The immediate and public nature of Twitter has helped the social network establish itself as the talking shop of choice for live TV viewers.

From time-to-time Facebook will try to claim that its useless hashtags are just as effective for real-time conversations, or new second-screen apps will crop up before their inevitable decline forces a forlorn rebrand, but as yet Twitter has yet to face any genuine challengers in this area.

However a new study claims that Tumblr is in fact Twitter’s main rival when it comes to TV engagement, with conversations among viewers spiking in the hours after a programme has aired and lasting for days afterwards.

This is partly due to the prevalence of DVRs, streaming, and other video on-demand services which mean that traditional viewing times have shifted and extended from the live broadcast window to the days and weeks after an episode airs.

It’s important to note that this study was carried out by Pulsar and Tumblr so there are obviously some vested interests in play, but by tracking social conversations over an 11-day period the study shows that Tumblr is an important forum for conversations about TV.

Twitter vs. Tumblr

The study set out to compare mentions of five popular TV shows across Twitter and Tumblr. The shows were Sherlock, Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars, Sleepy Hollow and Malcolm in the Middle.

To identify tweets and Tumblr posts that mention a show, the Pulsar application used keywords in text and hashtags, and images in the posts. Keywords included show name, fan abbreviations, official account names, and character names. 

In total, more than 10.4m mentions were recorded from 2.89m accounts across the two social networks.

The number of accounts participating in TV related conversations on each network was quite close, with 1.36m people participating on Tumblr compared to 1.53m on Twitter. 

However it appears that conversations live longer on Tumblr, as it accounted for 70% of the 10.4m mentions recorded over the 11-day period.

Total mentions on Tumblr and Twitter over an 11-day window

Another notable difference is that more than half of Twitter’s user activity occurred on the broadcast day and was limited to just two mentions per user.

In contrast, users on Tumblr averaged 5.2 total mentions, with just 18% of the total conversation concentrated in the broadcast window.

Both networks experienced sharp peaks in activity while the shows were being aired, with Twitter attracting 620,000 mentions compared to 91,000 on Tumblr.

Average shape of conversation curve (mentions over time) during episode broadcast Graphs are indexed. 100 represents the total number of mentions on each network in the one hour broadcast window.

But while mentions on Twitter quickly died down when the programmes ended, Tumblr actually saw its highest peak in activity in the hour after airing.

The long tail of Tumblr’s conversation is even more evident in the three days after broadcast as hourly mentions outpace Twitter nearly five to one.

Hourly average mentions per day

In conclusion…

This study is obviously aimed at encouraging marketers to shift some of their focus to Tumblr rather than Twitter, and some of the stats are certainly food for thought.

For example, Tumblr might be a more effective tool for fostering longer-term engagement among ‘fandoms’, as they’re sadly known.

The network’s focus on images might also allow marketers to be more creative with their content.

However the study also serves to highlight the power that Twitter has for driving real-time conversations around TV, which is a very fashionable marketing tactic at the moment.

And with Twitter’s range of ad products it’s easier for marketers to plan activity and react to conversations or trends while guaranteeing that they’ll reach a relevant audience.

So the rules of engagement remain the same – social marketers and community managers need to look at which network is most effective for their specific goals, then act accordingly.