I Unofficially Tweeted as an HBO Character
Here’s what I learned…
This past summer, HBO premiered the first season of The Night Of, a gritty crime and law themed mini-series. Without getting into spoilers, our main character Nasir “Naz” Khan wakes up to find himself apart of a gruesome murder crime scene. Throughout the series, we follow Naz during his ups, and mostly downs of the investigation, trial and experience at Rikers Island Jail. Halfway though the show, Naz forms a relationship with fellow inmate, Freddy, who ends up providing Naz protection and a cell phone.
During the live airing of Part 6 (of 8) when Naz received his cell phone, on a whim, I created a Twitter handle for him, @NasirNazKhan. Now capable of communicating with the outside world, he and I immediately began interacting with viewers who were already discussing the show.
Within the first 24 hours, I replied to over a hundred Tweets which were using the hashtag #TheNightOf or quote, “The Night Of.” Until you look at a dashboard of Tweets coming in during a live show, you cannot fathom how active viewers are on Twitter. The “Second-Screen” trend is alive and well and this platform called Twitter is anything but dead.
As for an example of the type of Tweeting I did, throughout the show, countless viewers were expressing their disappointment in Naz’s hardened decisions or questioning in his decaying innocence. I would then reply back, “Jason! What do you mean you think I did it? I’m innocent! Please believe me, man.”
Viewers were surprisingly quick to Like, Retweet and even respond back to my often personalized replies to them. Who was seriously expecting Naz to exist on Twitter, let alone respond to them individually? It was “Surprise-and-Delight” if the clichéd social strategy ever existed. (Note: Halfway through, I had changed the handle name, which explains both @KahnNaz and @NasirNazKhan.)
Naz grew an admirable following as he pleaded his innocence and explained his controversial actions from jail. Within a week, Naz received mentions from over 13 countries and 6/7 continents. As far as engagements went, every 1/4 Tweets I sent to a fan received a Like or Retweet, and impressively, every 1/5 Tweets I sent was replied to by the original Tweeter.
Within just two weeks, Naz garnered over 88,000 impressions, 900 followers and 10,000 profile visits. Mind you, I managed the account at the gym, in bed and commuting to work.
The most awe-inspiring feat was the audience that congregated around Naz’s account. Journalists of notable publications, Average Joes, and the actual actors from the show engaged with Naz including both of Naz’s parents, his lawyer Chandra, and a detective on the case. Oh, and Sinbad too, who was a reoccurring joke within The Night Of community after Naz got “Sin” and “Bad” tattoo-ed on his knuckles in jail.
Fans reacted in a number of ways. Some broke character, laughing at the fact that Naz was Tweeting from a flip phone in jail. Some replied back, standing their ground on their opinion of Naz, and some re-engaged, asking questions about the story, fully committing to the idea that Naz was an actual person.
Most often, a user would Retweet the individualized Tweet I sent to them, showing off their own personalized message to their following. It was a badge of honor to the viewer, and free publicity for the show.
What I’ve always believed, and further determined throughout this experiment is that fans want interactions like these. Platforms like Twitter exist where characters can come to life outside the confines of a show, blurring lines. No longer do characters have to live and die by the timeframes of an episode. These creative freedoms that technology and social platforms now provide us are limitless, and ultimately invaluable to both the content creators and viewers.
I was also pleasantly surprised that 99.99% my interactions were positive. (There was one woman who was utterly complexed by her experience with Naz.) In any case though, not a single user expressed intensive disappointment or anger by the unexpected interaction. Conclusively, this was a net positive experience for both HBO and the viewers.
When a viewer goes out of their way to share their thoughts on a show or character, they are taking the time to further engage with content. These are missed opportunities to strengthen viewer and consumer relationships. These are easy wins. When someone expresses interest in your product, service or brand, you can and should thank them. Naz’s Mentions to viewers were priceless “Thank You’s” for watching.
Fans clearly knew that Naz was a fictional character, yet they were so deeply invested, that they simply played along to further their experiences. Would a social play like this make sense for every character and show? Absolutely, not. But when a cell phone plays a role in the development of a story, it can be justified. While the concept of Naz Tweeting was a complete stretch of the imagination, those that went out of their way to communicate simply did not care. In their eyes, there was not stretch. It made sense. While it can be argued that @NasirNazKhan contradicts the graveness of the show, at the end of the day, The Night Of is entertainment. It’s a TV show. It’s trivial in context. Despite how serious or grim the content is, entertainment is entertainment. Naz on Twitter was supplemental entertainment.
When all is said and done, and we comprehend the concept that grown-adults are brining fictional characters to life outside the captivity of the TV screen and into online social forum, something is to be said about that existing, untapped energy and passion. It should be acknowledged, this is genuine online community development and management. By leveraging strategic content in contextually relevant situations, you can get people to do extraordinary things for your product, service or brand. This is make-believe two-fucking-point-0. Fans are seeking these enhanced digital interactions. Why not provide them?
Frank Rose, the author of The Art of Immersion, states, “People have always wanted to in some way inhabit the stories that move them. The only real variable is whether technology gives them that opportunity.”
The technology is here.