5 Lessons on Playing with Fandom
Recently, I have been working on the web series SPIRAL, which is nearing the end of its initial Season 1 rollout. This project has been in the works for about five years, so it is exciting to finally see the digital marketing strategy put into action. I always want to share what I learn, so here is Part 1 of the lessons so far, focusing on the built-in audiences and fandoms that come with our actors (Part 2 will look at other strategies and niche audiences we have been targeting).
First of all, what is SPIRAL?
The SPIRAL web series is the brain child of executive producer Andrew Williamson (Motive, High Moon, Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH) and executive producer/writer Karen McClellan (The Next Step, Being Erica, Cracked). The story is about a group of college students who are implicated in the mysterious death of one of their own and find out they share not only a disturbing recurring dream, but also a past life. The series stars a strong group of actors (Alexandra Beaton, Brennan Clost, Angela Palmer, Cody Kearsley, Louriza Tronco, Corteon Moore, Kailey Spear and Enuka Okuma) who come from TV series with serious fandoms like The Next Step, Make it Pop, Riverdale and Rookie Blue. We have been trying to make the most of the fans of these shows. Below are five of the lessons we have learned so far:
Lesson 1: Support & motivate your actors’ participation
The bottom line is, the reason these particular fans are responding to your story is because actors they love are in it. You need to find ways to include your actors and encourage their support (because it doesn’t matter if they have the biggest social media following in the world, if they don’t do anything for your show). Here are some of the ways we have supported the SPIRAL actors:
- An extremely positive production experience and quality end product bonded the actors, made them excited to share, and motivated them to want to do it again (without this foundation, I don’t think any of the following would have worked);
- Regular meetings and/or communication let them know what the plan was for the rollout, where they could help, and what the results and impact were so far. (I have been doing weekly group emails with updates and asks, as well as providing individual outreach when necessary);
- We have found ways to weave the actors into the strategy as much as possible with tactics like social media account takeovers and providing unique visual assets for them to share;
- We also activated their competitive spirits with a leaderboard that tracks and compares how much traffic each of them have sent to the website;
- And we try to celebrate our actors whenever possible: birthdays, film festival screenings, other TV appearances and premieres, etc
Lesson 2: Meet the fans where & when they already are
Recognizing our strategy had to include our actors’ fans, meant learning about who those people were. Part of our initial meeting with the actors was asking them about who their fans were, where they lived, and so on. Quickly we learned that a lot of our potential fans would be coming from Instagram, likely from England (where The Next Step is huge) and would include a lot of young 12-14 year old girls.
This knowledge completely changed our Instagram strategy. We made it all about the actors and their fans, got rid of any pictures that did not include the faces of our cast and looked for ways to weave them into the online chatter. We also learned we could get a big bump around the time of day young girls in the UK were getting home from school if we were active and available on Instagram at that time.
Lesson 3: Be responsive & inviting (& protective)
Once you start the fandom train, you need to take care of it, every day. Active community management, supported with new content has been critical to this kind of audience growth, especially on Instagram. We try to respond as quickly as possible to any comments or mentions there, on both feeds and stories. We also have been actively looking for ways to engage and invite them into the storyworld.
There are strong emotions at play here. The young girls that make up the majority of this fandom are passionately dedicated to these actors and this is not something we take lightly. There is an intimacy created in the social media space which is very powerful. We have been and will continue to be careful with the kinds of conversations we support. For instance, there are some difficult themes related to suicide and violence in the story and we have tried to point to resources for those who might be triggered or need help.
Lesson 4: Leverage milestones & “ships” of the original series
We haven’t done this enough, but are planning to do it more. Two of the series fandoms we are focusing on are The Next Step and Riverdale . Besides trying to be a part of the online conversation on the days of the week new episodes for these series are released, we also are trying to play on fan desires to see certain characters from those shows in a relationship. We’ve seen this demonstrated most dramatically with last week’s Episode 6 unlocking and fans seeing Alex and Brennan’s characters share a kiss in their past life. Images of this moment got an amazing response, especially when shared by the actors with their fans. We broke almost all our weekly records for online activity.
Lesson 5: Celebrate the fans
Although the actors’ fans were not a part of our original strategy, we quickly recognized their eagerness as an asset (especially when fanart and edits were being created before the episodes were even online). This led to the creation of a fan corner on the website where we included interviews with the cast and, even more importantly, featured a superfan each week. Celebrating fandom in this way has paid off. The fan edit output is ridiculous (in a good way). Fan accounts and creations for the show continue to pop up with great regularity. We are also very lucky to have actors who also consistently like and comment on these to the great delight of the fans.
We can’t wait to see where all of this takes SPIRAL. It is early days. This week the last episode is unlocked. Next week we upload all the episodes to Facebook to tap into some new target audiences and have an online binge re-watch party planned for October 25. Come join us at SPIRALbackwards.com!