Television and social media are a match made in Hollywood. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are virtual watercoolers, and when something happens on television, you’ll increasingly find that the conversation is taking place online.

This, for obvious reasons, creates numerous opportunities for the creators and distributors of television programming, and many television networks, producers and personalities are actively tapping into social media.

But while social media can serve as a meaningful source of valuable data and a platform for engagement, how conversations on sites like Facebook and Twitter emerge and evolve isn’t precisely understood or predicted.

If Hollywood is going to figure social media out, it needs to figure out who’s talking, when, and what about. That’s precisely what NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company, recently looked at. Its findings, as detailed on the Nielsen blog:

  • On social media sites, 45% of the male population and 55% of the female population are talking about television programming. When the general online population is counted, however, those numbers reverse.
  • Individuals under the age of 18 make up more than a third of the social media population, but they account for just 12% of the social media population talking about television.
  • The most prolific social media population for television talk is the 25-34 age group (27%) and the 50+ age group (31%).
  • Online chatter around television is highest mid-week, when many popular shows air.
  • Chatter is highest as a show’s premiere approaches, and during the first month of its season.
  • Some of the most popular topics for discussion are winning, voting and judging.

Needless to say, any television network looking at social media will need to look more closely at the social media buzz around its shows to draw conclusions, but NM Incite’s data reveals a couple of things for networks to chew on:

  • Social media is often thought of as a ‘young‘ channel, but it’s older adults who are talking the most about television using it. Networks targeting youths on social media sites should therefore reconsider whether their initiatives are excluding more receptive audiences.
  • Keeping the chatter coming after a show premieres may be difficult. The popularity of discussions around winning, voting and judging hint that interactive components that engage the audience in the show are one of the best ways to maintain viewer interest. The challenge, of course, is that implementing these components will not be easy for certain types of programming.