'X Factor' Sees Significant Social Media Strides

The Simon Cowell-led contest is the most social broadcast show and has quadrupled its social TV activity in season two.

With the X Factor finale mere hours away, it’s an appropriate time for reflection on a second season that, at first, struggled to find its footing.

It wasn’t entirely Simon Cowell’s fault -- the fall TV season can be a tricky one to navigate, with Major League Baseball featured on Fox and a presidential election to boot, not to mention Idol rival The Voice airing on Mondays and Tuesdays. Yet even as The X Factor was settling on its rhythm, the show’s digital imprint was growing in leaps and bounds.

According to data released by Fox and citing Bluefin Labs, X Factor is the most social broadcast show and has quadrupled its social TV activity with its second season. What kind of numbers are we talking about? Some 522,000 social media comments per episode; In 2011, the show was averaging 132,000. (Fox scored top three status for Glee and American Idol as well, the latter of which logged 1 million comments during a single season 11 episode).

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Other impressive X Factor factoids: the Dec. 5 performance episode spurred 112 trending topics and its social comments generated an estimated 858 million impressions, according to Bluefin. What were people talking about? Finalist CeCe Frey, for one. Her Twitter handle was mentioned over 89,000 times and her name another 73,000. The following night, her elimination generated 9,207 comments per minute. Similarly, Frey’s mentor Demi Lovato won the social war, receiving over 103,000 Twitter mentions after the performance episode.

Ann-Marie Thomson, global head of media for Syco Entertainment, who works in tandem with Fox president of digital David Wertheimer, David Luner, evp of interactive and consumer Products at FremantleMedia Enterprises North America, and Jill Johnson, head of digital and interactive for Syco, among others, credits a “constant dialogue with fans.” And yes, X Factor listens. “Their feedback influences so many aspects of the show,” she says. “They tell us what they like and what they don’t.”

Adds Johnson: "We're in an interesting time when digital audiences are growing exponentially and we have the challenge of getting our arms around as much of that growth as possible. With progressive partners like Pepsi we've been able to dominate this expanding ecosystem, controlling more than 25 percent of the social conversation every time our show is on the air, and often double digits when it's off. We're able to extend the broadcast story lines and chatter through the entire week and most importantly, we're seeing all of this activity result in a very tangible 30 million views on our YouTube channel every week."

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Indeed, sponsors such as Pepsi, which hosts the pre-show and seasonal Pepsi Challenge song, and Verizon, which developed The Xtra Factor dual-screen app, have seen real-time results. “The Pepsi Challenge set the gold standard in consumer engagement by utilizing social media to enable fans to influence the actual in show performance elements of contestants including song choice, wardrobe and choreography,” Luner explains.

Of course, the real winners here are the finalists, who can see their fanbases growing at a steady clip throughout the season. Says Thomson: “It's very important for the contestants to have that direct relationship with their fans from the outset, during the show and as they continue their music careers."

So who’s on the Twitter leader board going into tonight’s final? Tate Stevens, a 38 year-old father of two, boasts more than 147,000 followers, putting him in third place; girl group Fifth Harmony come in second with 221,000; while Carly Rose Sonenclar has double that number -- the 13-year-old wunderkind just passed the 500,000 mark.

The X Factor finale airs Wednesday and Thursday on Fox.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin