Remember all of those times your mom said your brain was going to rot from staring at your phone so much? As it turns out, this may not be totally true.

A new study by Nielsen on ‘second screen viewing’ reveals that users who are on their phones while they watch television are more engaged than those who watch a television program on its own. Considering that 87% of consumers currently use a second screen device while watching television, Nielsen’s analysis leads to big implications for television programming and social advertising. The primary function of ‘second screening’ is to connect with friends (and increasingly, the stars in the show) about what they’re watching, and to read the discussion of programs on social media channels like Twitter.

In addition to giving a nice big “I told you so” to parents everywhere, this study is big for brand marketers, advertisers, content producers and networks for several reasons. For one, the correlation between social media and television programming is now indisputable: if your fans like your show, they’re going to tune into Twitter talking about it. Additionally, the study gives a read on engagement levels by episode, so that we can now see the exact points where fans are tuned in and talking, versus the parts of the show where the social channels go flat. You can even know which episodes are most likely to have engagement prior to the show starting: Nielsen’s study on program loyalty revealed that 25% of program followers on Twitter will tweet during the premiere, and 16% will tweet during the finale, consistently.

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The growth of the second screening movement has encouraged fans to return to the traditional style of watching television programs in real time, versus recording and watching later. In the Nielsen study, Nick Grudin, the Director of Media Partnerships at Facebook, noted: “Every day, television fans from around the world use Facebook to talk about the shows and stars they love with the people that matter most to them..Fans connect with each other while the show is airing and continue the conversation throughout the week in between episodes.” This real-time engagement is great for brands, because it means that consumers are choosing to sit through commercials and stay on social media channels so that they can monitor and engage in show-related conversation, giving your brand the opportunity to engage with them as well.

Another study by Time Warner Research Council proved that interacting with social media on a second screen makes viewers more neurologically engaged in their programming. Instead of distracting viewers, it augments their experience, optimizing their levels of interest and excitement with corresponding neurological spikes. That’s right – your brain literally lights up with activity when you tweet about Scandal during your favorite scene. Viewer engagement levels were 1.3 times higher for viewers who either watched the program with a friend or connected about it over social media than those who watched alone. The individual consumer has never been more powerful, and it’s never been easier to know what gets them going and what turns them away, both today and three episodes from now.

Neurologically engaged consumers- what could be better?

Answer: neurologically engaged and influential consumers.

By gaining insight into viewer trends, you not only can see when the audience is most active, but which viewers are the most influential in the conversation; you get to see the viewers who are driving the conversation forward. A corresponding Nielsen study revealed that influential fans (fans who tweet about three or more episodes in a season) were tweeting 3 times as much as other program watchers, and had fifty percent more followers on average. So for marketers and advertisers, you can now see not only who’s engaged by and engaging with a certain program, but also who the most loyal and influential fans are – a key distinction that makes these consumers exponentially more predictable for brands to successfully target at.

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The impact of this is twofold. First, as social media engagement fuels television programming, the stars of the shows are going to be engaging more frequently with the fans as the show is playing, encouraging the audience to watch it real time with them. As a result, you can plan and strategize around these known time frames of peak engagement that will optimize your brand’s chance at engaging with consumers. Second, the study reflects the significance of micro-influencer marketing as a strategy; as television programs continue to be graded by their user engagement, their consumers are only going to grow in power. Furthermore, brands can now see the power of a micro-influencer at work: the people who are pushing engagement with the show are the everyday “loyal authors” who will drive tune-in the most.

Even if your marketing and advertising goals are not directly related to television programming, Nielsen’s studies should be on your radar. They provide new insight into the motivations behind consumer tweeting and posting activities, and they recognize and confirm that social media engagement influences offline behavior. Lastly, they show that the true value and impact of television programming should be measured in aggregated metrics such as this one, instead of being siloed by network and television programs. If you can predict when engagement is going to be highest for a show, you now know the best time to engage with your fans, right at the moment that they’re watching, talking and scrolling.

In an age where paid ads and ad blockers duke it out on every channel, this information is the latest step forward towards understanding, discovering and quantifying how consumers’ social media engagement impacts offline behavior. We now know more than ever when fans are going to engage and what their engagement means.

If you want to take the next step and find out which micro-influencers are driving YOUR brand conversation, check out our Ultimate Guide to Influencer Marketing Ebook.