Oh, how the meme turns. Early last week, the Twitter fervor around #sharknado seemed to be all around the new second-screen power of Twitter. According to reports, the Syfy show was peaking at about 5,000 tweets a minute Thursday night during its airing. The stars were live-tweeting the made-for-TV flick. The celebrity pile-on hit its absurd height when actress Mia Farrow fake-tweeted a photo of herself and novelist Philip Roth purportedly preparing to watch the show.
But by Friday, after the overnights came in, the meme had turned from one about Twitter Power to Twitter's big disconnect. Variety reports that the deliberately silly disaster movie drew an average of 1.37 million per Nielsen -- 38th for the night and only better-than-middling for Syfy's typical 1.15 million pull lately for prime time.
Syfy asks that we scrape beneath the surface of the numbers to see that Sharknado actually skewed younger than usual. Ok, but as Variety points out: a “Full House" rerun on Nick and Disney’s “Dog with a Blog” drew more viewers overall. In the current field of digital downloads and DVR +3 rating, it is probably best to see how the property performs over the longer haul. Arguably, the Twitter fest succeeded in raising the Syfy brand recognition in everyone's mind and give it a campy sensibility one may not have associated with the folks who brought us "Battlestar Galactica," a zillion Stargate something, or others. More than a few of us may have caught the online video compilation of most outrageous scenes from the film.
SocialGuide (a McKinsey/Nielsen joint venture) said that 111,604 people tweeted about the show on Thursday, resulting in 318,232 mentions. Thus, more than 12% of all TV-related tweets involved the show. Of course, several months ago, SocialGuide had argued that there is a direct correlation between Twitter volume about a show and its ratings. They claimed at the time that a 8.5% increase in mention volume translates into a 1% increase in ratings among 18- to-34-year-olds, but it takes a 14% increase in Twitter volume to get that same lift from the 35-49 segment. Of course, this was looking at series TV with ongoing Twitter buzz, not event TV like Sharknado.
At the very least, the mixed results of #sharknado indicate that the relationship between second-screen Twitter activity and ratings is not based on volume alone. There is something more subtle going on there that involves genre, calls to action and the overall willingness of people really to change channels on the basis of a tweet.
My guess is that the Twitter campaign will not overcome the basic audience limitations on a piece of content. There was nothing ambiguous about a movie named #sharknado. It is quite possible that the audience for self-consciously campy silliness of that sub-Roger Corman sort was already saturated. I opted for the online highlights reel, which convinced me I was not interested in watching more.
And this all tells us something valuable about social media and Twitter in particular. It allows people to appear to get the in-crowd’s in-joke without having to suffer through the letdown of the joke itself. You get to align yourself with trends and hipness without really engaging in the trend itself.
To me, the strangest part of the social media fetish among marketers in recent years is the silly presumption that this medium taps into something uniquely genuine in human communication. “Authenticity” is a favorite buzzword for gurus in this channel. Really? Have they never been to a dinner party? To high school?
As a refresher course, try the milestone sociological study in 1959 by Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The title pretty much explains itself, but Goffman mapped out how postured, defensive and theatrical our person-to-person interactions are -- especially when there is an audience.