New research from Diffusion and YouGov suggests that one in five British TV viewers (17%) use social media as a way of discovering new programmes.

Based on an online survey of 2,025 UK consumers aged 18 to 55+, the report found that 39% turned to social media to guide them in their TV choices (defined as “helping discover new TV shows and be alerted to programmes that are currently on and being talked about”) – while 17% use social media to gain a “fresh perspective on what they are watching”.

This adds further weight to Channel 4’s decision to launch a new channel, called 4Seven, which will re-air shows that create the most buzz within social media over the past week.

Speaking at the FT Digital Media Conference on Friday, Channel 4 CEO David Abraham said that the broadcaster would take advantage of social media conversations that enhance the word of mouth discussion TV programmes have always generated.

As well as discovering new shows online, an additional 17% of those questioned for The Social TV Trends Report said that they would be most likely to talk online about a TV programme if they saw friends already talking about it online (as per the graph below). This trend rises to one in three (33%) amongst 18-24 year olds and one in four (24%) in 25-34 year olds.

Many broadcasters have tried to tap in to this peer to peer recommendation, with Facebook advertising being the favourite method of choice. However, only 4% of TV viewers claim they would be more likely to talk about a show online if they had seen Facebook adverts about the show in question, also shown in the graph above.

Diffusion’s head of consumer Tom Malcolm said that these real-time, online discussions via social media mark the end of the ‘water cooler’ effect – and a fundamental change in the way people watch, share and interact with TV

Although a number of broadcasters have invested heavily in Facebook advertising to boost viewing figures, the new research highlights that most effective means of boosting viewing figures is discussion generation which is aided by strong community management and influencer engagement.  

Advertising alone is no longer enough; the social television viewer is increasingly looking for third party endorsement and it’s vital that broadcasters get their audiences talking about their shows positively online.”

Similarly, while the hashtag is making its way into mainstream use as a reference to Twitter – just one in ten 18-24 year olds would be more likely to comment on a show online if a hashtag was shown at the beginning of the programme.