Twitter refreshing.
Well what about when fans of a television show attempt to launch a full-fledged attack on Twitter, pimping that show and getting it onto trending topics; how do we pop culture junkies track the impact, if any, of an event such as this? Can Twitter trending actually increase show ratings? Or is it just a little splash in the show's fandom? Thankfully, the devoted fans of the show Bones might be able to provide an answer, or at least a glimpse into the potential.
Sometime around noon on Wednesday I noticed a few of the users I follow on Twitter were incessantly blasting "#BonesSeason5" in their tweets, and with every chirp of my Tweetdeck, I'd discovered more. I checked out the Twitter homepage, where sure enough, "BonesSeason5" was a trending topic. In fact, it rapidly ascended in popularity, before hovering around the fourth or fifth slot (you guessed it, "Happy Birthday Nick" remained quite strong).
Now, I'm no statistician, I'm bad with numbers, and half the time I can't even read my own watch, but I have a sense that for something to get into trending topics you've got to have a lot of people tweeting about it in a short amount of time. (Let's not forget that it's actually a small percentage of Twitter users who make up the mass quantity of tweets, but it's an impressive feat no less.)
What I found especially interesting, is that while this fan-driven Twitter blast for Bones was happening on Wednesday, the show didn't in fact premiere on FOX until Thursday. Talk about commitment! As I tracked the various Bones fans' tweets I noticed many issued their hope that the presence of Bones in trending topics might attract new viewers (not necessarily needed for a show embarking on its 5th Season, but endearing nonetheless). I have to say, I'm curious to know if this can be factored into Bones' ratings after the season premiere aired (early numbers show it was the highest-rated season opener in the show's history and helped the network win the night). I imagine there won't be any way to track what influence the early Twitter movement had, if any, but this speaks to a bigger issue all together.
I think this says a lot to the power of online communities, especially those that are comprised of TV show fandoms, and the opportunity for fans, show creators, and even the suits in charge to leverage this power. I will admit, I spent a lot of time in my teenage days on AOL forums professing my undying love for The X-Files, and I too have found myself swept up in the "fangirl squees" for shows over the past few years, Bones included.
The X-Files was one of the first shows to garner a truly strong online following, but that's no rarity in our present state of Internet over-saturation. However, this makes me wonder if people realize the extent of fan commitment. Do networks and executives realize that this online community is not merely a group of introverted TV devotees? Browse the pages of LiveJournal and you'll discover people whose addiction, obsession and love for various television shows may border on the unhealthy, but provide a wealth of viewpoints and information. It's practically an untapped resource for focus groups and brand loyalists! Don't you see!?! You could sell these people anything!
Okay, that's so not my point. The thing is, it never ceases to amaze me how great an impact different TV shows can have on different people. Which brings me to my actual point (I know, you've been wondering when I'll get there). As Facebook continues to take on Twitter-like attributes and real-time search engines grow increasingly popular, the cutthroat world of television programming has an incredibly open landscape for promoting a show and engaging a fiercely devoted audience that can give that show staying power. In my brief time living and working in Los Angeles, and in my many years of being an avid TV fan, I am always saddened when a pilot never makes it to air, or when a show is prematurely canceled, and then both those involved with the making and those who are on the receiving end are left hanging.
So to everyone involved in the world of television development and to all TV audiences everywhere, take a page out of the book of the Bones fans. Find that devoted online community and interact with them (by the end of the day Wednesday, show creators Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan issued thank yous over Twitter, as did Bones actor Stephen Fry). Let them know you care too and that you're listening, and maybe, just maybe, we'll all get to watch some more quality stuff on Thursday nights.
Just not Friday nights. (Ever heard of the Friday Night Death Slot?) Friday nights you should really get out of the house.