Michelle Dean wrote a fascinating article at Flavorwire: 2013: The Year the Social Media Dam Broke. She talks about how social media buzz, particularly on Twitter can make or break a show.
Her cases in point are Girls vs. Enlightened and Scandal. Here’s what she said about why Girls survived and Enlightened did not:
And it wasn’t that Enlightened didn’t provide really great personal-essay fodder, because a lot of its episodes posed giant philosophical questions about what it means to be a person in our day and age. It was a little weird and offbeat, but then a lot of more popular things — I’m back at Girls again — are, and they survive.
Enlightened, I have come to believe, died from something simpler: a lack of “buzz.” It was missing the entropic quality which kicks in somewhere between a thing being good and it being perceived as such by a large number of people, and that damned it.
Then she gets into the Twitter storm around Scandal:
I spent the rest of the year thinking about just what buzz is. In large part, lately, it seems to be a matter of Twitter. The most accessible example of that is Scandal.
She talks about the effect of all that tweeting and how it begats more conversation.
I think it’s helped the show’s word of mouth. You see, journalists — good ones! — write entire articles about the Twitter storm that arrives reliably on Thursdays. That produces more articles about the show than otherwise. And the effort replicates itself endlessly. People read the articles about the tweets, and decide to join in. People tweet the articles about the tweeting to each other. People like me wonder what all the tweeting means and write year-end pieces about it. And so on.
Good social media and success
Is the secret to success related to social media and nothing else? Should only new shows that appeal to the crowd that tweets be approved? Should the most important hire for any new project be the social media director?
Here’s an example of my own. Orange is the New Black. Brilliant social media work around this show keeps it in the conversation every week. This is a show that appeared in one big batch – a full season on Netflix posted all at once meant most people watched all 13 episodes in a day or two of binge watching. Over until next season, right? Been there done that, right?
No, because Orange is the New Black won’t let itself fade away. Constant updates with Pinterest ready photos, quotes from the characters, jokes about the characters, images for every occasion – all that issues forth from whoever the team is at Orange is the New Black who do these things. And it works! The first season is well over, the second season is yet to come, but #OITNB is a hashtag in constant use. The buzz works.
Hashtag to the past
The buzz doesn’t apply only the current shows. A show like Enlightened may not make it now, but I feel sure there will continue to be viewers talking about it, complete with hashtags, for a long time. Look at past shows like Firefly, The L Word, The X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and others. These shows are still under discussion on Twitter every day.
I remember a couple of years ago, let’s say 2011, I tweeted something about the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Buffy’s mother dies. That series ended in 2003. Nevertheless, my tweet brought a complainer out of the Twitterverse who berated me for revealing such an important spoiler because she hadn’t watched that episode yet.
It made me aware that shows never end now, not with on demand and streaming services and sets of DVDs. There’s always someone out there who is just getting in on the buzz for the first time, even if the show is 15 years old. Everything is a spoiler to someone.
Here’s something I find myself doing. I didn’t watch Friday Night Lights when it first started, even though all sorts of people were telling me it was a great show. When it was completely over, I binge watched it all and found it one of the best shows ever on TV. I was years late to the Friday Night Lights party, but I was talking about it and thinking about it and tweeting about it as if it were fresh, because it was fresh to me. Not long ago, I did the same thing with Fringe.
The point is, hashtag buzz can keep a show alive for years, even after it’s over and gone from the weekly schedule. Buzz can generate current success, but it can also generate a brand of belated success.
The social media dam broke 2013, but it broke the past as well. Where digital media is concerned, the past is no more. Everything is in the eternal now.