Column: Social media has had a tremendous impact on movie and television marketing, increasing awareness and visibility for a TV show or movie across the globe in a click — a lot clicks — of a button. Some of the best social media teams right now on TV are the two Jimmys — late-night talk hosts Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. These two are in a constant battle for viewers and they really go at each other on social media. Their social engagement across platforms and their understanding of social heralds a new generation of savvy Hollywood stars backed by sophisticated online marketing teams that understand how to push past traditional media to build a tremendous fan base. Increasingly, stars, celebrities and their teams are using social media to extend awareness of their brands — because that is what they have become — online and off, driving ratings and box office as well as bigger fan bases.
These days, a performer’s social media footprint is strongly considered when marketers start strategizing a film’s campaign. Vin Diesel is the current king of social, almost entirely because of the monster presence he’s built on Facebook. In the months since his emotional tribute on FB for his good friend and Fast & Furious co-star Paul Walker who died in a car crash, Diesel has seen his Facebook presence vault from an already whopping 54M likes to 72.3M, according to RelishMix, which tracks social-media engagement by TV shows, films and performers. And in six months, his following has jumped 46%.
Unlike Kimmel and Fallon, Diesel has no team to manage his social profile. He does it entirely on his own. “Vin is a very unique case in that he curates that himself and the voice is authentic and all the posts seem real because they are real,” says Michael Moses, co-president of marketing at Universal Pictures. “He doesn’t have a social-media team. He maintains that. He has an authentic relationship with his fans.” Moses calls it “a higher level of commitment and engagement.”
Although marketers still rely on traditional media to launch feature films, they no longer can overlook the worldwide boost they can get when a performer with a big social media base, no matter who’s managing that brand. Emma Watson has a social media team but is one of the most engaging actresses on social media, utilizing both Facebook (21.2 million fans) and Twitter (12.8 million followers).
There is no doubt her engagement with fans helped build awareness for Noah. “Emma Watson has a robust social media following. She is ahead of the game. Throughout her career she has always garnered a broad fanship online,” said Paramount Pictures chief marketing officer Josh Greenstein. Watson, of course, burst onto the scene with the Harry Potter movies but also chose to do the quirky Perks Of A Wallflower, an interesting choice that opened up her fan base to a new audience. “When she speaks to her fans, it’s authentic,” said Greenstein. “She is incredibly tuned in to them with honest dialogue and conversation. She has a team but really drives all of it and is incredibly involved. We also used her on the MTV social feed for a day … a day ‘s worth of her posts reached 70 million people … across all MTV platforms.” MTV and Paramount are both Viacom-owned. Noah‘s star Russell Crowe also documented his entire publicity tour on Twitter.
Also active is Selena Gomez, who is on tour promoting her new album. Her Facebook page, under the name Selena, has 58.1M followers and 19.5M Twitter followers. She just recently changed representation from CAA to WME and Brillstein. “She’s posting photos and getting half a million likes just on images alone,” said RelishMix CEO Marc Karzen. “She is constantly engaging her fans and they love it. It is very personal and she gives them tons of behind the scenes stuff. She is totally engaging people. The share counts, the comment counts and likes are enormous. She is doing it right.”
“As a movie marketer, I see tremendous value in this kind of direct dialogue with fans in how it fits into our overall marketing strategy,” said Greenstein, who added Paramount had a lot of help building pre-awareness and awareness on GI Joe and Hercules because of Dwayne Johnson’s social-media base. He has 31.1M Facebook followers. Social media campaigns work best when they are “weaved into the overall campaign,” Greenstein said. Moses agreed.
Social media helped drive the surprise success of Ride Along thanks to star Kevin Hart, who Moses said is “at the cutting edge” in using social media “in an authentic way. We definitely benefited with (Hart’s social engagement) on the opening of Ride Along. It just extended and amplified those (traditional) activities in a seismic way. You can think of him as a marketing engine because he uses his own social platforms in such a dynamic way.” Hart’s Facebook page is now up to 13.2 million likes, up 59% in six months. On his biggest day, Hart’s Facebook page added 110k likes. So what happened on that day, October 13? RelishMix found he made three different cell phone videos and posted them all to his page. On Twitter, Hart is now has 10.3 million followers, up 16.6% in six months. His biggest day, Valentine’s Day, coincided with the debut of Sony’s remake of About Last Night, in which he stars. That day, Hart added 19,000 followers on Twitter, and Sony socked away a $25.6M opening weekend.
Mark Wahlberg has become another social-media powerhouse. He was star of another surprise hit, Ted, whose foul-mouthed Teddy bear character “became the biggest movie character on Twitter by having a very outrageous, very tweet-able voice.” The studio built out a brand for Ted from scratch, and Moses gave a lot of credit to both the writers and Wahlberg. The interesting point about Wahlberg is that he is a crossover social-media force, helping drive audiences to programs on both TV and film. “We tracked both of the Wahlbergs leading up to their reality show The Wahlburgers, and what we found is the brothers cross over from film to cable broadcast which is unique,” Karzen said of Mark and his brother Donnie. “They are working social across both mediums in a very powerful way.”
Rasha Drachkovitch, executive producer of A&E’s Wahlburgers, said the Wahlbergs’ social media activity “keeps the show alive past the airing of the show. Both of them have outreach in the millions and if they comment during the show, Donnie keeps a very active dialogue throughout the show, and it reflects in the ratings.” The show debuted to a strong 3.3 million viewers and 2.7 million total viewers through the first season. That included 1.6 million adults in the 25-54 and 18-49 demo.
“It’s fantastic as a producer because the promotion just comes naturally and it’s such an added benefit to have such socially active media partners, because they bring so many more eyes to the show,” said Drachkovitch. All that social activity does bring some new problems, however. Drachkovitch feels the pressure more than ever to deliver a quality product. And now social media will become a storyline within the show itself. The Wahlbergs’ mother, Alma, will go high-tech, asking her son Donnie for advice on how to get on social media. “So we’re going to film that in real time as she ventures onto Twitter, and we’ll be able to measure real-time popularity,” Drachkovitch said.
One of Universal’s biggest franchises — Fast & Furious — has a following of 44 million likes on Facebook. And here’s one of the most interesting aspects of that: Instead of going to a press outlet to announce news, Universal says it can control the information by announcing what they need to directly to fans on FB — 44 million of them. “It’s a very powerful thing,” said Moses. That tactic was used most recently when the studio used the platform to announce Paul Walker’s brothers would help finish his action scenes for Fast & Furious 7.
Is it any wonder that Robert Downey, Jr. opened his own Twitter account? In about 48 hours, the Iron Man racked up more than 1 million followers. As of today, #RDJ (as he’s called in social-media shorthand) has 1.35 million followers after only eight tweets. He is clearly learning as he goes (we all start in the same chair).
Some actors get the marketing benefit of being on social platforms, others don’t. Some enjoy it, as Diesel obviously does, and others shy away from opening up their lives to the world even more than otherwise. Also, depending on what they use it for — such as standing up for potentially controversial social issues — having a big social-media following can backfire. ”It’s great that you have many fans, but it’s definitely in how you use the platform,” noted Moses.
To that point, one TV series using social platforms well is ABC’s Scandal, which has been engaging the all-important 18-49 demo thanks in part to creator Shonda Rhimes’ production company’s savvy use of social media and the show’s principals taking to Twitter to engage fans both before, during and after episodes air.
Another great example is when Universal launched Fast & Furious 6 with traditional, and expensive, Super Bowl TV ads, then coordinated with all the film’s talent to leverage their social followings and push out the spot online at the same time. “We monitored the conversation after that and what we found was we had more volume of social media conversation than the other five films combined that placed ads on the Super Bowl so that’s when you really see the results of the social platform being used as a marketing engine,” Moses said. “In terms of scale, you are operating at a level that is equal to or bigger than existing portals.”