Social media is having a tremendous impact on various aspects of life, including television, but it wasn't always that way. For years people watched TV in solitary as they got excited, hyped up, angered or shocked by their favorite TV shows. Usually, this involved a lot of cheering or yelling at the TV. Television was not a very social activity unless discussed at the family dinner table, or perhaps the next day with friends or colleagues.
Once the Internet arrived, this began to change the way people watch TV.
When the Internet went mainstream back in the late 1990s - early 2000s, remember how many people were thrilled to have the ability to email friends, send instant messages or post online with other fans about their favorite TV shows? In these online spaces fans of any given show could get an almost immediate response and/or read the thoughts of other fans (or non-fans). With these online novelties, people were no longer alienated in their living rooms to think about the show and have to wait to perhaps find someone at work to discuss it with the next day. Now fans could talk to their heart's content while the show was still fresh in their minds.
Back in the early days of the web, fans could find many forums, bulletin boards and other outlets to talk about favored TV shows. For instance, America Online had an entire channel dedicated to television which broke it down by genre and even by TV show where fans could congregate to have TV discussions. On the AOL network there were multiple television message boards which were heavily populated, and volunteer moderators helped to facilitate discussion and keep things civil (their community leader program was discontinued in June 2005). Online chat promoted television and helped people share thoughts on shows they had in common, but one important item to note was these people were probably already interested in certain TV shows, which was why they landed on the boards in the first place. There was a real-time ability to post, but discussions could go on for days, even weeks.
Years ago people would hop online and talk with like-minded people about different topics, including TV. Today, online networking has transformed how people talk about these topics.
How Social Media Affects the Business of Television
Today the dynamics of online conversations have changed once again, and social media has been long leading the transformation. In many ways, social media perhaps is not too unlike the old bulletin boards, but at the same time has changed the dynamics of communication.
In 2010, Lisa Hsia, Senior Vice President of Bravo Digital Media, likened social media to the company water cooler discussions, only on a much larger scale. Hsia stated on Mashable.com:
"There’s no question that the real-time conversations around TV shows on social networks — the virtual water cooler, if you will — enhance engagement and drive on-air ratings. Whether it’s the Taylor and Kanye debacle, the Bad Girls, or the Real Housewives, friends tell friends when things happen on the air, and that viral conversation turns TVs on." 
This is critical to the television business because social media can literally shape the direction of programming and simultaneously grow viewership. Through social media, the viewing audience has an active voice and networks seem to be listening.
It is not uncommon for people to be exposed to alternate and new television options through messages streamed by friends through networks such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to name a few. Often these are TV shows viewers may not have considered otherwise without social media recommendations. Social media was a game-changer because social media brought recommendations in user feeds to potential viewers whereas the AOL boards typically brought established fans to discuss.
Hsia discussed how social media has effected ratings and TV sentiment by [for example] stating that Real Housewives of New York had experienced a 10 percent increase thanks to social media, and that other networks have claimed even higher increases. At that time the measuring was still in its infancy stages, but networkers were already gauging how influential social media has been on television.
Fast-forward to today and studies are showing that social media does indeed have an influence on TV watching. 
Television Marketers Can Easily Track Interest
Social media also facilitates discussions and, while once America Online's message board community leaders led discussions, today television fans are doing it all on their own and sending their comments across various networks in real-time on a larger scale, not limited to a specific message board.
Additionally, television marketers can track what's being said by checking hash tags, keywords, Google alerts, analytics or other online tools just where their shows are being talked about and what's hot.
It's natural for many people these days to turn to the Internet to look up information or have a conversation.
For the fans, the active voice used through social media can actually have an influence on program development. Through conversations and comments television decision makers can actively see what fans like or don't like and take this into consideration when making changes or launching new shows.
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Networks can use this information and incorporate it into their social media marketing plans.
As many people who follow trends know, TV conversation spikes during the time shows are running and the day after a program has aired. Just check out the sidebar on Twitter to see what's trending. It's not uncommon to see a TV show listed there. This is not unlike the proverbial water cooler back in the day when everyone gathered throughout the workday to see who won American Idol or what contestant was voted off Survivor, but on a massive level. Through social media, conversations are larger, more immediate and can be far more reaching. People can literally, on a global scale, watch TV with others at the same time and talk about it.
This in itself can be valuable to television programmers and their audiences. Years ago people had to wait and see what would be on next season's must-see list; nowadays fans can help shape it.
In an age where television has to compete with the alluring aspects of the Internet to provide entertainment, smart marketers can actually use the web to increase viewership and help draw viewers away from other activities such as online games, videos or other general surfing and back to their television screens, either on a traditional TV or through online streaming.
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