Study: How FOX’s “Empire” harnessed TV earned audiences on Twitter

By ‎@anjali‎

Last year, in partnership with FOX, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) and db5, we set out to understand the impact of seeing earned media (TV and brand-related Tweets) on Twitter.

The research revealed that Tweets are a powerful vehicle for inspiring action on and off the platform. Some 90 percent of those who saw TV-related Tweets — the “earned audience” — took action to further engage with shows, whether to watch, search for, or share content about them at some point.

Building from those insights, FOX and Twitter have partnered again – this time to experiment with a media targeting approach about what further motivates earned audiences (those who are exposed to Tweets about TV) to take action. Our research teams wanted to determine if re-targeting them with paid media elicited even greater lifts across desired TV show engagements (i.e., Tweets, RTs or tune-in).

To answer this question, we closely followed audience behavior throughout the entire season of the freshman TV show “Empire.” No one anticipated the huge sensation that this show would become – and its social success was no doubt amplified by several approaches, such as engaging talent to do fan Q&As and live-Tweeting.

For the study, we segmented the audience into three groups: the Unexposed group (those who didn’t see any “Empire” conversation), the Earned Audience (those who saw earned “Empire” conversation) and the Earned + Paid Audience (a subset of those who saw earned “Empire” conversations and were served promotional media with tune-in messaging).

The Twitter Re-targeting experiment

Overall, we saw notable differences between groups, indicating that there is value in reaching viewers who have already been pre-exposed to earned Tweets about a particular show.

Here are the high-level findings:

  • Higher engagement: The Earned + Paid Audience achieved 23 percent higher engagement rates with re-targeting than the average entertainment (TV) campaign. Media-forward Tweets (those with photo or video) resulted in a 29 percent higher engagement rate than average.
  • Impressions “bonus”: Because of the higher engagement rates with paid media (which include Retweet activity), the campaign achieved an additional 24 percent boost in impressions as promoted Tweets drove Retweets (these were additional “free” impressions of the paid media). Overall, the promoted Tweets generated 17.5 million impressions with a bonus of an additional 4.2 million impressions from Re-Tweet activity.



  • Driving action: Exposure to earned media had a powerful effect on subsequent actions among Earned Audiences, and this increased substantially when paired with paid media among Earned + Paid audiences.
    • Both groups were more familiar with Empire and likely to Tweet about it more than the Unexposed.

Exposure to Earned + Paid Media drove familiarity and conversation

    • Both groups expressed a stronger intent to view live and time-shifted airings of the show than did the Unexposed group. While there were significant increases between Unexposed and Earned Audiences, the there were double-digit jumps between Earned and Earned + Paid Audiences. The lifts observed in this experiment were the largest ever measured through Nielsen Brand Effect for Twitter.

Exposure to Earned + Paid Media drove double-digit intent to view

While “Empire” proved to be one of the biggest hits in decades and one of the most social shows, these findings — demonstrated by the stark differences among groups — show that Twitter can help propel a social show to new heights by engaging those who simply need a reminder to watch or join the conversation. And FOX continues to take advantage of this engagement by keeping the entire season of “Empire” available via streaming and on-demand platforms, and using Twitter to help drive conversation among fans who are catching up.

 Twitter re-targeting opportunity

This study indicates that networks and marketers have a head start when they don’t have to pay for the first impression, and the power of a message increases with exposure. This is especially effective when the original view comes from organic and authentic conversation – as opposed to a promoted source, since each type contributes its own distinct value. When earned and paid media are coupled in terms of messaging, together they can drive significant lift in an audience’s intent to act.

While last year’s survey established that audiences are more receptive and active once they have seen live Tweets about a show that is on-air, this study quantifies the potential of the Earned Audience. Re-targeting presents efficiencies by finding the groups that have already been exposed and giving them a friendly reminder. We are still in the experimentation phase, but these results are encouraging for marketers looking for more powerful ways to build and engage audiences.