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Tweeting Along with Political Talkshows

The next speaker at ASMC14 is Evelien D'heer, whose focus is on the use of Twitter as a backchannel to a Flemish political TV talkshow, Terzake. The show has now appointed a 'conversation manager' to guide the Twitter discussion, following a public Twitter spat over the quality of the programme: after criticism of the show's quality by a user, a patronising tweet from the programme makers was widely criticised, and the conversation manager is meant to improve producer/audience relations again.

In this case, then, social media and journalistic logics co-define the programme and its meanings. Evelien's project investigated this process by conducting interviews with programme makers, newsroom observations, network analyses of the Twitter conversation, and interviews with tweeting audience members. This approach is able to compare stated expectations with observations of actual behaviour, on both sides.

Journalists see social media as a new delivery channel for existing content, potentially reaching new audiences (whose demographics have yet to be fully understood). Social media metrics also sit alongside conventional TV ratings as measures of a show's success, but the meaning of such metrics are also ill-understood. The new 'conversation manager' (a former journalist – not necessarily the obvious choice) adds a further layer of complexity.

Twitter communication around the show is largely centred around a handful of highly active users – a typical long tail curve. This did not change following the appointment of the conversation manager, though the total number of participants increased by some 45%. In interviews, journalists underestimated the number of users taking part, and overestimated the number of actual interactions.

The @TerzakeTV account was addressed more often following the appointment of the conversation manager, and also more frequently responded to audience members, though there remains a considerable imbalance between incoming and outgoing messages. Twitter users are not used as sources, though on occasion their tweets do become questions in the programme – where they are selected according to conventional news values. And on the audience side, some viewers weren't even aware that a new conversation manager had even been appointed...