Nielsen measuring Twitter chatter, with an eye on advertising

The analytics company is taking a closer look at the number of people who see TV-related tweets

How many eyes see a tweet about television? Nielsen wants to find out, and let marketers know so they can make more informed advertising decisions on Twitter.

On Monday the measurement company announced the launch of its Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, a measurement system designed to give TV networks more information about how many eyes see TV-related tweets.

Previously, only the number of tweets about television programs could be measured, the analytics company said. But with the new system, networks can also find out how many people are actually seeing those tweets.

It's a question that apparently has eluded marketers for some time. "Without a measurement of the audience of people who view those tweets, TV networks, advertisers and agencies were left wondering about the true reach and influence of TV-related activity on Twitter," Nielsen said.

The answer: quite a lot. For an average program on TV, the Twitter audience is on average 50 times larger than the number of people generating tweets about it, Nielsen said. That means that if 2,000 people are tweeting about a show, 100,000 people are seeing those tweets. So their eyes might be glued to the television screen, but more TV watchers are also hanging on every tweet, the data show.

The number of people using Twitter to talk about television shows has also grown in the past two years, Nielsen said. Some 19 million people in the U.S. composed 263 million tweets about live TV in the second quarter of 2013, Nielsen said -- a 24 percent increase in authors and a 38 percent rise in tweet volume, according to data from SocialGuide.

The idea behind Nielsen's data is that by having more information about the reach of tweets, TV networks and marketers will be able to make better decisions about how to advertise on Twitter. If Nielsen's data service gains traction, it's a sign that Twitter may be able to generate potential revenue in the TV arena.

The idea is that the tweets could compel advertisers to shift more of their dollars to Twitter -- a company that is hard-pressed, with an initial public offering on the horizon, to monetize its site.

Beyond the basic numbers, Nielsen also wants to incorporate user demographic information into its data in the future. The company also wants its metrics to include the timing of impressions, to analyze the percent of tweets viewed during airtime.

Advertising is already a huge part of Twitter's business -- 85 percent of the company's sales were generated through advertising in 2012, according to IPO documents filed last week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

But Twitter wants to keep its advertising business strong, and information like the data provided by Nielsen could provide a signal to marketers that their investment will pay off.

"Advertisers will not continue to do business with us, or they will reduce the prices they are willing to pay to advertise with us, if we do not deliver ads in an effective manner," Twitter said in its IPO documents.

Twitter has already partnered with TV broadcast networks like CBS, Fox, Bloomberg TV and BBC America for its Amplify advertising program. The program lets broadcasters place video from shows in users' feeds, along with advertising.

Nielsen's Twitter TV Ratings are available for TV programming across more than 215 English-language U.S. broadcast and cable networks, Nielsen said. The company is also working with Twitter to measure tweets around Spanish-language networks.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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