One of the aspects of social media that marketers love is the attention that devoted fans bring to the table for them. Every Sunday night, my Twitter stream blows up with Game of Thrones chatter; my significant others' Facebook lights up on Thursdays with all the drama going on in Scandal. We started noticing this not long after each of those shows debuted. Names like Olivia Pope and Ned Stark became very familiar to us, even without actually having watched either show.
Marketers love this, of course, because it basically acts as free advertising. But not only that, but since it comes from friends, it carries more weight. If the producers of Game of Thrones tells us to watch the show because it's really good, most people will inherently suspect an ulterior motive. After all, it's in the producers' best interests if we watch the show so they have every reason to convince us to do so, and no reason not to. But if my friends talk very highly of it, and the people whose opinion I respect well enough to follow on Twitter say good things about...? Well, they've got no skin in the game, right? They have nothing to gain if I watch the show, so their opinion seems more honest.
Except that's not strictly speaking true. When Scandal debuted, it was generally well-received but there was some trepidation on the part of the producers. The first season only consisted of seven episodes, which strongly suggests that no one wanted to invest a lot of time and resources into making the show if no one liked it. Today's media-savvy audience who saw (and liked) the show recognized that from their living rooms. They understood that, if this was a show they wanted to see continue, they would need to increase the show's audience.
So for an audience who enjoy the show and want to see it continue, they have an interest in increasing the show's audience. If the ratings for a show are too low, it gets cancelled and the viewers who really enjoy don't get a chance to see the show develop any more. There have been a few instances of fan-based campaigns helping to bring back a show in some capacity, but these are few and far between. (And usually have more than a little dedication on the part of the shows' creators.) For every Futurama or Arrested Development, there are a hundred other series that never see the light of day again in any form! It's much easier to keep an existing show going than to ressurect one that's already been killed.
The other benefit fans get from helping to promote a show is a larger group of people with whom they can talk about, process and reflect on the it. Game of Thrones, for instance, has a large cast with a number of complex relationships. It can be difficult to follow everything, or catch some of the subtleties shown on screen. Having a larger group of friends who also watch means that you have a greater number of people who might see or hear details that you miss, or provide a different context to view a scene from. A wider audience -- or at least a wider audience in your own circle of friends -- can help lead to a richer, deeper understanding of the story and the characters.
That's not to say that your friends are being completely self-serving when they live-Tweet the latest episode. Despite that it does work in their own best interests, there's in fact usually a genuine selflessness that prompts the flood of digital squees. Fans are fans because they get a great deal of enjoyment out of the show, and their excitement is a positive feeling that they want others to share. "I'm really enjoying this show, and I'd like you to experience the same joy that I'm feeling."
It often works, too, because you're friends with these people for a reason. You have common values and interests, so it stands to reason that if your friend likes Scandal, there's a fair chance you will as well. Whatever they get out of the show can be a pretty good indicator of what you'll get out of it.
Scandal debuted with 7.3 million viewers, and that number remained steady throughout its first season. By the series finale of the second season, though, that number had climbed to 9.1 million. Scandal has become ABC's most social program, generating 4.3 million tweets during season two, with each episode out-performing the last.
Now there's obviously somethng to be said for the quality of writing and the actors' talent and all the production values that go into a show contributing to increased viewership. But the fans of the show, the ones who are very vocal about it and flood Facebook and Twitter with commentary as each new episode airs, are thrilled to be able to share their excitement with others. And whether that excitement causes some incidental excitement itself, or just piques their friends' interest, it definitely helps in promoting the show and getting more people to watch.