While “Breaking Bad” may win more Emmys and “True Blood” garner higher ratings, neither of those shows can hold a candle to “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta” — on Twitter and Facebook.
According to the latest data from social analytics company Trendrr, “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta” ranks as the summer’s most social television show, excluding sports programming.
The VH1 reality program, which follows a sextet of Atlanta women, their love lives and connections to the Dirty South’s hip-hop scene, generated more social chatter this summer than any other show, broadcast or cable.
What’s more, that activity grew as the season wore on — and so did the ratings.
“It’s the most entertaining second-screen experience you could ever have watching a TV show,” VH1 President Tom Calderone told TheWrap. “It’s not just comments made during the show but participants in the show retweeting things, commenting with the audience; it’s the fastest game of tennis I’ve ever seen online.”
Hyperbole aside, the numbers are robust. On average, the show generated 555,157 social interactions per episode, more than 200,000 more interactions than the summer’s second most social program, "WWE Monday Night Raw."
The show generated more buzz than higher rated programs like “Raw” and “True Blood,” and helped make VH1 the fourth most socially active cable network excluding those that aired the Olympics.
And though the link between social-media buzz and ratings is not yet numerically concrete, by its season finale “Love & Hip-Hop” had surged to the top spot in cable in its time slot for adults 18-49 and drew 3.7 million viewers.
Calderone traces the show’s social following to a sense of discovery, as the original “Love & Hip-Hop” was not promoted as much as some of the network’s other shows. Its fan base grew organically, intrigued by tales of infidelity, the occasional celebrity appearance (rapper Lil Scrappy dates one of the women), and catfights.
And so a community of engaged viewers was born.
Yet VH1 as a whole “overindexes” on social media, meaning it registers more social interaction relative to its ratings. VH1’s strong social community is in large part a result of its audience — young, urban and female.
These characteristics are particularly applicable in the case of “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta,” where most of its viewers are urban women — a demographic that watches a lot of television and uses social media.
“We look at the social buzz, and it’s three-pronged,” David Ho, Trendrr's director of client insights and communications, told TheWrap. “By the show's content and where it’s based on the dial, you know the audience is in its late 20s and early 30s."
Those are "digital natives," people who grew up using the Internet.
"Then you can tell from the data the activity is happening in a ton of urban areas, and with women. Those are three sweet spots.”
To buttress this demographic advantage, VH1 has also built a strategy to maximize social conversation. The network uses Co-Star, an app for mobile phones and tablets, to augment fans' conversation around any given show.
And the cast members of each show must chip in as well.
While the reunion of “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta” aired on VH1 Monday night, K. Michelle, Karlie Redd and the other stars of the show had a job to do beyond watching themselves yell back and forth: they had to live tweet it, as they have all season.
Mimi Faust alerted people to watch both the show and the live chat afterwards.
"Would you like Chat Live w/ me 2nite? Here's how!," she posted, adding a link. Then she asked if everyone was watching the reunion live.
Karlie Redd fanatically retweeted followers before adding this unsavory comment to the on-screen fighting with K. Michelle, "R Kelly Peed On K Michelle." Joseline Hernandez mixed her own tweets with this retweet of @CocoaPebbles 84 "@Msjoseline say she want that M&M…(MEAT & MONEY) at least she honest lol."
Though some of these comments are inscrutable to those not watching the show, they stirred a great deal of interest on Twitter, generating 75 trending topics by VH1's count.
Cast members for VH1 shows go through a social media boot camp, where the network trains them in the best ways and times to interact with fans.
“It’ not only to let them know about the platforms, which they’re aware of, but how to communicate with the audience,” Calderone said. “There’s a certain way to communicate and a timing of things.”
These women become instant celebrities, and their first instinct is to respond to everything said about them on social media. That's tough when you have hundreds of thousands of followers, as many of the women do.
The live tweeting helps morph the show into a live event, akin to a sports programming, where rights fees continue to soar because people tune-in live rather than DVR it. The more people that watch live, the more that watch commercials.
“If you build up a good active audience, you have a new metric with which to sell,” Ho said. “Advertisers will take an active audience over an inactive audience, all ratings points being equal.”
Indeed, the social buzz has also started to have an impact on advertisers, though not always in the way you might think.
“At pretty much all of my meetings with clients this fall and spring, they said, ‘Wow, you guys trend a lot in television,” Calderone said. “For the client, the agencies to say we notice how much you trend, it hits a sweet spot that has nothing to do with ratings. The business we’re in is buzz and if we can capture that, it spills over to our other shows.”
That is why Viacom continues to push the envelope and staged a live video chat with some of the stars of the show after the reunion Monday night.
And what did Calderone do while all of this is happening?
“I just sit back and watch.”