TV liveblogging – Taggers & Non-Taggers

I’ve just been re-reading The Emerging Viewertariat: Explaining Twitter Responses to Nick Griffin’s Appearance on BBC Question Time by
Nick Anstead & Ben O’Loughlin. If you’re interested at all in TV and the ever popular trend to liveblog it, it’s worth a read.

I just wanted to pick out a section about the use of tagging in TV liveblogging:

“In all, 45.24 per cent of our tweets featured the #bbcqt tag. However, by implication, this also means that the majority of tweets related to the programme were not tagged in this way. An important research question for future studies of the relationship between live television and real time commentary will be to understand how these two groups – hashtaggers and non-hashtaggers – differ from each other. We might hypothesize that the former group are more versed in the etiquette of micro-blogging and thus constitute an elite group, who comment more frequently and are more likely to engage in programme related conversation, while the latter are more casual users, posting less and with lower levels of interaction.”

That’s an interesting hypothesis, but I’m not sure it would hold up. It assumes a pretty rigid characterisation of the way in which people do things: you’re either a tagger or not a tagger, when I know which you are I can look to your other characteristics and form a correlation. I’m not wholly convinced by that argument as I think there are some contextual factors that come into play too, and a number of discourses (you might prefer “hats”) which a great many Twitter users employ in their everyday usage. I’m going to offer myself as an example here, even though I’m fully aware of the inherent issues of subjectivity in doing that.

These are some of the thoughts that come to my mind and shape how I tweet when watching TV:

  1. How popular is the tag? The more popular the tag, the more likely it is to trigger spam @ replies (this is why I never tweet “xfactor” or “ipad” – instead I use incorrect names that will give the gist “pop idol” or “eye pad”).
  2. If the majority of my Twitter stream is talking about the same thing, I have no need to tag the content (though if I did tag it, that might help the minority to understand what I’m talking about.
  3. If I want people who don’t follow me but who are using the tag to see my comment, then I will put the tag on it so that I join the wider conversation.
  4. Some people who I quite like really really hate people that live blog telly and have a silly arbitrary rule about unfollowing or blocking folk who would dare do something as low brow as watch TV. Really that should make me hate them more than they hate me, but they’re OK really. I figure a few loose tweets that aren’t hashtagged to buggery will fly under their radar. Maybe.

As I say, this is just me. I may be the exception that proves the rule, or I may typify a more common way of doing things. Certainly one thing is for sure: when event TV happens, and Twitter is buzzing with chatter about it, I don’t find that I have a “lower level of interaction” if I don’t use the hashtag, and the hashtag becomes less and less important, less and less effective. Sure the interaction I have exists only in strong ties (people who I have some sort of “follow” relationship with) rather than weak (people I have no follow relationship to, but who see my chatter through the hahstag), but it can still be vibrant and a lot of fun.

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Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research:

  • NickAnstead

    Hi Jon, thanks for the comment and thoughtful response. I take on board your suggestions about the way people use hashtags in distinct ways (especially the point about defeating spambots, which I suspect is very true). As you suggest, that paragraph from the article just highlights a possible point for discussion, although reading through the sample in a fairly general way, we had a sense that there was a different between those who were tweeting in an incidental way (i.e. using some made up examples, things like: “I don’t want to watch Question Time, I’m going to have a bath” or even “I am going to watch Question Time”, but then decoupling themselves from the online conversation) and that those who were engaging with the content of the programme (“Griffin’s ideas are wrong as Bonnie Greer argued”). This latter group seemed far more likely to hashtag and also engage in multiple postings. I think your third point above is the reason for this, as people tweeting in this manner had a far stronger sense that they were contributing to a collective event, which went beyond the people they followed or were followed by. That said, even if that were true, it would be a general point rather than a specific one, and it is quite possible that there would be a variety of individual reasons why people would hashtag or not.