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How ‘Scandal,’ ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ and ‘Idol’ Became Top Shows on Twitter

More and more networks are finding the value in the open communication that social media platforms facilitate — and some of the numbers are breathtaking

Television success is no longer measured by ratings, share and total viewers alone. It can also be quantified by social media presence — usually in the form of Twitter mentions.

Need proof?

Every hear of a cheap little thriller called "Sharknado"? Though the Saturday night throwaway on the Syfy channel brought in only 1.4 million viewers when it debuted, it became a Twitter phenomenon.

Also read: Hollywood Studios' Message to Executives: Embrace Digital or Die

As a result, subsequent showings turned it into a ratings behemoth, bringing 1.9 million viewers for its first repeat, and 2.4 million for its second. It even earned a one-night run in movie theaters at midnight last Friday in theaters across the country.

On Tuesday, Nielsen published a study that showed statistical evidence of an influence between broadcast TV tune-in for a program and the Twitter conversation around that program.

“Using time series analysis, we saw a statistically significant causal influence indicating that a spike in TV ratings can increase the volume of Tweets, and, conversely, a spike in Tweets can increase tune-in,” said Paul Donato, chief research officer, Nielsen.

More and more networks are finding the value in the open communication that social media platforms facilitate. And some of the numbers are breathtaking.

ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars," the top tweetiest show according to SocialGuide, which measures mentions on Twitter, had nearly 11 million tweets in the first half of 2013.

It was followed by "American Idol," with more than 8 million, and "Walking Dead," with 5.5 million. (See chart below)

Also read: Facebook Users Talk TV 5 Times More Than Twitter Tweeps

ABC Family credits its comprehensive social media strategy for its high numbers, a program the network refers to as "Responsive Marketing." And it compares re-tweets to the modern day version of an autograph. 

"Marketing is no longer a monologue — it’s a dialogue that allows us to connect with viewers in a way that enhances fan engagement and builds lasting loyalty," Danielle Mullin, vice president of marketing at ABC Family told TheWrap.

A recent example: To announce the greenlighting of the new "Pretty Little Liars" spin-off series, "Ravenswood," ABC Family forewent a traditional press release in favor of driving early social buzz. It took the announcement straight to the fans by simultaneously releasing cryptic clues across a number of social media platforms, including Twitter.

Also read: Pretty Little Liars' Earns Most-Tweeted Show on Television Bragging Rights

The result was several trending topics for a second show that could reap the benefits of the breakout series' social thumbprint. 

In its figuring, SocialGuide collects tweets based on a match to its database of all terms associated with a TV show," a representative for the company told TheWrap.

"That includes things like the name of the program, the names of the actors, the hashtags and handles for the actors and program, key quotes or thematic elements (eg, #TeamEdward or the like), essentially any way that a person might be talking about a TV show on Twitter."

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"American Idol" sits directly behind "Pretty Little Liars" as the second-most tweeted show of the first six months of 2013.

The show — while not the ratings behemoth it once was, is still no slouch with viewers — takes its social media presence so seriously that contestants go through a social media "boot camp."

The current social strategy for "Idol" places a large emphasis on real-time engagement and interactivity. As a result of that push, the show now has advertisers who are interested in partnering with "Idol" on the social front.

Gone are the days where Ford and Coca-Cola music videos, along with traditional commercial breaks, are the only ways of advertising during the singing competition's broadcasts.

"A lot of the big market drivers for our sponsorships are being dictated these days by the sponsors themselves," Matt Moroz, Fox's senior director of brand management told TheWrap. "They're moving away from looking for pure brand awareness in their sponsorships and looking for fan engagement as a driver of that."

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Fan interactivity is beneficial for both parties in the advertising give-and-take. "Everyone wants to feel like they're part of the show," VP of Social Media Cait Hood said.

One way to appease both sponsors and fans was this past season's Idol Fan Meter, which was sponsored by AT&T. Viewers participated in the tug-of-war style poll by tweeting #IdolAgree or #IdolDisagree when host Ryan Seacrest prompted a question. The corresponding bar on screen would react accordingly in real-time.

Fox also has a war room full of people live-tweeting shows every Wednesday and Thursday, conversing with fans and even creating original memes in real-time.

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From one singing competition to another, "The Voice" ranks sixth on the list with 4.6 million tweets over the course of 2013 Q1 and Q2.

"The Voice" is all about cultivating artists, preparing them for careers beyond just the scope of the show. Its social strategy is an extension of that concept, Co-executive Producer Nicolle Yaron told TheWrap.

"The artists are empowered to create their own fan bases to take with them in their future careers, and the show documents the goings-on offstage and on," Yaron said. "In doing so, we give fans unparalleled access to all our resources."

"The Voice" measures social media success with their eyes: "From seeing people tweet that they were switching over from 'Glee' and 'Dancing With the Stars' during the premiere in Season 1, to seeing all the coaches go to the top of the Social 50 chart, to the incredible support and growth of all our artists," Yaron said.

Also read: TCA: 'X Factor's' Simon Cowell – 'No Show Can Survive' Without Finding Stars

"Scandal" has also achieved great success — and possibly even a second season — because of social media. The political potboiler is the seventh most-tweeted show of 2013, with 3.5 million over the first six months of '13.

The series takes cast involvement to a whole other level.

The entire cast live tweets every episode of the show — both first runs and repeats, Marla Provencio, executive vice president and chief marketing officer ABC Entertainment Group, told TheWrap.

"Our show was sort of, like, a grassroots movement," "Scandal" star Kerry Washington (right) told TheWrap. "It was from the bottom up."

Fans of "Scandal" are so fervent that they actually call themselves "gladiators" because they are committed to championing the cause of the show.

Washington has credited the gladiators for the second season order. After all, it was social buzz that caught the attention of the fairly high profile now No. 1 fan.

"When Oprah came and spent the day with us here at Pope Associates, interviewing Shonda (series creator Shonda Rhimes) and I, she said she started watching the show because of Twitter. She said she would be on Twitter on a Thursday night and be like, 'What is this ‘Scandal'?'"

That helps.