Building audiences and delighting fandoms on social media: six insights

One of the great challenges with any communication on social media is the water, water everywhere. Sure, there’s a potential audience of billions — but how to get any of them to engage with your media property or brand?

By understanding the online behaviours of audiences and fandoms, brands and media owners can not only reach audiences but create action, change behaviour and even advocate, spreading your message further. We wanted to share six learnings from our experience working with fans and building online audiences for media and entertainment brands. These learnings could work for practically any brand — if you’d like to chat further about those opportunities, drop us a line.

1. BBC: To change their behaviour, you sometimes have to change yours

Radio 1 remains a key cultural touchstone for young people. But as that audience began to find the content it wanted was more easily accessible through snackable sites like Buzzfeed, the 50-year-old giant needed to learn a few new tricks.

So we put a team of writers inside Broadcasting House to turn what’s happening on air into snappy articles for the Radio 1 website, teased on Facebook to draw audiences back into the BBC online world. What made this initiative successful was a 6-month detailed test-and-learn project, recognising that what worked on air might not be the same as what flies online. Our team was there for 18 months: the work expanded to cover Radio 2, 6, and 1Xtra, and the Facebook posts drove a significant proportion of the Radio 1 site’s overall page views.

2. Turner TV: To activate fandoms, you need to really get fandoms (or: if you can’t tell your faux queen from your fishy queen, sashay away)

Turner TV’s truTV channel had acquired a great property: RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show with an active and vocal fan community. But that community expected to watch the show elsewhere, online. How could we bring them to their telly to watch Season 7?

We needed to make truTV become part of that community, so we became experts, and brought two megafans into the team to co-create the content. Just like the fans, we relentlessly posted a new gif and joke every single day for the entire season. We also created four ‘hero moments’ which gave fans new, funny and substantial material to get their teeth into and share. Our guided meditation video was the real deal and lasted an epic 11 minutes. We were frankly thrilled when RuPaul herself retweeted our fictional iSashay Tracker wearable.

Engagement with the content was high. Our total Facebook reach was 1.5 million with video views hitting 258k, and Twitter impressions climbing to 444k. Not bad for a niche audience.

3. International Rescue Committee (IRC) & YouTube: Engaging an influencer’s audience means engaging the influencer

Influencer marketing has a bit of bad rep at the moment, and a lot of that is due to brands and agencies treating influencers as just another piece of media space to throw a message at. What influencer marketing isn’t is free reach: what it can be is a way to communicate to often hard-to-reach audiences in a more personal, less commercial manner. Influencers build audiences through authenticity and mutual trust: if you want to engage that audience, therefore, you need to engage the influencer themselves.

The IRC wanted to send a new message about the refugee crisis — moving away from the numbers to communicate a human story. YouTube influencers are the perfect storytellers for this. For the resulting campaign, #MoreThanARefugee, we worked with the IRC and YouTube to identify influencers and partner them with refugees around the world; facilitate a trip to spend time together, and support them through telling the story (and hitting the IRC’s message points). The influencers themselves had a one-off opportunity to tell a story that exemplified what they do in particular, rather than just what a brand wants them to say: be that an LGBT+ creator meeting people fleeing homophobic persecution, or science communicators understanding how a refugee camp actually works.

The results have been viewed over 18m times. View all our social good & YouTube case studies here.

“When we see refugees as people first, we are able to replace fear with recognition and hope. Our YouTube partnership allows us to introduce refugees in a distinctly deeper and more personal way while reaching millions of people who may otherwise have remained unengaged.”

— David Miliband, International Rescue Committee President and CEO, on YouTube global initiative #MoreThanARefugee .

4. Curzon Artificial Eye: To build rapid reach on social, use networks that are already there

You have a new property — in this case, a film, but it could be an event or product launch. You think it’ll go down great on social. So you start a profile, post content and build the audience. But doing this takes months, and once you have the audience, the film’s not in cinemas any more, the event’s over, the product has launched.

This was our exact challenge with launching the movie Frank. So, instead of starting a feed, we fed the ones already there. Frank’s cult nature would appeal most to the audience attending independent (or independent-minded) cinemas, like the Mile End Genesis or the Picturehouse chain. We created individual assets to take over the profiles of dozens of cinemas, bringing our character right into the cinema and town through avatars, header images and posts.

We then created fun content — a video explaining how to make Frank’s famous head; a pub quiz — to love-bomb the cinemas throughout the promotion and screen time. The video became a bit of a hit, building over 100k entirely organic views, and inspiring people to post their own videos of their versions.

5. Bloomsbury & Harry Potter: Rewarding a passionate audience brings its own rewards

To get the word out around Bloomsbury’s publication of the Illustrated Harry Potter, it was clear that the existing Potter fandom was going to be our first port of call — indeed, with a very tight media budget, we were going to need them to do the work of spreading the word for us.

So we said to fans: tell everyone about the book, and we’ll let you in on a sneak peek. Following the same lesson from RuPaul’s Drag Race, above, we thought carefully about the biggest draw for the fans: the depiction of the secretive Voldemort. We then built a simple site that would count social posts containing #unveilvoldemort — if we got enough posts, Voldemort would be unveiled — and seeded it among the nodes of the fan community: bloggers, message boards, the Potter fandom’s own influencers.

Three days and 14,000 social posts later, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was made available to see.

6. Google: For genuine audience participation, go big or go home

Google wanted to tell the story of how technology was changing India, and landed on the idea of an India-specific edition of LIfe In A Day: the crowdsourced-in-24-hours movie that our co-founder, Tim, came up with when he was at YouTube.

Like the original, India In a Day is shot entirely by members of the public. We ran the campaign to drive these submissions, with the epic task of bringing in enough quality footage to make a full feature film from videos shot mostly on phones over the course of a single day. But the promise of shooting part of a movie, summing up your country, exec-produced by Ridley Scott, brought in over 5,000 clips to work with.

“While some contributors highlight scarcity — noting how several households must share a single neighbor’s Wi-Fi, or how those without cellphones rely on neighbors — the general thrust is on the speed of change. Both elders and young adults look around them and note how different the world is now from what it was in their youth. India in a Day hopes to bear witness to this quicksilver evolution. “

From the India in a Day review, The Hollywood Reporter

If you’d like to hear about any of these case studies in more detail, or chat through fan opportunities for your brand, then get in touch