Fandom in the Social Media Age – Conclusions, Part Two

Before I move on to the broader discussion of fandom of television shows and how that is impacting (and being impacted by) social media, I discovered I omitted a few more items I wanted to cover in the first post, but considering the length of it already, I tabled for this one.

I started with the question of why have a social media account for a TV Writers’ Room in the first place. The first answer was the ‘joiner’ rationale — everyone else is doing it. But virtually every show on television, scripted or non-scripted has an official Twitter account and/or official Facebook page which promotes the show, tweets out things from creators and stars, posts clips and even retweets fans on occasion (depending on the account) — so why have a Writers’ Room account at all?

Let’s face it: As creators, we want people to understand how we do our jobs. TV writing is far more transparent than the black box that is feature writing these days (Just try to find out how many people have worked on a particular feature project. All you see are the arbitrated WGA credits, not every single writer who worked on the script). With TV, you can go to IMDB and find every writer of every episode of the show, all of the directors, the cast, the crew… Showrunners have far more recognition for their creations than feature writers. There is something about the collaborative nature of TV, in regard to the writing and producing that we want to share with viewers. Coincidentally fans want to know how these shows are made, and seem to have an endless appetite for the ‘behind the scenes’ sausage making that happens. Having a Writers’ Room presence on social media gives you the ability to control the message and share what you want to share with fans — the hard work, the fun stuff, anything and everything that feels appropriate.

There are limits — there are certainly things you can’t talk about as the social media presence, the same kind of things you wouldn’t talk to press about — spoiling upcoming stories, talking about cast changes or writer changes… but I also discovered that there is a remarkable amount of freedom to running a TV Writers’ Room account. It may not be universal, but I never had a single tweet or Tumblr post that I wrote which was retracted because the studio or network objected. If I deleted something it was because I made an error in the tweet or decided that the content wasn’t appropriate ON MY OWN and with consultation with others. That was rare. I always tried to vet anything I questioned with other writers and even took it to Jason if I felt it needed his blessing.

Given the amount of PR-ness most other accounts present, that’s pretty remarkable. Zero interference.

The one time the network requested I tweet something specific was a ‘Happy Birthday’ message to one of our actors on the Mount Weather blog/twitter. It felt somewhat like a break of the 4th wall I was trying to erect, but I wasn’t about to refuse that, since it was literally the ONLY time someone from that side of the house asked me to do something specific. And really, who could question a birthday tweet??

Again, not every studio/network may be so flexible in their standards. I certainly had to take the online WBTV social media training that every single WB employee must complete as part of their employment. And if there is ever a massive scandal that leads to a firing, you can be sure that the currently invisible noose will suddenly tighten and become far more apparent. I guess the conclusion here is — DON’T BE STUPID. It’s hard not to pull the trigger fast in the social media landscape, but every tweet, every Tumblr post can wait long enough to be vetted, if it needs to be.

Did I make mistakes? Oh hell yeah. I got myself embroiled in a debate about racism and our show (as in, the argument was we were a racist show for our portrayal of various people/things) which I should have completely steered clear of. The strange thing about this mistake was that it actually reinforced how committed we were as a show to engage the fans and not just hide behind the veneer of our mysterious presence to dodge serious questions and issues fans were having with the show. They appreciated that we weren’t afraid, that we were confident enough in what we were presenting to tackle some of those questions head on. I do think I could have handled the situation far differently, and when other issues around sexuality and the lack of LGBT characters arose a month or two later, I felt that we managed that situation far more gracefully and with fewer ruffled feathers.

Over time, however, my personality seeped through the presence. I tried to keep it at bay as much as I could, but we are human beings, not robots. At times, I mirrored Jason’s playfulness on his twitter account, and other times, I did a 180 on it, particularly if he said something upsetting to fans, I felt it my job to balance it out. No, I wasn’t hired to do PR for the show, but that became part of the job — presenting our show and our writers in the best, but honest way to our audience.  Hindsight being what it is, I was the perfect person to do this part of the job (they may question my actual abilities as a Writers’ Assistant), but my long years in social media and understanding to some degree how to interact in a professional way, made it far easier for me to adapt to the role. Other rooms may find that it’s just one job too many for the writers’ assistant, and may need a savvy P.A. to run the account. If you can’t find someone with the right skillset, the best thing to do is not engage the fans, because the last thing you want is a PR nightmare that spins out of control, just because the person running the account didn’t know the proper way to answer a fan question.

People identified our account as having ‘sass,’ and part of the interaction with fans was humanizing us, the writers’. So often fans are quick to berate the creators of the show for decisions made in the course of the season. The Writers’ Room account is a way to provide some context and explanation for fans who watch the show for entertainment and haven’t really applied a critical or analytical eye. Our younger fans react very emotionally to plot and character (‘I hate him!’ ‘I love her!’ ‘How could he/she do that??’). I found very often that some fans really could not differentiate that actions taken by characters or words spoken by characters do not necessarily represent our views as writers — they represent the character’s views. Still, when a character committed a reprehensible act, we were asked constantly how we could condone that. The point was, we don’t! And further, why didn’t any of his people condemn his actions? Well, he is loved by most of them, and the way they perceive their enemy is not on equal footing. As the person interacting with these fans, I could ask them to put themselves in the character’s shoes and ask themselves the important question — ‘What would I have done?’

That’s what TV is all about, really. Presenting shows for entertainment, yes, but a lot of shows want to grab the brass ring — creating art that has MEANING, that provides us with a framework to debate our morality, our sense of justice, our personal biases and preconceived notions. If a show is able to show you all sides of an issue and present them equally so that you actually identify with every single character and understand why they feel that way, then it is doing better than 80% of what’s on TV. This desire to connect with TV isn’t limited to a U.S. audience, either.

Here’s where things get interesting, and really, it’s one of my most significant and important conclusions for EVERYONE.

We recognize that we live in a global selling environment, but few actually realize we are in a global CONSUMING climate. Yes, we sell the US shows to other countries, but what do we do to accommodate those fanbases which spring up in other countries? Suddenly, the “official” accounts feel less useful. They don’t get the CW in the UK, Australia, Brazil, France or Spain, or even Canada — the main countries which outside of the U.S. watch “The 100.” How do we accommodate those fans? The official accounts are restricted in this. Guess what? Writers’ rooms are not.

Of course I didn’t come to this realization until the show premiered in the UK in the summer. As the ratings came in, and illustrated that the show’s popularity was high (on a numbers basis, the show draws as many viewers as it does in the U.S. at 8 TIMES the rating share). I started to see more UK followers to the account. They were equally as interested in engaging with the creators of the show as any U.S. fan. Up until now, they just haven’t had the chance to do so.

Piracy is a real issue for our industry, and ‘The 100’ is not immune to the problem. A multitude of our fans were watching the show illegally — either downloading via torrent or finding a proxy to “live stream” the show and stream it from CW’s site after airing. I watched as people looking for a way to watch the show legally (or not) in any way they could skyrocket after our Season 2 premiere. The U.K. audience didn’t want to wait 3 more months until they started getting the episodes. Many hardcore fans didn’t wait, because with the amount of spoilers on Tumblr and Twitter it became impossible for them to stay ignorant of what was happening on the show and stay on social media. Leaving social media… that’s not happening, so they chose to be pirates.

While studios are pedaling as fast as they can (note: I use this metaphor while cycling on my new FitDesk at home, so it felt very appropriate for me) they are still far behind in serving up content on demand to international consumers. Regulations, laws, contracts with the distributors in those countries is a minefield for the studios — how to get the product out there, but not step on any toes?

Warner Bros made a deal with Netflix to stream the first season in Canada within a day of airing in the US, which has cut the piracy from Canada significantly. Netflix and iTunes are currently the best distribution platforms for shows internationally, if the deals can be reached. I will look forward with great interest to the coming year as this landscape continues to take shape.

Even here in the U.S. we faced the issue of new fans finding ‘The 100.’ Once the show ended its first season and it was picked up for a fall return, it caused a huge problem. My understanding of the deal WBTW appears to have with Netflix is that they hold the show for a calendar year from initial premiere before it begins to stream on Netflix. This was a huge problem for ‘The 100’ — it was a mid-season show, premiering in March that was returning in October. That would mean new fans wouldn’t be able to find the show on Netflix and then jump right in to season 2 on the CW. It was in everyone’s interest to speed up the delivery window from what had been established — the theory was, more people would discover the show on Netflix and then start watching the CW airings, which would again feed back to Netflix, with more people finding the show when Season 2 ends and start streaming/binging during the hiatus.

So far, that theory is holding an ocean of water. WBTV and Netflix got ‘The 100’ available for streaming in the U.S. the same day as the premiere of Season 2 — a significant improvement over waiting until the second season ended before the first could begin there. I made a point to favorite and retweet everyone who mentioned on Twitter that they had found our show on Netflix and were enjoying it. Typically those comments were accompanied by ‘why didn’t I know about this show before?’ By favoriting and retweeting those fans’ tweets, not only did I make them aware of our account presence which could clue them in to how to start watching Season 2, but it also generated an impression that A LOT of people were finding the show and enjoying it, bolstering the rationale for renewing ‘The 100’ in the first place. And with each new person finding the show and loving it, we had another potential Evangelizer — someone who could convert their friends to the show.

I don’t know how much of the follower count can be attributed to my aggressive marketing of the account and the show, but I feel it was a major component in interacting with the fans.

So how did I deal with the global audience issue? I didn’t ignore it. Once I realized our audience was far bigger internationally than on the CW, I did all I could to acknowledge those fans, by retweeting the distributor/network in that country who was airing the show, alerting them to show times and dates, particularly premieres, and sometimes tweeting in other languages (clumsy as I was with the aid of a less than fluent Google Translate). Exclusion of those fans would have made me feel horrible and didn’t feel right for ‘The 100,’ a show that is all about inclusion and trying to bring harmony between different sets of people. Sometimes my tweets to the UK or Australia confused U.S. fans, but I sorted some of that out by creating hashtags for livetweets for the UK and specifying in a tweet what country I was talking about, if I could.

Generally, I think even U.S. audiences recognized the global reach of our show, and its popularity overseas and embraced our efforts to service all the fans. Where most Writers’ Rooms are limited is in their narrow view of just a US audience. Often this is driven by the US network that dictates how things should run, but WBTV is in a unique position from most other studios — Time Warner only partly owns the CW, not wholly, so there is less conflict of interest in reaching beyond the CW to other fans. I can only presume you would run into issues if your show is produced be ABC Studios for ABC Network… there might be less leeway and flexibility.

I would encourage any rooms who aren’t bound by Network rules to do more for their international fans, if they can beyond tweeting their fan art or saying hi to Brazil (for some reason, Brazil ALWAYS needs people to say hi to it. Is Brazil so ignored that everyone feels it important to be acknowledged?) Not only will you garner goodwill with those fans and keep growing the fanbase, but you’ll reinforce the idea of the Global Village to everyone. If you have the ability to reach those fans too, why not use it?

My last note before moving on is this: You can make someone’s day by taking a second out of yours to interact with them. So many times, just favoriting a fan’s tweet would elicit an excited tweet back of ‘OMG!! You favorited my tweet! You saw my tweet! I’m so excited!!’ — Today’s generation doesn’t collect autographs, they collect acknowledgement. NOTICE ME. I was stunned at how often young fans were tweeting that to us and to the actors on our show… They just want to be seen. To me, it seemed a small price to pay to make their day, and some of those fans were consistently major Evangelizers, people willing to go above and beyond to promote the show on their own. Why not encourage that? Certainly there are a handful of fans who are attention-seekers and play these ‘Notice Me’ games to rack up bragging points with their friends (surprising how many people note which celebrity has favorited/retweeted/responded to them on Twitter and put it in the Twitter bio!) but the majority of these fans are just your average teenager/young adult, who is just seeking to connect with the show in a more personal way.

This went a lot longer than I expected. Sorry to put you off, but the broad fandom discussion will now be in Part Three of this series of conclusions. I hope it’ll be worth the wait!

 

 

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on February 7, 2015

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