RTA 902 Final Project: Rick and Morty’s Social Media Success

If you have been keeping up with my RTA902 blog posts, you will remember my glowing review of one specific way that the TV show, “Rick and Morty”, leveraged Instagram to create audience engagement and strengthen their brand. When I considered what brand I wanted to analyze in depth, this was really the only one that stood out to me. I will quickly mention that Instagram campaign in this post, but the focus will be on all the other awesome things they have done on social media to hold the interest of their fans in their own special way.

I may as well begin this analysis with the platform that I think they use the best: Instagram. As I mentioned above, the people behind the show created an amazing Instagram campaign that utilized the platform in an entirely new way: they created a game within Instagram’s normal functionality. To summarize how that worked, let me quote from their Shorty Award:

“Leveraging Instagram’s photo tagging feature, Adult Swim created an adventure game built entirely on the Instagram platform. First launching with 80 accounts and over 1200 images, the platform’s photo-grid UX design and the tagging functionality allowed users to travel through 11 different worlds featured in the show. When you tap an image, tags come up. Tap again and you can be transported somewhere completely different. Within each world, fans discover exciting easter eggs, seeding advanced looks at season 2 clips, custom comics derived from the show, and tamagotchi-inspired toys that allow the user to choose the fate of the show’s most iconic characters. Put in Rick and Morty Terms: It’s like a rabbit hole of worm holes. You can travel to Gazorpazorp if you want, or you can go to Anatomy Park via the nipple of giant, dead, naked Ruben in a Santa hat. You can even check out the mysterious Citadel of Ricks wherein all the multiverse’s Ricks have coalesced and formed a governing body. Pretty creepy, right!”

This isn’t all, though: Rick and Morty holds the honour of yet another completely new way to use Instagram to engage with an audience: In March of 2014, the official Rick and Morty Instagram account uploaded 109 clips of the maximum Instagram length (at the time) of 15 seconds. These clips comprised the entirety of a new and unreleased episode of the show, before it aired on television! Yes, Rick and Morty was the first television show to premiere on Instagram. Even more clever still, the clips were uploaded in reverse order, which had two interesting and positive consequences: firstly, people had to wait a while as they were all uploaded if they wanted to watch the whole episode, a plan that likely drove user interest, engagement, and maybe even publicity, and secondly, the episode is now in the “correct” order when someone scrolls down to it on their Instagram account after the fact. I mean, wow, right? Who is using Instagram like this, who is pushing the envelope as much as Rick and Morty’s creators and staff? If anyone else is doing more, I am unaware of them. This may be the case, but even if it is, the ingenuity on display here is inarguable.

Besides these amazing and innovative uses of Instagram, the official Rick and Morty Instagram account seems to be a perfect case study of how to do things well, as far as my learning in this class would suggest at least. Let me break down why I think this…

Brand Consistency: As I survey the account, I am seeing all kinds of different forms of art and content, but all of it is on-brand. Whether that means that the art itself is of one of their characters or that the description of the photo references content from the show, I don’t see anything that would cause a user to experience cognitive dissonance. For example, the show’s creator was trying to raise money for a charity to help dogs so he posted a photo of himself holding two dogs and wearing the shirt that they were selling to raise money. While that photo itself isn’t really on-brand, other than having the show’s creator in it, the image’s description has two separate references to the show in less than four full lines of text. Their most recent post, for another example, is a spoof on the classic art piece that says, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, or this is not a pipe, under the image of a pipe. Of course, their post is a photo of a plumbus instead and says plumbus in the place of pipe (shouts out to anyone who gets the reference. I mean, you all should. After all, everyone has a plumbus in their home. It’s hard to imagine life without one). Scrolling down weeks into the past, I don’t see anything unappealing to me, a fan of their show. That speaks volumes given how critical I am of everything around me.

Content Regularity: Looking at the past few months, the account seems to average about five posts per month. I hadn’t realized this when I began this review, and I have to admit, this is a bit of a weakness. In our modern world of excess and constant updates on even the most mundane things, five posts for an entire month is barely anything at all. I personally follow over 600 people on Instagram, meaning that I might never even see their posts depending on when they make them and when I browse the application. Any hardcore fans may be left waiting as multiple days go by without any content. However, I have two potential explanations for why this is not as much of a weakness as it may originally appear to be: there is an argument to be made for the old adage of, “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all”. As in, maybe it is better for them to consistently provide quality, interesting, on-brand posts whenever they feel like they have something to share that meets their standards rather than diluting that level of quality simply to post more often. That could just be an excuse, though, which is why I also have another argument that is based more on their unique nature. As will be detailed further in their use of other platforms, the creators quickly realized that their fans were rabidly interested in new Rick and Morty content, and they began regularly making fun of us because of this. While this may sound counterproductive, the show’s nature is sarcastic, cynical, and dark, with the main character of Rick, the scientist genius, being a massive asshole to everyone around him. I can’t quite explain it, but for them, it works. The second season of the show ends with a character basically taunting the audience by wondering out loud how long it will take the creators to release the third season and resolve the cliffhanger on which the second season ends, hypothesizing a wait of at least a year and a half. Ever since then, further jokes along these lines have been made on the Facebook page, and we all curse and hate them for it but we also laugh at ourselves as we can admit how desperate we are for more, how much we love that damn show and how we will consume any content they give us like a starving man in a desert who finds a scrap of food, even if that content is basically a joke at our expense. So maybe their Instagram works similarly, forcing interest in each individual post by making the rabid fans wait a while between each one.

Audience Engagement: This area is where their Instagram really shines. Not only did they do the two amazingly innovative things mentioned above, but they also regularly promote fan content on their account. Five of their last 12 posts are fan-created art with tags to that artist’s page. That ratio is also probably due to the fact that they have had a bunch of new content to promote recently, such as a long-awaited expansion to The Rickstaverse and something special I will discuss later.

Moving on to cover other platforms a bit more briefly, I’m barely on Twitter anymore so I can only provide a few insights found there from recent research, however, as I go through a few weeks of tweets things are looking good. Right from the start, we have a fantastic beginning as I notice that the tweets are all written in character, although not in Rick’s voice but in that of the character in the profile photo. His very name itself is a joke that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen the show, but let’s just say that he is small and thin, yellow, and an old family friend of the Sanchez’s.

The account has retweeted a famous rapper and the creators of Quake, both of whom expressed a positive view on the show in same way or another in the past few weeks. They also retweeted a lot of great fan-created content on this account, and continued the joke I was talking about earlier, using the hashtag #FuckYouWhereIsSeason3 on content that has nothing to do with a season 3 release date. This use is assumably in response to fans using that hashtag to criticize them for sharing anything other than content that somehow relates to season 3. The joke is that none of us really want plushies and art books and branded headphones, we just want season 3, but those of us with any logic know that they can be working on both, or even more likely at this point in their level of fame, assigning teams to work on that boring stuff while the core group continues to create season 3 for us. Personally, I find it hilarious and respectably ballsy for them to frequently taunt their core fanbase like that, and it only endears them to me further. Hell, if I had more money I would buy a plushy!

Their Facebook presence is very similar to both twitter and Instagram in regards to style and level of audience engagement, so I will touch upon it quickly. There is a lot of repeated content here, or maybe the content from here is repeated elsewhere. Nonetheless, they sometimes do unique things on Facebook. For example, on St. Patrick’s day they posted a clip from the show, without any description or context, of a commercial that spoofs the Lucky Charms mascot in an intensely grotesque and violent way. This was hilarious to me and I thought it was the perfect content to share on that day. On Valentine’s Day, they posted a PBS article detailing a study that claims that love is nothing more than chemicals in the mind, a depressing theory posited by Rick in the first season of the show. Again, this is so perfectly cynical and dark and therefore great on-brand, probably planned, content. The PBS article is from 2009, evidence that this was (fantastic, on-brand, appropriate) planned content. They also share a lot of fan content here, some of which is even for sale. They also began using Facebook’s live feature soon after it was released. I could go on, but I’m almost over the word count already!

To support my idea of their success, I will now list a few statistics. Obviously, I do not have access to their Hootsuite or Google Analytics, so I can only really provide vanity stats, but still, look at these numbers!

  • Twitter followers: 425K
  • Instagram followers: 818K
  • Facebook likes: 1,907,238
  • 28MM impressions, 78K+ followers, a 142% or 2.42x increase in average daily mentions of the show (Rickstaverse stats)

Evidently, everyone who works on various Rick and Morty initiatives knows what they are doing. I have one more bonus topic of discussion, one that I hinted at earlier, and that is the Galactic Federation website that they surprised all of us with. The Facebook post that directed me to this content said, “Premium mind-neutering. All-you-can-ingest medication. Get it all for less with the MyFederation Rewards Card. It’s fun, free, and MANDATORY FOR ALL HUMANS! Register today” Obviously, I immediately clicked it. I won’t get into all of the esoteric details but basically the website eventually funnels you into in-universe clickbait content! How meta is that, eh? You end up in an alien version of Tumblr or Twitter, with a few social media posts to check out. The joke is that the aliens are as inane and ridiculous as us, reblogging videos of recipes, cutesy life hacks, or inspiring videos from “Klaargworthy”. It’s a scathing critique of clickbait culture plus an on-brand piece of original content plus some comedy gold all wrapped up in one beautiful package. Whoever is engineering these campaigns is a genius! I honestly cannot think of a brand that I feel more goodwill towards than Rick and Morty, and their social media behaviour definitely contributes to that feeling in a big way.

(Authors note: big things just happened on April Fool’s Day! Their accounts have changed in accordance and what I have written applies to pre-season 3 premiere times… Let’s get that sauce, people!)