Introducing Our “New Media Culture” Book (in English)
Back in May I proudly presented one of my latest works to you: The book New Media Culture: Phänomene der Netzkultur, edited by Christian Stiegler, Patrick Breitenbach and Thomas Zorbach, to which I contributed chapters on participatory culture and ultra-fandom (the latter in collaboration with Thomas Zorbach).
Unfortunately, the book is only available in German at the moment, but thanks to a special kind of book launch, English-speaking audiences now also have the opportunity to experience some of the book’s highlights via a late-night show presented by Marcus John Henry Brown.
You can watch the entire New Media Culture Late Night Show here (our section on ultra-fandom begins at 18:45 mins):
Enjoy! And remember, if you would like to buy the book, you can do so via the publisher’s online shop or on Amazon, where you can get both hard copies and the e-book version.
Game of Thrones is unlike many others series in that it is on-air only for a few weeks each year, meaning that the show’s producers face a very particular dilemma: Keep fan passion and interest going for the rest of the year when other shows and content are competing for the fans’ attention.
Since its premiere, Game of Thrones has always resorted to unusual forms of advertisement. For example, in 2011, food trucks serving delicacies described in the novels headed to Los Angeles and to New York and influencers received scents and scrolls reflecting the world of Westeros, while in 2013, a dragon took over the pages of the New York Times.
On top of these localised activities (that still sparked a global buzz), fans found several ways to interact with Game of Thrones online, such as the sigil creator, the Roast of Joffrey, and an official guide to each iconic death in the series. All of these activities had one thing in common: They carried a feeling of intimacy and passion for fans.
The Three-Eyed Raven Brings the Sight
Leading up to the latest season (#5) , which is currently on-air, the producers tried to continue this feeling of intimacy and passion, hit people in unexpected ways, while integrating the experience into the daily experiences of users and creating meaningful experiences for them. The result of this was “The Three-Eyed Raven”.
In “The Three-Eyed Raven”, fans could sign up by submitting their phone number or Twitter details. Once the project started, they began to receive 8-second-long “visions,” i.e. videos featuring moments from the show (past & coming), either by text message or by direct message on Twitter. Just like the actual visions in Game of Thrones, the visions indicated what might or might not happen in the next season, and could only be seen one time – no repeats, no replays (even if hard-core fans of course found ways to record the visions anyway). What’s more, not all users received the same vision.
At first, fans got angry when they noticed that they could only see the vision once – however, they soon loved it and waited for more, now knowing the rules of the game. The vision featuring Arya alone got 3 million views (click to view video):
Moreover, due to the fact that not everyone received the same vision, there was a huge buzz on social media as fans discussed and shared information regarding the different types of visions. The fact that 60% of users were millenials helped to increase the social conversation even further, to the point that 88% of registered users were talking/sharing on social media. For example, fans began to create unboxing-videos of receiving the next vision.
The creators of “The Three-Eyed Raven” tracked user reactions very closely and didn’t just monitor what fans were saying, but also the emotions they expressed, so as to gather more meaningful data than mere content impressions.
All in all, the visions turned out to be an extremely meaningful marketing and entertainment experience for fans. Due to the fact that they were distributed by text message and Twitter, they were generally received on one of the users’ most intimate devices – their smartphones, making the entire experience extremely personal. Moreover, the intimacy of the device fit with the intimacy of the visions as they are shown in Game of Thrones: Personal, dream-like sequences experienced by a selected few. The intimacy of the delivery also helped to surprise and shock despite the overall over-saturation that makes both increasingly difficult.
At the same time, the concept of the entire campaign was relatively simple – through a bit of tweaking, it turned classic content play into a special, unexpected occasion – even for the most involved and blasé fans. The panelists stressed, however, that the overall integration of the campaign in the production processes was crucial, in that they received real-time content from sets as it was shot, enabling them to create the visions (where only a few seconds of content were needed anyway).
This panel was definitely one of my favorites at SXSW 2015, due to the fact that the producer’s creativity allowed them to run a campaign that was relatively simple in design, yet still brought about meaningful interactions even for the most involved super-fans; interactions, that let fans live through important and magical experiences straight from the world of Game of Thrones. Moreover, “The Three-Eyed Raven” also lent itself perfectly to fan rituals such as sharing knowledge, piecing together information and dissecting source material, and consuming and experiencing entertainment collectively, often aided by social media and practices like unboxing.
The panel was conducted by Jim Marsh, Director Digital & Social Media at HBO, and Melissa Eccles, Creative Director Immersive Entertainment at Elastic.
New Media Culture is an introductory book on the developments, trends and socio-cultural changes brought about by new media, and it is primarily meant for class-room and lecture environments. It’s also a great book to browse through and to reflect on what’s happening in our new media fuelled world.
My contribution to this book consists of two chapters:
“Partizipative Kultur: Implikationen für Gesellschaft, Politik und Medien” (Participatory Culture’s Effects on Society, Politics, and Media)
“Ultra-Fandom: Mediale Implikationen des Fan-Daseins” (Ultra-Fandom: Consequences of Being a Fan With Regards to Media)
I also edited and translated Prof. Henry Jenkins’ chapter “Transmedia Storytelling: Die Herrschaft des Mutterschiffes” (The Reign of the “Mothership” Transmedia’s Past, Present, and Possible Futures).
At the moment, New Media Culture is only available in German. If you do happen to understand German, you should definitely head over to the book’s official website for a detailed description and excerpts. If you would like to buy the book, you can do so via the publisher’s online shop or on Amazon, where you can get both hard copies and the e-book version.
The first notable case or example from SXSW that I would like to share with you in more detail is from the session “The Link Between Social Media and the Box Office“, presented by David Herrin, Head of Research at the United Talent Agency. Herrin and his team have developed a tool called “Preact” which allows them to monitor social media conversations surrounding an upcoming movie, up to 365 days in advance.
Preact doesn’t measure views but what UTA calls “engagement”, i.e. the volume of posts regarding the movie. The resulting hits are classified into positive and negative comments and can be used by UTA and the producing studio as a status check to see what the public opinion regarding the movie in question is like at and up to that point. Based on the volume of posts and the sentiments expressed in them, Preact assigns the movie a number between 1 and 100 to predict the movie’s box office performance (1 predicting a bad performance and 100 predicting an extremely good one).
As a result, studios and producers can see 12 to 6 months ahead of a movie’s opening weekend how the movie will perform, and adjust their communication tactics if necessary to improve performance.
Ideal Conversation Balance
In the ideal case, there is a balance between three factors: The volume of posts, a positive sentiment, and organic conversation. Organic conversation refers to posts that were created by users themselves, and not “push”/advertising messages from marketing departments. If there is an imbalance between push and organic conversations, it leads to bad results. For example, if there is too much push communication in relation to organic conversation around an upcoming movie, it means that the users don’t care about the movie enough to post about it themselves and to join online conversations about it. If there are too many organic posts, a studio’s communication department might have to step up their game a little bit to make sure the users’ interest in the movie is met with relevant information about it.
Consequently, analysing both the Preact score of a movie and the nature/content of the online conversation surrounding it allows producers to spot potential messaging and overall communication issues early on. There are a variety of drivers of online conversations about a movie: Online trailers, early & smart TV buys, film festivals showing the movie, conventions, posters, and theater displays, for example. At the same time, however, the message from the producing studio must be clear, otherwise, the online conversation dies out or turns bad.
Preact Example: 21 Jump Street
In the case of the recent adaptation of 21 Jump Street (2012) for example, evaluating the online conversation via Preact showed that the consumers didn’t understand what the movie was supposed to be about, as it was not only a new adaptation, but had also changed the tone of the movie significantly. Sony reacted to these news by repeating trailers again and again and by showing different clips and trailers that gave consumers a better understanding of the new adaptation. 21 Jump Street went on to make over $200 million at the box office.
At the moment, Preact only evaluates the conversations taking place on Facebook and Twitter, but Herrin’s team is already working on a tumblr integration. They are also planning on expanding the tool from the US American and Canadian market to other English-speaking regions soon (e.g. UK), and also to other key, non-English-speaking regions, such as China.
The case of Preact struck a particular chord with me due to its universal applicability. It is not very surprising that such a tool was developed by the movie industry; after all, Hollywood has desperately tried for years to find a formula or predictor of success for their multi-million dollar investments. Now, thanks to Preact, Hollywood seems to have taken a big step into that direction.
However, the use of Preact extends far beyond the entertainment industry. Consumer brands could also make very good use of it and predict the performance of a new product launch, while news services could use the tool to detect the stories most relevant to their audiences. Needless to say, there are also countless applications for detecting trends early on; this knowledge could be useful for companies, investors, or anyone else running a business based on the prediction of trends and user behavior.
As some of you may have gathered from my Twitter feed, I was back at SXSW this year. Just like last year, my time at SXSW has been incredibly inspirational and educational, and there are a few key entertainment trends that I would like to share with you. On top of that, there will be summaries of two panels that I found demonstrated the current entertainment trends according to SXSW best. Let’s jump right in.
There are three key entertainment trends that I was able to identify at SXSW:
Continued efforts to create immersive experiences
Trying to create marketing that is entertainment
Taking community management to the next level
Both entertainment and consumer brands are continuing their efforts to create immersive experiences for their fans. While entertainment brands lend themselves to such experiences a bit more easily, producers are still experimenting with different methods of immersion to varying degrees of success. Television shows are among the key drivers in this regard. Here we see continued attempts to create second screen experiences, mostly via smartphone and table apps, but also the exploitation of social media and of new technologies for both unconventional marketing and storytelling methods.
The main examples in this respect are the SyncScreen app by the company of the same name, and the Immersion platform by Portal Entertainment. SyncScreen is a second screen app for smart devices that you can use anytime; it syncs with the happenings on screen via the show’s audio stream and offers different content at different storytelling points. Immersion, on the other hand, contains a feature that reads the user’s facial reaction, creating the possibility to adjust the storytelling to the user reaction – among other things.
This year, SXSW has also shown how the line between marketing and entertainment becomes increasingly blurred. While this happens both in consumer goods branding and in entertainment branding, entertainment once again lends itself to this trend rather easily. The obvious intention behind this trend is to market to audiences without the message feeling like marketing but more like entertainment. This trend presents great opportunities for transmedia storytelling, of course, if the entertainment content presented as part of the marketing is additional content or a new experience not found in the content of the advertised driving platform. In this trend, the brand almost takes a backseat to the primary entertainment experience, in hopes that the feelings the entertainment experience generates become linked to the brand in the audience’s mind, and that it leaves the audience wishing for more of the same story or universe.
The main example here is the “Three-Eyed Raven”, an entertainment (or marketing?) experience created by HBO and Elastic to foster engagement among Game of Thrones fans while the show was out of season (I will cover this panel in more detail in a later post). Geico’s pre-roll YouTube ads that both are and aren’t ads also fall under this category.
The Next Level of Community Management
The importance of community management and social media use to create and engage with loyal fans is of course no longer news to consumer and entertainment brands. However, this year at SXSW was all about how this community and fan engagement could be taken to the next level. This trend essentially forms the basis of the first two trends mentioned: In order to create immersive entertainment experiences, an entertainment brand must first have a dedicated fan base that follows the brand on different channels, and that is actively looking for any new piece of content, whether it is disguised marketing or not.
The SXSW 2015 sessions were full with both company and entertainment executives who monitor online conversations surrounding their brands closely in order to make predictions of product performance (see coming post about the “The Link Between Social Media and the Box Office” presentation), identify crucial influencers and torch-bearers, and to leverage existing and new audiences and fan communities. There was also a lot of talk about how brands can become integral parts of their user’s lives, from the concept of “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.“ (Simon Sinek) to turning brands into movements by offering consumers the possibility to create their own narratives surrounding a brand (and to put the narrative into action within a local community; John Hagel).
Needless to say, there was also a lot of talk about what to do when an online community crisis (e.g. a shitstorm) hits.
The Common Denominator
All in all, it becomes clear that these three trends have one thing in common: The wish to completely encompass the user, to meet them wherever they go, and to fundamentally fuse the identity of the user/consumer with the brand. From a marketing standpoint, such a fusion would of course be the Holy Grail. However, I have also heard a few critical voices throughout SXSW regarding this trend. After all, a brand is a careful, artificial construct, and one should probably ask themselves if it is a good thing to integrate something designed with very specific purposes in mind (i.e. mostly profit) into one’s identity. This is definitely a thought that I will ponder over a little in the next few months and years, especially when we get to see just how intertwined personal identity and a brand can become.
Having talked about the broader trend context, I will offer a bit more detailed insights into the following two panels in the next few days, as these sessions represent the trends mentioned above particularly well:
“Game of Thrones: Creating Immersive Entertainment (SXSW schedule)” and “The Link Between Social Media and the Box Office” (SXSW schedule).
For the last 18 months, I have been part of a team working on a project that is very dear to me and that I would like to introduce to you today: The MAUERSCHAU app.
Put very simply, MAUERSCHAU offers interactive tours of Berlin by means of augmented reality functions. However, in terms of content, MAUERSCHAU tours are much more than you’re typical “this is where that happened in year XYZ”!
All MAUERSCHAU tours center on real-life experiences of contemporary witnesses who lived during the time of the Berlin Wall. You can literally follow those witnesses’ footsteps by visiting the same places they did, as indicated on a map. The witnesses tell their stories in short videos that you can watch at different points throughout the tour, and their explanations are illustrated even further by text, archive footage and pictures from the time period or event the witnesses describe. The contemporary witnesses’ stories range from brave perseverance in a totalitarian state to daring escapes past the wall and point-of-view re-tellings of historic events such as the Berlin Crisis in 1961.
This makes the MAUERSCHAU app a truly unique experience for its users and offers an almost unprecedented depth to learning about history. Rather than just reading or hearing about what happened from a third-party tour guide – whether they be an actual person or a book/audioguide – MAUERSCHAU lets you directly look at the faces of many different people who experienced life during the Berlin Wall first-hand. You can follow their gestures as they point to exact spots where they or others had been standing, and more often than not, their personal recounts will let shivers run down your spine as history comes alive once more around you.
The MAUERSCHAU app itself and two out of currently seven tours are entirely free of charge. The remaining tours cost between €1,79 and €2,69, depending on the length and complexity of the tour in question and can be bought via in-app purchase. As of now, MAUERSCHAU is only available in German and for iOS, but we are planning to create both an English and an Android version, along with many additional tours.
To celebrate the launch of MAUERSCHAU, we’re throwing a Launch Event on September 13th at Hotel Grenzfall in Berlin, which will feature a short introduction of the app, a demonstration of an actual tour and finally a Memorial Concert to honor one of the contemporary witnesses featured in the app, Manfred Fischer. Mr. Fischer was the pastor of the Church of Reconciliation (Versöhnungskirche), which was located in the so-called death-strip of the Berlin Wall and which was ultimately destroyed by East Germany. Sadly, Mr. Fischer passed away last November.
If you happen to be in Berlin on September 13th and would like to come to our Launch Event, please let me know – the more, the merrier! 🙂 Just shoot me an e-mail or social media message, and I’ll make sure that you’ll be put on the guest list. We’re so happy to have reached our first milestone in creating the MAUERSCHAU app, and would like to celebrate this success with all of you!
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding the MAUERSCHAU app! If you would like to try it, you can download it here. Note that you don’t have to be in Berlin to use it – you can access all content from anywhere in the world!
The LBDoriginally ran from April 2012 to March 2013 as a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. The LBD started out as a personal vlog of grad student Lizzie Bennet as part of her Master’s thesis. Lizzie uploaded two videos per week at regular intervals, and by watching her vlogs, fans were able to follow the overall plot all through the end.
All social media platforms were carefully chosen to match the characters and their stories. Gigi Darcy, who was just recovering from a heartbreak, used This Is My Jam for quite a big part of the story (and long before she was introduced on screen) to express herself, for example, while others, such as Lydia and the Lees, were interacting on Twitter a lot. While the core story took part mostly on Lizzie Bennet’s vlog, as mentioned before, fans were able to follow the individual characters across platforms, and experience parts of the story in greater detail or as teasers. What’s more, fans were able to actually interact with the characters on the different social media platforms, which made the overall story even more tangible.
Stats and Monetization
All in all, the LBD produced a total of 9.5 hours of video, content on 35 different social media profiles, and 50+ million video views on YouTube. Its success was so profound that it was even the first web series to win a Primetime Emmy for Original Interactive Programming.
Given the subject matter, 90% of the LBD’s viewers were female, and out of those, 70% were females under 25. At first, the LBD was self-funded; when the producers tried to win over ad and digital agencies for the project, they were told that “Girls don’t use the internet.” Needless to say, this statement elicited a lot of laughter at the panel, and it was fortunately quickly proven wrong by the LBD’s successes.
As the popularity of the LBD grew, the producers found ways to monetize their content to support the continuation of the show. On top of YouTube ads (which, as most of us should know by now, don’t really make that much money), the LBD quickly sold merchandise like T-shirts, and ran a Kickstarter campaign towards the end of the series to create DVDs of all the video material as a form of re-packaging content. Despite the fact that the entire series remained free to watch online, the Kickstarter campaign quickly exceeded its goal of $60,000, collecting a whopping $462,405 instead! The excess money was then put towards the second series by the producers, Welcome to Sanditon, outlined below.
Finally, this June, the producers will also be releasing another addition to the story in form of a book. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennetwill be available at all major online and offline retailers, most certainly raking in further funds for the storyworld.
Welcome to Sanditon
Welcome to Sanditon was based on Jane Austen’s last, unfinished novel and inspired by Sleep No Morein its execution. It essentially continued the story world created in the LBD by making Gigi Darcy its main character, but also actively invited and integrated user-generated content in its storyline. As part of the core story, Gigi Darcy went to the fictional town of Sanditon in Southern California to use and test her company’s new video recording and communication software “Domino”. While she was there, Gigi encounters several different characters living in Sanditon, from the mayor to an ice cream shop owner. Once again, the storyspread from YouTube to the Twitter accounts of several characters, but this time, gave fans not only the opportunity to interact with the characters, but to actively participate by creating their own characters and businesses of Sanditon.
Fans immediately jumped in, which resulted in more than 600 user generated Sanditon characters and businesses added to the overall storyworld. Fans could chose to be whoever they wanted to be, and tell their own Sanditon story. All in all, these fans not only produced over 800 user generated videos as part of the story, but even ended up creating a rival town for Sanditon called Dolphintown.
The UGC was then inserted in compilation reels that were shown every alternate week, so fans could not only see their highlights, but also felt truly included in the story.
The integration of UGC into the Sanditon storyworld went so well that fans were still playing their roles on social media at the time of the panel – 6 months after series ended!
Emma Approvedis the latest installment of the producers at Pemberly Digital. Just like its predecessors, EA has been immensely successful and was chosen Variety’s #2 web series for 2013. As can probably be gathered from its title, EA is an adaptation of the Austen classic Emma, and once again tells its story across different social media, with Emma’s video blog as the driving platform. The social media used (at this point in time) include Emma’s advice and fashion blog, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. Within these media, video, photography, text, social media interaction and even music are used as full stylistic devices, offering fans many different perspectives into the same storyworld via new pieces of content on each platform.
With EA, fans have once again got the opportunity to interact with the story’s characters on the different media that they are on. This even lead to cases where fans made covers of a song one character (Harriet) wrote, posting it to EA, where they were then re-tweeted.
Finally, it seems that the storyworlds created with the LBD, Sanditon, and EA have now come full-circle when recently, Caroline Lee from the LBD crossed over into EA, where she played a rather significant part.
Stats and Monetization
Unlike the first two series, EA is the one project that is now actively making money from product integration, thereby monetizing every platform. So far, EA has created 48 videos and countless photographic and text content. Once again, its audience is overwhelmingly female; 93% are women, and of them, 56% are women under 25.
Product integration has worked extremely well for EA for a variety of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, EA’s product integration is non-invasive; the products are fitted organically into the story. While the products themselves and especially their functions were highlighted, they were not blatantly called out.
At the same time, however, the adaptation itself lent itself to product integration extremely well. In EA, Emma has curated a personal brand as a life coach intent on making people’s lives better. As a result, she actually declares items, methods, and services “Emma Approved” frequently, making it easy for the producers to have her “approve” and focus on integrated products – even if it is only in form of an “Emma Approved” holiday gift guide on her blog.
Two of the organically integrated products were the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch and clothing from Modcloth. Both types of products matched the show’s target audience – young, tech-savy and lifestyle conscious women – as well as the show’s content extremely well. The Galaxy Gear watch was fully integrated on all five platforms due to different foci on what it could do, rather on just what it is. The watch was part of characterization and actively involved in the creation of the story – characters created videos with it, for example – making its integration even more natural and even valuable to the story.
In terms of Modcloth, the products also fit well into the plot and into characterization as they helped to highlight Emma’s focus on style as integral to an individual’s personal brand and improvement. Emma not only wore stylish fashion pieces herself in her vlogs, but she also blogged about them extensively on her fashion blog, even highlighting other characters’ – Harriet and Caroline – fashion choices.
As a result of the integration of Modcloth items, fans not only bought the products, but they even showed them off online. While the exact sales numbers cannot be disclosed, Bernie Su stated that they were more than satisfactory.
Finally, Bernie Su and Jay Bushman explained that the fact that they were serving an audience that is currently badly underserved – young women – contributed to their successes. However, they also highlighted several times that it is not just about finding the right audience/demographic and using as many platforms as possible, but most importantly, about telling a great story that is meaningful for its fans.
As I mentioned above, this was probably my favorite of all panels and presentations at SXSW. It was the only one that brought us a significant step closer to a best practice for commercially viable projects in the new media age, and especially in the transmedia age. The producers did a perfect job at marrying story and monetization in a way that made fans happy and their projects successful. The loyal fans of the LBD, Sanditon and EA demonstrated again and again that the right people will not only be willing to honor good content with money (Exhibit A: The Kickstarter Campaign), but that they will even be happy about product integration if the product is matched to their interests.
Moreover, from a fan/user perspective, there are also several narrativedesign decisions that make the series even more appealing. I started following the LBD, Sanditon and EA from day one, and I simply love how all three story worlds are truly transmedia, i.e. they open up new perspectives and content at each media platform. What’s more, all three projects make it incredibly easy to actually follow all three stories across the different platforms and characters by providing story maps for each project.
This means that if you’re not able to follow the story in real time because you may not be online on each platform all the time, you can catch up whenever you are ready to without any problems. Also, if you would like to follow a particular character or story arc, you don’t have to painstakingly figure out where to go, but you get an easy-access road-map that will save you lots of time and nerves. It always surprises me when a transmedia project does not have such story maps – if you want a user to follow you, why don’t you make it as easy as possible for them?
With this, we’re at the end of all my SXSW 2014 re-caps. I hope they’ve been useful to you, and I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Just drop me a comment, e-mail or tweet! 🙂
This is part 5 of my SXSW 2014 re-cap. You can find all other re-caps here.
Issues of privacy in the age of the internet had their own sub-track at SXSW Interactive. There were skype-in calls with Julian Assange and Edward Snowden amongst other panels, and while I was only able to attend the call with Julian Assange, it was very interesting, however.
Assange’s points regarding the current, overall state of the (political) internet:
The internet has penetrated every single aspect of our lives – our jobs, our banking, our travel bookings, even medical services take place online. With governments being able to watch everything we do online, it means that we are moving towards a world where no-one can exist outside the nation state.
The internet used to be in a politically apathetic state until 2009/2010. Wikileaks revelations, Snowden’s revelations, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy Movement really sparked political interest and action online. Especially the revelations about the NSA revealed that the internet, which we had regarded mostly as a space for fun and enjoyment, had been invaded by powerful political interests.
As a result, the Internet has now become a political space in every aspect.
Assange’s explanations of what it is like for him, other Wikileaks members and Edward Snowden to spend their lives on the run:
Members of Wikileaks and of the NSA revelations had to flee their home countries and cannot even stay in anglo-american states anymore for fear of arrest and extradition.
The great visibility of Wikileaks and of Snowden also provide a sense of security for the persecuted, however.
Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is of course difficult, but still as good as it gets as it is safe and lets Assange continue working.
What does the complete surveillance by the NSA and PRISM mean for our lives and our societies?
The good thing is that to systemize injustice you must put it down on paper so you can manage it as an apparatus. This also means that it becomes detectable for us.
Still, the penetration of the internet by the NSA means the penetration by the NSA of our society (see point above re: internet invading every part of our lives). The internet and our society have merged, meaning that the NSA has access to every aspect of our society.
We’re at a point where we are being presented a picture of the world and of the internet that we’re supposed to consider the reality, but behind that picture is a completely different world that both we and people like Assange and Snowden only get glimpses of. Kind of like The Matrix (my own comparison).
No-one has been fired or persecuted since the NSA revelations, meaning that the Obama administration is not serious about their NSA concerns. Obama doesn’t have the actual power to disband the NSA nor the CIA – so there is virtually no civilian oversight of these institutions.
You will not be able to keep your head down and act innocuous. Totalitarian power is arbitrary and no-one is safe. We all have to fight it, whether we like it or not.
You don’t have to be particularly brilliant or special to stand your ground and fight surveillance. Of the Wikileaks Team itself, Assange says: “We test and try. We simply do not accept the appearance of fear.” Which is why they succeed, according to Assange.
The question if the NSA/PRISM surveillance is justified is a very contested one in many countries, especially the US. The question if people like Assange and Snowden should be persecuted for treason or celebrated as heroes is just as polarizing. The situation overall is a very complex one, and one that we simply haven’t encountered before, so it is difficult to really wrap your head around it (for me at least).
The argument for essentially total governmental surveillance usually names fighting crime – and better yet, fighting terrorism – as justification for its existence. While those are really important missions, of course, it is quite difficult to judge if these missions are actually needed in the first place – simply because there is absolutely no civilian oversight and no public reporting, just like Assange stated. All other crime-fighting units usually publish statistics once a year – how many crimes happened, how many were solved, what types were they, etc. We have nothing of the sort from institutions from the NSA. Instead, we get what The Guardian‘s John Naughton has so brilliantly described in his commentary on the GCHQ spying revelations: A Kafka-esque game of cat and mouse between institutions like the GCHQ or NSA and the public.
State Although intrusive surveillance does infringe a few liberties, it’s necessary if you are to be protected from terrible things.
Citizen (anxiously) What terrible things?
State Can’t tell you, I’m afraid, but believe us they are truly terrible. And, by the way, surveillance has already prevented some terrible things.
Citizen Such as?
State Sorry, can’t go into details about those either.
Citizen So how do I know that this surveillance racket isn’t just bureaucratic empire building?
State You don’t need to worry about that because it’s all done under legal authority.
Citizen So how does that work?
State Regrettably, we can’t go into details because if we did so then the bad guys might get some ideas.
What it comes down to, in the end, is: “Trust us.” And the trouble with that is that in recent decades our political elites have done precious little to deserve our trust. (Emphasis added)
Naughton’s article sums up nicely what the situation currently boils down to, in my opinion. I’m not naive or stupid (I hope, at least) – I know that there is much more going on behind the political and military scenes than what the public knows, and that’s probably often a good thing to preserve peace and a society’s interests.
Still, in order for democratic states to work, we need transparency. It is not by accident that democratic constitutions first and foremost lay down the law for what the state CANNOT do, thereby protecting the people from the state. Whether it’s protecting freedom of speech and/or opinion, the right to bear arms, unwarranted arrests or seizures, the right to fair trial, the right not to be discriminated against based on race, gender, religion, or the like – it all comes down to restricting the rights of the state, mostly because we’ve seen governments after government violate these rights again and again in history.
Governments are run by people, and while there are many good and nice people in the world, I think we can all agree that not all people can be trusted, and that there can especially be quite a few extremists out there – religious, political, ideological. Fortunately, there are laws to protect us from ill-meaning people in both our general society and the government. But in order to enforce these laws, we have to be able to detect their breaches in the first place. In the game institutions like the NSA are playing, this detection is purposely impeded, however, under the mantel of “national security reasons”.
Maybe institutions like the NSA and PRISM are completely necessary and justified. We can’t say, however, because we don’t know what their statistics are, how much terrorism and crime they have actually stopped and prevented with their surveillance. We don’t know anything about them except for the fact that they are watching us, so we can’t make any informed judgement about them. All we know is that in the past, governments weren’t the most trustworthy institutions.
Finally, I think one of the things that bug me most about these surveillance revelations is that we cannot answer the question why the surveillance is so widespread. In the past, whenever governments were watching their people’s every move and action, it was part of a repressive political system. Being from Germany, I know several people who can tell you about this surveillance first hand – first during the Third Reich, and later during the USSR. In these time periods, the people knew they were being watched, they knew why they were being watched, and they knew what the state wanted from them: Conforming to the political ideology. Nowadays, literally everyone is being watched – not only the people who might be bad guys – and nobody knows why. What do these states want from us? Are they trying to make sure we make use of our rights for free speech? That we don’t let others stop us from exercising our own religions? Why are they really watching us?
We’re living in the longest period of peace the Western world has experienced. We’re immensely lucky in that, but we also have to be weary to be lulled in a sense of false security. Even if totalitarian surveillance systems like the NSA and GCHQ were set up with the best intentions in mind – I usually like to assume people mean well – they CAN be undermined. They CAN be subverted. They CAN be used for non-democratic purposes – especially when there is no transparency, no real reporting and no actual accountability. Just because we have already seen extreme cases like the Third Reich, the USSR, Francoist Spain, North Korea, etc. it doesn’t mean that they won’t happen all over again. Yes, national security is important. Yes, preserving national interests is important. But all measures taken to ensure the two should be proportionate to their cost. Right now, it just seems like the cost of total surveillance is much greater per individual than its benefits per individual.
What do you think? Do you think the current level of surveillance is justified? Are we even able to make an informed judgement about the level of surveillance? Wouldn’t we need more transparency to really do that?
The way movies are marketed socially depends on various factors, e.g. the movie’s content, its audience, a possible existing fan base, etc. What is always important, however, is that you must maintain a continuous story and that you have enough content to really keep the social media activity going continuously on all platforms that you are using. It can also be highly useful to have talent that supports your social media strategy and posts about the movie themselves.
If you do not have enough content for an actual social media run or campaign, just create a digital PR kit for your website and let audiences discover it themselves.
Possible hooks/content opportunities on social media include:
The biggest objective in social media marketing of movies is to tell stories about the stories.
The Fast & The Furious: Social narratives focused on production, talent, behind the scenes; including posts from actors of happenings on-set; tied-in with existing fan hype, which includes the hype surrounding the movie series itself and the hype surrounding its action stars.
50 Shades of Grey: Only limited behind-the-scenes content available for sharing on social media (so far). As a result, the marketers have resorted to using lines from the books in place of actual movie material to fuel excitement in the existing fan base.
Planes: Game app containing prizes launched months before the movie’s release date; leading to 12 million downloads before the movie even was in theaters; catered to young, male audience interested in games and allowed for push notifications to all app users on opening day.
Talent: Obviously, your talent cannot be told to post about a movie and in what manner, but usually promoting a movie in social media is beneficial to the social media growth of both parties, so most talent is quite cooperative. Also, movie directors should be included early on in the communications planning process to maximize any content they may have to offer.
Pictures/content: The picture approval process is huge and has to go through both the studio’s internal and the talents’ approval stages. Obviously, this takes a while, so candid, on-set pictures (e.g. cell phone pictures) that are being shared by the talent itself on social media is often a much easier and flexible alternative. Also: Due to high-resolution trailers, fans now have much more potential stills at their hands than many studios themselves. As a result, movie marketers can re-tweet/re-blog/share fan generated content, but not make use of this non-sanctioned material without breaching their own approval requirements.
Boosting Communication During A Movie’s Release
To increase the buzz surrounding the release of your movie, the panelists recommend the following:
Build up continuously to the movie’s release with the content you have at your disposal.
Post content on Twitter tying into TV ads and amplify these Tweets.
Be sure to invite your key influencers to your movie’s special screenings – e.g. bloggers & journalists, but also fans and influencers of key brands featured in the movie, for example.
Re-use all trailers and stills you have at your disposal as much as possible.
In the film industry, a social media campaign never ends, as it can always be reactivated for home entertainment releases.
While the panel featured great marketing executives, I personally found their recommendations rather basic. I am pretty sure that the panelists didn’t actually share the biggest tricks they’ve got up their sleeves in order to maintain their respective competitive advantages. Still, despite the fact that the panelists mentioned at the very beginning that the social media content of a movie’s campaign would have to be tailored to its target audience and possible existing fan base, the main type of social media content mentioned for the majority of the panel was behind-the-scenes material. Behind-the-scenes information can of course be extremely relevant to the right audience and seems to be easier to come by, but it would have been great to hear more about more innovative types of content such as the Pitch Perfect Memes or the Planes and Turbo games.
At the same time, a topic that remained completely untouched was any way in which the story world of the movie itself could be integrated in and expanded on within a social media campaign. After all, we are currently faced with countless movies that cater to existing fan bases – all Marvel movies (e.g. Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, X-Men, etc.), 50 Shades of Grey, The Muppets, Spiderman, Transformers, Sin City, The Hobbit, Paranormal Activity, just to name a few.
Given that it is these existing fan bases that movie studios bank on when producing more and more movies of the aforementioned franchises, it seems quite surprising that there was no talk during the panel about how the story worlds of the movies themselves can be used as the biggest hook of all. In movies, it is the story that sells. If you have an existing fan base that is deeply invested in your story already, they will be keen on any shred of new content you can provide them with. These fans have bought primarily into the story itself, not into the process of how the story is being made. So it would only be a logical step to use the story of a movie to a much greater extent in marketing, just like in the campaign surrounding the release of the most recent installment of The Hunger Games.
Granted, the latest transmedia marketing feat surrounding the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Firewas a great novelty, and looking at the difficult picture approval process the panelists talked about, I would assume that it would be just as difficult to get additional types of story content for social media approved. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to hear about such possible limitations, including any challenges one might not even think of as an outsider. Because as a fan, it can get quite annoying to read things like:
“Marvel’s “The Avengers” (2012) Character Spotlight: Agent Maria Hill
The high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill is a talented commander, an expert marksman and capable hand-to-hand combatant, and is the second most powerful figure of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind Nick Fury.” (Official Avengers Facebook Page, January 27th 2014)
Hint: If I liked the movie on Facebook (or any other social medium), it usually means I have seen it, in which case I know all the above info already from watching the movie, meaning that this post is just boring for fans.
True story extensions on social media, no matter how small, would probably have to be created and written by the same creators responsible for the movie (franchise) itself. Unless of course – and I’m sorry to constantly be using the example but it was just so good and smartly done – you do it like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, where the additional content didn’t actually say much about the story of the upcoming movie, but focused on other aspects of the universe like parties celebrating Katniss & Peeta as victors. By doing this, the campaign did expand the story world the fans bought into, but without endangering/revealing the different story lines of the upcoming movie.
Lastly, I would also have liked to learn more about how to keep your audience engaged once the movie has been released. Again, additional story content would be a great way to do so, but even without it, there must be more possibilities than just “re-using any trailers and stills” you may have at your disposal, as mentioned on the panel. Of course, it is difficult to get by the amount of new/interesting content needed to keep your audience engaged, but there are already movie social media pages out there who do a great job at keeping fans interested and on their toes, such as the Facebook page of the Thormovies. It uses all kinds of content – movie stills, movie quotes, documentaries, DVD count-downs, fan content, comic material and meme-like pictures – and instills them with value to the fans by tying them in with larger social media trends such as the #tbt hashtag (which in this case was even converted into “throwback thorsday”).
The panel only had one hour, of course, and it is absolutely impossible to fit everything about social media movie marketing into this tiny time frame. The panelists were of a very high caliber, and so again, I don’t think they would have wanted to share all their secret sauces and tricks with us. I am very grateful that they made time in their undoubtedly busy schedules for this presentation and they did make excellent points throughout. It would just also have been nice to learn about cutting-edge approaches to social media marketing of movies in more detail rather than just touching on them, given that the panel was classified as “intermediate”.
At the moment, most advertising remains very classic and in-your-face. However, the times of such advertising are over and it now needs greater sophistication. Your audience expects branded content rather than pure product placement, for example. Everything else – blatant „buy this!“, „buy that!“ is white noise.
This is especially important as audiences have become aware that they live in a world of infinite choices, and that their attention is part of their purchasing power. This means that audiences nowadays also expect to have their own say when it comes to content.
The solution for this are interactive narrative storyworlds. These don’t have to always be branded, of course, but if they are, they are a very powerful marketing tool.
To create a storyworld worth engaging and interacting with, try these recommendations:
Don’t be afraid to create a Storyworld – it’s easier than it sounds and it can start as simple and small as possible.
Adjust to the media used – not only in terms of content, but also in terms of time. Sometimes, a series of short films complemented by content on other platforms meets your audience’s media habits better than one long feature film, for example. Of course, in order to do this, you must know your target audience’s media habits very well!
Provide concrete points of access for interaction.
Everyone has their own personal background, and this background will automatically influence a specific users experience of your story, meaning that there will always be multiple story engines for your content.
Make stories for play and let go of creative control. In order to be truly interactive, you have to collaborate with your fans and let them join you at the helm.
At the same time, make sure you’re not overwhelming your audience with interaction and limit the interactive moments. Few, deliberate interactive moments are much more powerful than constant calls to action.
Examples of interactive storyworlds presented at the panel were:
Side-note: I would also like to include Welcome to Sanditon in the list of examples. It was not mentioned at the panel, but it is another great demonstration of how you can include and provide interaction for your audience by relenting some (but not all) creative control. Welcome to Sanditon will also be featured in one of my upcoming blog posts.
The next re-cap will cover 5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie.