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This image released by ABC Family shows a still from a promotional item for the series "Pretty Little Liars," featuring a hashtag WhoShotEzra, promoting a recent storyline. According to Social Guide, owned by Nielsen, “PLL,” as it’s known to fans, consistently ranks as one of the most Tweeted about shows while new episodes are airing. While some critics argue the second screen experience of looking at a device while a show is airing detracts from the viewing experience, networks have a different perspective, saying it helps and doesn’t hurt. (AP Photo/ABC Family)
What’s the hash? Why Twitter hashtags for TV shows matter
Social media » Contrary to what you might guess, experts say tweeting about shows in progress actually encourages live viewing.
First Published Jun 25 2014 04:42 pm • Last Updated Jun 28 2014 05:42 pm

During fresh episodes of "Pretty Little Liars," the marketing and publicity teams at ABC Family huddle in a conference room to tweet live with fans.

So do cast members and the show’s producers from where and when they can — and the dialogue often pays off.

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Nielsen’s Twitter tracking division said "PLL" is the top-tweeted show and ranked No. 1 for the week of June 16-22.

"From a very top-level perspective we talk about Twitter being the new water cooler," said Danielle Mullin, the network’s vice president of marketing.

While some critics argue the second-screen experience of looking at a device while a show is on serves to distract viewers, networks see nothing but an upside.

Some insight into hashtags while watching TV:

How hashtags work for viewers

Hashtags make it easier to filter and search for a topic. Liz Myers, in the TV Partnerships division at Twitter, said viewers "don’t have to be mutually following somebody or digging around."

Sometimes hashtags are straightforward with a show’s title (#TrueBlood.) Other times they’re used as conversation starters and are episode or scene specific. (The hashtag #TobyIsBack aired in a recent "PLL" episode when actor Keegan Allen’s character returned from an absence.)

Myers said hashtags "can pinpoint moments, drive voting [on a competition series], create content" and offer insight into how to later talk about a show.


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Encourage live viewing

If DVRs are helping people watch TV shows at their leisure, live tweeting may provide an incentive to tune in when it counts, in real time.

"The more people who talk about it, the more people watch," said Jenn Deering Davis, co-founder and chief custom officer of Union Metrics, a company that analyzes social-media use.

And it could bring in new viewers by "creating impressions for those who aren’t already talking about the show to see that conversation and hopefully change the channel," added Myers.

Mullin said she believes tweets can "play into this phenomenon of FOMO — fear of missing out. When you’re on Twitter and your entire feed is people talking about something, if you’re not watching you start to feel left out."

Rewarding viewers

Networks try to reward viewers for their tweets. Not only will they retweet fans’ tweets from show accounts but sometimes they air tweets on-screen live, in reruns or during promos.

When it was revealed that Jen Arnold of TLC’s "The Little Couple" had cancer, the network selected sentiments from fans with the hashtag #GetWellJen to show later on-screen.

More and more actors, like the cast of ABC’s "Scandal," are getting into the game and tweeting with fans while a show is airing.

"Back in the day you had to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to get back an 8-by-10 glossy photograph and a sticker [from a celebrity]," Mullin said.

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