The US film industry remains a closed-door institution, but has taken a different approach towards its communication with the outside world. Social media is slowly taking over the presence of official movie websites. In doing so, the fans of big Hollywood movies are no longer passive. They interact with cast and crew directly, ultimately having an impact on the content of these large-scale films, as well as the turnout of their initial audiences during opening weekends. Based on a survey of 750 social network users ages 13 to 49, the Hollywood Reporter found that one in three social networkers has decided to see a movie in a theater because of something they read on a social networking site (Godley, 2017). This increased opportunity to connect films with fans and promote products based on movies exhibits how fans are flocking to social media in order to reaffirm their dedication to the most anticipated Hollywood film releases of the year.
There are multiple ways film studios are capitalizing off the budding relationship of the movie industry and social media. For example, Facebook is used to exchange opinions and express loyalty through “like” pages, Twitter is used to foster a strong presence from actors, producers, and directors, Tumblr informally delivers information to fans, and YouTube creates a space for the most important interaction with fans, trailers. YouTube is the place where most fans first watch a movie’s trailer, which is very important when 40% of moviegoers base their choices on what they see in the trailer (Matteoc, 2016). Additionally, there is a rise of social media research firms selling their findings to studios. These firms begin their research about one year prior to the film’s release weekend, and they use their findings to identify areas where a film is most anticipated, encouraging the wide release and promotion of a film in that potential area, ultimately allowing for the film to make a larger profit (Robehmed, 2015). Based on a report done in 2012 by Social Media Today, the top five successful movie-ran social media campaigns were executed by The Hunger Games, Monsters vs. Aliens, Paranormal Activity, Alice in Wonderland, and Hot Tub Time Machine (Souza, 2017). These top five franchises used strategies that involved the following: creating online make-believe worlds, free ticket giveaways, screening requests, and exclusive content for more dedicated fans.
On the other hand, studios are learning that in addition to the benefits that come with this increase in reliance on social media, also comes negative impacts. Some of the main concerns with this growing relationship between Hollywood and social media are piracy, too much coverage pre-release, and presence of spoilers in unwanted environments (Gupta, 2016). However, this fear has yet to stop studios from using social media to market their films widely. With social media, it is now easier than ever to figure out where the most interest for a film is. For example, Paranormal Activity used Facebook as a platform to show trailers and advertise their movie. In turn, users on facebook could then specially request a screening in their area. Studio executives and fans alike believe that this strategy “lets fans have a sense of ownership of the film” (Warren, 2010). The same study previously mentioned by The Hollywood Reporter found that a little more than half of the respondents believe that social networking sites are important for making entertainment related decisions (Godley, 2017). The recent film, Get Out exemplifies how “challenges” inspired by films can contribute to box office success. Fans of this horror film have posted videos of themselves in numerous locations reenacting a scene of the film where a character runs towards the screen and quickly and suddenly turns right. The spread of this craze on social media encourages people to go see the film if they have not already. Most recently, the Oscar incident surrounding the best picture award highlighted both nominated films La La Land and Moonlight. Both films’ social media presence skyrocketed the next day. On Twitter and Instagram combined, “#Moonlight” was used 85,000 times and “#LaLaLand” was used 41,000 times (Busch 2017). Although most social media conversations at this time were about the mistake of the announcement for “Best Picture,” both films ultimately received stronger social media presences, further boosting their overall notoriety.
Author: Callie Mae Bowen (University of Vermont) – senior at the University of Vermont majoring in film & television studies and minoring in theatre and public communication.
Advisor: Rob Williams, Ph.D. (University of Vermont); Professor of Media/Communications.