"Every1 who can please turn to OWN especially if you have a Neilsen [sic] box."
With that tweet to her 9 million followers at 9:03 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, Oprah Winfrey caused a stir in the TV world and drew a rebuke from Nielsen for violating its rules against trying to bias the TV ratings sample (but, apparently, not for misspelling the company's name).
Oprah's ability to move markets through her fans is famous. Termed the "Oprah Effect," companies featured or mentioned on her show in the past have seen sales sky-rocket, sometimes by thousands of percentages.
When Oprah has promoted a book on her show, it has not been unusual for the mere mention to generate the sale of millions of additional copies. In fact, most publishers have run special printings of books (and prepared those eye-catching stickers) in advance of an Oprah appearance in anticipation of a big sales spike.
Thus, it's not surprising that when one of America's most influential personalities singled out the Nielsen households among her many millions of followers to watch her show, that folks in the TV industry got upset. However, it turns out it was really much ado about nothing. It didn't work.
When you analyze either the Nielsen ratings data for her show that night, or the anonymous set-top-box viewing data of 30 million Americans within Simulmedia's database, you discover that OWN received no discernible bump in ratings from the tweet or any of the many re-tweets. The OWN show that night had the lowest viewership of any new episode airing within the couple of weeks before and after for that time slot for the network. At best, the tweet might have moved a few thousand viewers. That's a far cry from the many millions of books Oprah has helped sell.
Now, the lower rating is not surprising. It was running against the Grammys on another network that night. However, the failure of her tweet to move the needle in the ratings at least causes one to wonder whether the Oprah Effect translates to social media. Maybe this is a fundamental limitation of today's online social media? It's not as powerful as TV, and text characters can't do what a personality can do with sight, sound and motion.
There are hundreds of causes trolling social media for sympathizers and donors. Are Facebook likes and tweets any more powerful than a segment of the network news or a mention by a talk show host? Not that I have seen.
What do you think? Social media can reach a lot of folks, but can it move the needle when it comes to causing them to take desired actions?