Year One

Welcome to 2016!

My first “year” as a TV writer is complete, and boy what a year! The last time I checked in with this kind of journey post I was in “Year 12” and now…I get to start over the count! That feels good.

So here’s a recap of 2015. Most of these items will be expanded in greater detail in the next month or two, as I have A LOT I want to blog about (and hiatus free time to do it)

  • January – Finished my year as a writers’ assistant on “The 100” Season 2. Wrote up a series of posts about my experiences with Social Media and Fandom.
  • February and March – Worked on a new pilot sample with Julie to prep for staffing. Hoped and prayed to get staffed on “The 100” for Season 3.
  • March – Got staffed with Julie on “The 100.” Experienced euphoria which is described pretty well in a prior blog post.
  • April 5th – Attended Wondercon. Enjoyed the hell out of it.
  • April 6th – First day as a goddamned TV writer.
  • April/May – Joined the WGA and had the honor of paying the initial fee!
  • May – The loquat tree down the street was savagely pruned back. Many wept.
  • June/July – Toiling away in the writers room. Many friends begin to suspect we are being held hostage (meaning, we don’t see much of our friends).
  • July – San Diego Comic Con! I finally see my friends! Attend the panel for the show with a packed Ballroom 20.
  • August – Sent to Vancouver to our set for the first time to oversee production of episode 304. Unexpectedly extended stay for a week to cover the first half of filming 305 (total visit: 16 days)
  • September – Sent to Vancouver the second time to cover the second half of 306, all of 307…and then extended to cover 308 (total visit: 27 days)
  • September – “Emma Approved” the digital series Julie and I wrote 7 episodes for WON A FREAKING EMMY!
  • October – Julie and I are assigned to write episode 313, our first episode of television!
  • November/December – Head back to Vancouver for production of our episode…I get extended to oversee the first half of 314 (total visit: 17 days) I spent 60 days in Vancouver in 2015.
  • December – Hiatus begins. Holidays arrive. 2015 ends.

So. It was a busy year for us! In the coming weeks, I have posts planned about the following topics:

  • Life as a Staff Writer – Things no one really prepares you for, and I probably will fall short too but will try.
  • Set Visits – A practical guide for writers who visit a film or TV set
  • Writing an Episode of TV – Lessons learned, hopefully to help you learn
  • Social Media and Fandom: The Sequel – SO MANY NEW LESSONS! (With charts and graphs!!)

Those are just a few of the things I’m cooking up for the next two months. My goal is a new post each week starting the week of January 18th (I’ll see if I can throw something on the blog next Monday, but I’ll be traveling next week, so may not have time to finish the first of these posts) and it is likely that these topics will cover multiple posts each, because I do get wordy.

If you’ve any other notions of what you’d like to see me talk about, leave me a comment! Happy to try to answer any and all writing questions I can!

Here’s hoping we all have a great 2016 — Make the most of the time you’ve got. Get writing!

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 5, 2016

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – Epilogue

I’ll keep this short. I promise.

If you’ve read all of the other posts in this series, I thank you for your time and attention. I know it was a lot to sift through to get to all of the salient points. Some of my conclusions around the stats I laid out for the social media accounts of the TV show ‘The 100’ were linked directly to those numbers. Other conclusions were far more experiential and anecdotal, with little empirical evidence to support them. You may feel that some of my conclusions are wrong. That would be fine with me. In fact, I would love to be proved wrong about many of the things I discovered, if only to better understand the reality.

Here’s the sum of my conclusions into one, big picture.

Today, no matter what creative enterprise you are involved in, whether it is film, tv, music, novels or comics, and no matter your role — producer, writer, artist, actor, director, musician, etc there is a minimum level of social media presence required to help sell your product. For some, it could be as small as a Facebook page. For others, it may require a lot of fan engagement on as many platforms as is reasonable to manage and with multiple accounts. The trick is figuring out just how much of a presence you want, but more importantly, how much you need.

A lot of creators would probably prefer to go back to how things used to operate: I make a thing, I sell the thing. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. No audience interaction. No hawking your wares on social media. But that is not the world we live in anymore.

Today, people can praise or pan your art with the click of a mouse. The mixed blessing of the ‘like/dislike’ — the knee-jerk binary decision process of what is objectively ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ But art is far from objective. We all have different opinions about even the definition of art. Most would define TV as mostly commerce…but what about shows that look more like independent films (something generally acknowledged as artistic) than big-budget blockbusters, (which many people consider artless)? The forms themselves are the art, yet the quality or impact of that art is purely relative.

You could let the audience just decide and stay out of it. Sure, that’s certainly a choice. But it’s a choice with consequences. Audiences want to interact with the creators of the things they like. In forging a relationship, even a tenuous one with those creators, they are more likely and willing to consume more of their content. If you decide to shut out the conversation, you risk alienating an audience that is getting that interaction elsewhere. You risk being made irrelevant.

That might seem extreme, and I certainly don’t think it applies to everyone — there are certain hermetic artists who will always be able to operate in their bubble because they are just THAT GOOD. Most of us will have to do what we can to stay in the game and keep building an audience for our work. You have to be in charge of your own fan club.

Social Media may morph into something else one day…it’s hard to even imagine what it will be. But now that it is here and fully entrenched in our lives, we must accept the reality that fandom thrives in the social construct. One can exist as a fan in isolation, but the fan will always want to share their experience with someone else, and as long as that desire exists, people will gravitate to social media to find their peers and enjoy the content together. As a creator, you have an opportunity to help guide the discussion about your art. All it takes is a willingness to participate and take the good with the bad.

And, there is bad. There are certainly people who exist only to broadcast hate for art that others love. I’ve no conclusions about these people, because I didn’t want to dwell on them, but they are out there. They are the ones who generate noise in an attempt to interfere with the signal and drown it out. Learning to navigate around these people takes time, but can be done, particularly if you can identify where the boundaries of your interaction are and stick to them. The second you step over your own boundaries, prepare for them to smell it, like a weakness to be exploited. The best thing to do is to identify who is being critical but in a way that is reasonable and even beneficial and who is just spewing hatred. The haters must be muted — you cannot allow yourself to be drawn into unwinnable battles with these forces.

Overcoming that, you’ll find that the majority of your fans are wonderfully positive people, who will bring you joy when you are experiencing darkness, and find meaning in your work that you perhaps even missed. Interacting with them can bring a great deal of satisfaction, both for you and the fans. So, why deny yourself that?

I hope those of you who find yourselves in positions which require you to interact with fans on a regular basis are able to draw from my lessons to develop a sound strategy for your social media presence. There is on ‘one size fits all’ solution, but trial and error will help you identify the right strategy for you.

Thanks, once again for visiting my blog and reading this series of posts. I hope to keep the blog going awhile, but if you are interested in me as a writer, there are plenty of archives here from the past 11 years to keep you busy until my next bout of revelations or drivel.

 

Posted under analysis, blogs, writing

This post was written by Shawna on February 18, 2015

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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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Fandom in the Social Media Age – Conclusions, Part One

When I took over the management of the social media for ‘The 100′ Writers’ Room, I honestly didn’t know what my approach would be. I had observed dozens of other writers’ room accounts, all with different styles of interaction. I looked back at what had been done with the account thus far and found that while some of the tweets were absolutely things I would do, I felt we could do more.

After the many months of running the social media for the writers’ room and looking at the data, I have come to some conclusions. Let me remind you that these are MY observations, and are by no means comprehensive or even valid for others. I base my conclusions from my own experiences, and another person doing the exact same job as I did may have very different conclusions to draw. Still, I hope that within these conclusions there are perhaps common themes which provide clarity on how TV shows should manage their social media footprint going forward.

Every show has its own style and its own objectives with their writers’ room account. That led me to the first question — why do we have the account? Why do shows feel compelled to have a presence in this specific way?

The first and most basic argument is, “everyone else is there too.” And they’re right — in the last three years there has been a major increase in the number of TV show writers’ rooms with their own accounts on Twitter. I wish I could lay specific data against that, but it would be a challenge. I’ll shortcut to one prime example, the writers’ room account that has set the template for almost everyone else in one way or another, no matter their style or goals: “Pretty Little Liars.”

Numerous articles (The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, USA Today) and even an episode of Sundance TV’s “The Writers Room” have detailed the strategies the team behind “Pretty Little Liars” have employed to become so successful in social media. They are consistently on the cutting edge of where their audience is, recently going on SnapChat to engage the fanbase in new ways. Whether they know it or not, most shows are following the PLL model — live tweet with cast and writers, Hashtag trending topics, Instagram, Facebook and lots and lots of devotion to engaging with the fanbase. The result: great ratings. It’s genius and pretty obvious — find ways to motivate people to watch the show live while it’s airing. They made it feel like a giant party that fans did not want to miss each week. They are part of a larger whole, which includes the creative team behind the show! Since the Nielsens as a standard of TV viewing aren’t going anywhere just yet, finding a way to maximize the impact for advertisers is important.

If the account is intended as a one-way dialog, a way to just disseminate information, that could be done with a blog with the comments closed. But the nature of social media is in its name — social. It didn’t feel right to just serve as a way to tweet out factual information — when the show is on, who wrote the episode, retweets of reviews… those things are good and necessary components, but why don’t more accounts actually interact with the fanbase?

The most interaction you usually see from writers’ room accounts happens around live-tweets, either for one or both coastal airings of the show in question. Often the account serves as a way for the creator or the writer of the episode to provide running commentary while the episode airs. Sometimes they’ll retweet others, particularly actors or other creatives who work on the show, but usually those are held to a minimum.

The vibe of a writers’ room account very often takes a cue from its audience. A show like “NCIS” with an older fanbase isn’t as likely to engage on Twitter with the creators of the show (though, it’s good to point out that ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ has certainly done more with their account than the other franchise shows had done in the past). Some shows love to post photos. Other shows tweet out script snippets or teasers. Others engage at the level of soliciting and retweeting fanart. All of these felt like completely valid ways to interact with a fanbase for our show, but it still didn’t feel like enough.

The audience for “The 100” is primarily a young, female audience. As I researched shows with similar fanbases, I started to find some interesting similarities…

  • Trending topics. Shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Teen Wolf” were very strong in this arena. I took a lot of cues from what these two shows and a few other CW shows were doing with their accounts as evidence of something that was already working. Specifically, I found that shows that were able to rally their fans to hashtags and trending topics and were able to capitalize on it.
  • Fan Art. This was a key ingredient of accounts for shows with similar fanbases to “The 100.” Sharing fan art tweeted to the account was something most of these rooms did, particularly “Once Upon a Time” (through co-creator/co-showrunner Adam Horowitz) and “Arrow.”
  • Q&As. Planned or impromptu Q&As were a great way to solicit interaction with the fans, and often was a great way to accomplish multiple goals, which I will expand on later.

I also wanted to have a home base for info that I was sharing through the account. One fan, who I will refer to as “Fan Zero” was heavily influential in convincing me to put “The 100” Writers’ Room on Tumblr. As I’ve said before, this was a little bit of unexplored territory — other than official accounts for all the CW shows and some NBC shows, I couldn’t locate a single writers’ room that established a presence on the platform. We’d be the pioneers, and I would be the one to determine if Tumblr was a viable conduit to the fans.

“Fan Zero” was the only fan account I could find that was followed by the Writers’ Room Twitter account when I took it over. Of course, I wondered if it was in error, and I soon discovered there was a reason we were following her. She was an early adopter to the show in the first season, there from the start and fiercely committed to what the show was trying to achieve, particularly in the portrayal of our female characters. She’s thoughtful and respectful in ways that differentiated her from the other fans I saw talking about our show in the early days of my dive into the fanbase. It wasn’t long before I struck up a dialog with her about the best ways to provide outreach to fans, and she had no shortage of opinions.

She gave me one opinion I really sparked to — that Tumblr was critical. I’d had my own Tumblr account for a few years, but hadn’t really utilized it, as I’ve always had this blog and only really saw Tumblr as another distribution method for my blog posts (with an occasional reblog of some of my friends’ posts and liking them), so at first I was skeptical that this was really the right social media platform for the writers’ room. But I wanted to have a clearinghouse, a searchable place for people to find answers to past questions and any other tidbits we posted. For that, it felt ideal and because the setup and user interface were so easy and intuitive, it was a no brainer. The worst case scenario: I’d use it for a few weeks, no one would find it, care or follow it and I’d abandon it and go back to twitter. At that point I wasn’t aware of the demographics or any of the user statistics for Tumblr, so I didn’t realize I had jumped right into the heart of where our fanbase was living…

Tumblr is not for every writers’ room. I’m saying that now, because the last thing I think a show should do is think they can reach their audience through Tumblr the way I did for “The 100.” The shows that are massively represented on Tumblr with fans are “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock,” “Supernatural,” “Pretty Little Liars,” The Vampire Diaries” and “Once Upon a Time,” among a few others. Our show seemed to fit the profile — international cast (with players from UK, Australia, US, Canada, etc), a young target audience, and very pretty people.

The outlier to this was NBC’s “Hannibal” which mystified me, but once I understood why it was successful, I understood the key to Tumblr. (And I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.)

Tumblr is about two things for fans (and let’s be honest, mostly fangirls): ships and progressive social change.

If your show has a lot of potential for relationships in various combinations, it’s probably well represented on Tumblr. One of the things I realized our show was not capitalizing on was the popular “shippers” choices — and the number one ship was far and away Bellarke — Bellamy and Clarke, the yin and yang of the show.

Something had really captivated them in the first season with those two characters, and the popularity began to explode as people shipped them together and started creating gifsets of the subtlest looks and movements between them to bolster their argument that they were THE OTP of the show (fangirlspeak: OTP = “One True Pairing”). The showrunner was adamant that he was not gearing the show to that relationship; it was well known by the writers of season one who carried over to season 2 that the ship was gaining popularity, but given the edict of Jason Rothenberg, the showrunner that the show was about survival over romantic pairings, those fans who were becoming obsessed with the duo were going to be left out in the cold. My realization: ships will keep your show afloat, but they can also sink it if the shipping wars get overheated.

The other major interest of Tumblr users is progressive social change. They are all about seeing lots of representation in the media for various groups which have been and continue to be under-served — POC, WOC, LGBT (persons of color, women of color, lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgendered). These are girls who are personally offended if the show even tips a hand at misogyny or racial bias in any way. This was in many instances the one Achilles Heel I had in dealing with the fanbase, and this is the tip of the iceberg of a much larger discussion, so I’m tabling this for later as well.

So, back to “Hannibal” — why was it the outlier? Why was it so wildly successful on Tumblr when it has an older demographic? It had to do with the LGBT community. Bryan Fuller, the creator of “Hannibal” is himself an openly gay man, and he has had a distinctive style with all of his television shows. None of his shows have provided quite the homoerotic subtext and insinuation as “Hannibal.” That subtext was a huge driver — a majority of the “Hannibal” fandom revels in the fantastical pairing of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham as lovers — something that is not at all true in the show, and yet is a staple of the fan art and fan fiction on Tumblr. The creator and writers don’t stifle this creative interpretation, and in fact seem to encourage it to some degree. The graphic nature of the crimes depicted in the show certainly also make for incredibly fan art and gifsets, but the spark of that fandom, its core is that relationship between Hannibal and Will — romantic or not. This squared with what I had learned about Tumblr — it is predominately progressive, inclusive to all gender, sexuality and color. While there are occasional divisions between fans within a fanbase, the “Hannibal” fans appear to be harmonious whether they enjoy the show as it is presented or for alternate interpretations.

If Tumblr is like stumbling into a book club that’s been going for 5 years for the very first time, Twitter is like zipping by the watercooler all day. Quippy one-liners and the occasional thoughtful discussion (segmented into 140 character chunks) co-exist in the Internet’s great message board. You put your thought into the ether and people respond or don’t. They favorite, or don’t. They retweet, or… you get the idea.

Tumblr was a great way to have a repository of longer posts and some of the photos I tweeted as well, but Twitter was valuable in other ways. Conducting “live” events is far simpler on Twitter. Live-tweets and Q&As generated a lot of “impressions” (which is internet-speak for how many people likely saw your tweet), more than when we would tweet out information about showtime, photos or links to Tumblr posts. Live-tweet with the episodes and Q&As, whether impromptu or scheduled provided a forum for fans to interact and engage in a more immediate way. They didn’t have to just like or reblog something on Tumblr, they could tweet back to us and interact with each other. Finding other fans of the show was as easy as searching our main hashtag (#the100), and very often fans would actively seek out people who were looking for new shows to watch on Netflix and recommend “The 100” to those people!

So why did I branch out to Instagram and Vine? This was part of the experimentation phase. Also part of my experimentation was creating an “in-world” tumblr and twitter presence for Mount Weather. In “The 100” it is established in the pilot that the kids sent to the ground are to make their way to Mount Weather, where the Ark survivors believe there will be food and supplies they can use to survive. Unfortunately, they landed 20 miles away and due to events of the 1st season… well, let’s just say their arrival at Mount Weather was surprising.

Inside they found a culture that had been there since the bombs fell, some 97 years earlier (and still far in our future — about 140ish years total). Since we spend time in Mount Weather, but we don’t really get a chance to experience life there, I thought it might be fun to create a fictional blog with announcements, memos, etc, as episodes air and coinciding with events in those episodes. Sadly, the best stuff never got posted (and in honesty, I never got far creating the future posts for after I was done working) — because most of the Mount Weather story happens in the back half of the season, after I finished working on the show. Had I thought through my plan further in the beginning, I’d have planned to queue up the posts on Tumblr and automate their posting with the show day and time. Automation in all things would have made my life easier, but I tend to be very old school — a shift stick in an automatic world — and I preferred managing things and posting live. I would call the in-world blog a failure, in part because we only got about 500-600 followers on Tumblr, and even fewer on Twitter.

The show wasn’t ready for transmedia, I guess.

As for Instagram and Vine, as I stated in my numbers post, I think there’s potential for each platform, provided you know what content you will posting there. While you can do a lot of content as it comes, posting on the fly, some things require forethought and planning. Impromptu photos and videos are great, and of course can feed to Twitter/Tumblr easily enough, but I was constantly challenged with what to post there.

I have no idea if there is any point in going on Pinterest. Given the more visual nature of the platform and the fact that we as writers’ are more literal, I think it’s a pass for us. Snapchat? Who the heck knows. It may be useful for transmedia endeavors, if you get into that, but I didn’t test the platform to really understand the uses or the audience.

In the next post, we’ll talk about fandom more broadly and how it is created and thrives in social media. Also, other less heady stuff. Maybe cats.

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on February 5, 2015

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – The Numbers, Part Two

In the last post I went through the numbers associated with The100Writers Tumblr account. This time we’ll take a look at Instagram and Vine (shorter discussions) and then Twitter, for which I have charts out the wazoo.

I created an Instagram account for The100Writers on 11/18/14. As of my last day on 1/23/15 there were 514 followers of the account. I fed photos from Instagram to the Tumblr account, which in turn posts to Twitter. Unfortunately, I never really had time to take photos to feed in, so I only used this account 7 times (for 7 photos). Still, in that time a photo of the memorial wall got 176 likes in December, when we had half as many followers. It’s hard to draw many conclusions, but given that the account was only running for two months, I believe we could have gone further with the usage of the account. The official CW_The100 account routinely gets over 2,000 likes per photo. Again, I struggled to find any other writers rooms on Instagram. Not saying they aren’t there, I just couldn’t find them.

Vine was also something I dove into fairly late in the season. I had this idea that we could have fans post Vine videos of their reactions to scenes or to explain why they love the show. I also saw that Law & Order: SVU ‘s Writers’ Room was on Vine, which gave me courage to give the platform a try. This led to some surprising findings…

As of my last day of work, we had nearly 2,000 followers on Vine. We posted exactly one video on 11/5/14, the day we opened the Vine account. That 15 second video played over 19,000 ‘loops’, got 160 likes and ‘revined’ 48 times. In comparison, SVUWritersRoom Vine videos ranged from 2,000 to 33,00 loops over 64 posts for a total of 321,416 loops — most of them landing around 3500-4000 loops each. That account has 1,983 followers, virtually the exact same number of followers The100Writers account has. Further, the SVUWritersRoom appears to have created their account sometime in August (although, it could be August 2013, given that there are “November” vines preceding ‘September’ vines. They may have had a dormant account created much earlier that got most of its use in 2014).

I think it is safe to say that the SVU demographic is far different than ours. It’s impossible to draw many conclusions, because we only posted one vine video, but given that we got 19k loops out of that one, it’s possible more videos = more loops = more followers.

One bit of perspective: The top vine accounts generate MILLIONS of loops per video. So, we weren’t exactly playing with the big boys here. Same with Instagram.

Now… onto TWITTER.

The100Writers Twitter Followers

The100Writers Twitter Followers

The black box indicates the date I took over running the account. 3,201 followers prior to that date — not bad for a show that premiered on March 19, exactly two months earlier. The account really takes off with followers right around October, as the show premiered for its second season on 10/22, and just kept climbing. As you can see here there were 30,433 followers as of 1/20/15. I just check the account for today (1/29) and it’s already at 33,256 — almost a pickup of 3,000 fans in 9 days. The account has been used for retweeting the main The 100 account and livetweeting the new episode, so its still in use, though significantly less since I left on 1/23. Still, the fact that the account is picking up nearly 3,000 followers a week indicates that the existing fanbase is finding the account to follow it and/or new fans are finding the show and then following the account. Given the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it is a lot of the latter.

If you have a twitter account, you might have fun with the free analytics tools provided by Twitter — The drawback is that the data set tends to be limited to the last 3 months, so I couldn’t get a full picture of the entire life of the account, but here are some stats I find fascinating:

Who are our followers?

Who are our followers?

There’s a lot to look at here, but the main areas that interested me were the locations of our fans and ‘unique interests’ — Clearly those who like drama and sci-fi follow the account. I wasn’t expecting to see that the Top Interests of our fans is… Music. It makes sense though. So many young people are plugged into the musicians who really use Twitter well — Taylor Swift among them, so it follows that would be a top interest for them.

The location data is even more fascinating. Clearly the US is a big chunk of our audience, but look at the UK! The UK is almost as large as the US — anecdotally I can say this is completely true. I got more requests from UK fans to livetweet their episodes than I ever expected. Unfortunately those mid-day tweets for the US fans were sometimes confusing, but the UK fans loved it. The show is a big hit in the UK, and one thing I don’t think writers rooms do particularly well is think globally. So many shows are sold to different countries, but we are so US-centric in our outreach that we forget those international fans who may be weeks or months behind. More than once I got “yelled at” to stop spoiling things for the UK — of course, I always gave spoiler warnings, but even innocuous tweets could contain spoilers for them! It certainly made me more mindful of our foreign fanbase. I will be talking about the international outreach efforts and trends in more detail later, but believe me, there’s a lot to talk about.

twitteranalytics1This is the chart I really wish I had more data for. This was the last 28 days of tweeting. Knowing how many overall impressions our account had over a much longer timeframe would be instructive, not least of which because the last 28 day time period included a 5-week long hiatus. You can see at the beginning of the chart how low the impressions numbers are — so few tweets were sent out and very little engagement. But as we came back from hiatus, the numbers spiked. That huge spike on January 6th correlates with the day we were back in the office and production had resumed on the final episode of the season. It is also the day that Season 2 premiered in the UK. The other large spike on the chart is when our Midseason premiere aired on January 22nd. I think it’s safe to infer that the impressions spiked in relation to those events.

analytics7The good news is I was able to pull a comparison chart from September, before the show premiered on 10/22. You can see the major difference in impressions while we were between seasons, in this month leading up to the return than in December, when the show was on hiatus and then returned.

I had some more charts regarding numbers of retweets, favorites and engagements we had, but honestly, I think this is enough data, save one more graph to get to the point.

I wanted to show a comparison of hashtag tweets for The 100 vs. Arrow and The Originals.  First, let’s look at how many followers each account has, both the “official” account and the writers’ room account for each show (as of 1/29/15):

Arrow CW Account                505, 800+ followers

The Arrow Writers’ Room      83,200+ f0llowers

The Originals CW Account     731,100+ followers

The Originals Writers’ Room  33,900+ followers

The 100 CW Account               68,900+ followers

The 100 Writers’ Room            33,200+ followers

As you can see, The100Writers has a much larger percentage of the official account’s followers than either Arrow or The Originals has.

Now, let’s look at the tweets with the “official” hashtag of each show…

Whole lot of tweetin' going on.

Whole lot of tweetin’ going on.

Surprisingly, The 100 had more tweets than The Originals in the same 30 day time period, though on show nights the tweets for the day of are virtually identical. Both pale in comparison to Arrow, which is our lead-in show.

Why did I choose The Originals and Arrow for comparisons? Let’s look at Nielsen ratings…

First, Arrow’s numbers. It’s in Season 3:

arrowratings

Arrow

 

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

Next, The Originals, which is in Season 2:

The Originals

The Originals

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

And finally, The 100 in Season 2:

The 100 Ratings

The 100 Ratings

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

The Originals and The 100 have similar demo numbers, though The 100 tends to have a slightly larger audience number. Arrow is The 100’s lead-in, so it seemed right to use it for comparison as it almost consistently has 2x the audience of The 100.

What’s interesting is looking at the number of tweets generated for each show in comparison to its ratings and its followers on the official and writers’ room accounts. All three writers’ rooms did livetweets on the night their shows aired, and usually for both coasts. It’s staggering to see the vast number of followers the Arrow accounts have and yet the engagement in tweeting is about twice as much as The 100. You would think with the massive follower numbers, you’d see more tweets, but the number of tweets is consistent with the difference in ratings The Originals has a massive number of followers on the official CW account (which makes sense, because it is the spinoff for The Vampire Diaries which has over 1.2 million followers on its official account) but the engagement appears to be far lower, especially when you consider the percentage of Official account followers to the Writers’ Room account followers. If we assume that all followers of the writers’ room account also follow the official account, less than 5% follow both. In comparison, 48% of the Official The 100 account followers also follow the Writers’ Room account. And given the total number of followers for The Originals compared to The 100, for them to have virtually the same tweet rates on the hashtag that The 100 has indicates that the fanbase for The Originals is less engaged than The 100 fans.

One can even argue that The Originals should have more tweets than Arrow — I mean, just looking at the Official accounts, The Originals has 55% more followers than Arrow, yet it’s clear the engagement with the Writers’ Rooms is a completely different story — Arrow tops The Originals by 41% and The 100 by 40%.

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, those are yet to come. Stay tuned…

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on January 29, 2015

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – The Numbers, Part One

I love statistics. It was, unfortunately, one of my worst subjects when I was getting my B.S. in B.A., but I still love it.

Granted I won’t be doing any 538-style stats crunching here — I don’t have nearly enough data or data points to engage in a deep dive (and if I want them, I’d have to cough up money), but what I do have are raw numbers from which we start our discussion. Remembering, of course, that correlation does not equal causation — just because two sets of numbers correlate does not mean that one causes the other. This is important to remember, because there are so many other factors that go into why the numbers are the numbers.

The first number to talk about is the easiest, because it started at zero. Tumblr followers.

When I took over the reins of the writers’ assistant position on “The 100” there was no Tumblr account for the writers. In fact, with the exception of NBC’s Hannibal, which posts under the official show tumblr, there are NO WRITERS’ ROOMS ON TUMBLR. If there are, please tell me, because I looked. HARD. Given the demographics of the audience we are trying to reaching it’s actually shocking that more shows aren’t on Tumblr. It’s so easy to reblog fan art and gifsets and post official things like videos or reviews…even when doing the bare minimum in content, it’s a no brainer. Still, no one has ventured into this social media platform. Why?

That’s a question for another day. Today’s question is, how did it go for The 100 Writers’ Room?

From zero to 18k

From zero to 18k

I don’t have a huge basis for comparison, because on tumblr, you can’t see how many followers a blog has. It could have ten or ten thousand, and you’d never know. I’m told anecdotally that 18,000 followers is significant. This screen shot was taken on January 21, two days prior to my last day of work. The account averages anywhere from 100-1000 new followers A DAY, depending on the day. Since 1/21 when this screenshot was taken to today 1/27 it picked up another 900 followers and counting.

You can also see how many posts I contributed — 361 as of two days prior. I added a few more after that, so let’s round it out to 365. A post a day for a year, if we were averaging over a year, but we aren’t. We’re averaging over 8 months. And if we want to get really technical and take out the weekend days and only account for workdays we average over 2 posts a day, nearly 3.

Could I have done more? Most assuredly, but given that I had an actual job to do (taking notes in the writers’ room and, you know, assisting) 2-3 posts a day is pretty damn good for keeping up our presence. Many of those posts were questions I answered from the ask box and I did minimal reblogging — one thing I would change is I would seek out more fan art and quality gifsets and fan videos to reblog in the future.

18,000 accounts followed this one from the time the tumblr was created in June (it was not created on day one, but something I came to a few weeks after I started on the job) until now. Granted, it’s a tiny fraction of the fanbase, but let’s look at Tumblr’s stats on who that fanbase is:

According to an article published by Forbes on 9/27/13 Tumblr users are “a young, bright and tech-savvy group of international users who seek what might seem counterintuitive: Genuine online connection bolstered, not hindered, by anonymity.” Further:

The site has many of the social media trappings you would recognize: comment threads, up-votes, emoticons. But the nature of the language and iconography is decidedly gentler and the premise is unified around one key thing: support for people hurting.

According to Business Insider of 12/13 here are some demographic stats about Tumblr, including our first chart!

Teen Social Network Usage

Teen Social Network Usage

It’s a little blurry because I couldn’t save off the hi-res image that’s on their site (click the link above for a slightly better picture) but I’ll interpret for you:

Teens use tumblr more and for longer than they use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

So, if you are looking to reach an audience and that is your prime demographic for your show, Twitter isn’t necessarily the best vehicle. In fact, I saw many of our twitter followers actually tweet that they only got a twitter account to follow other accounts related to their favorite shows. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there at all!

Now does that mean I’m saying you should get rid of twitter accounts… not at all! Here are a couple of stats from the article:

Tumblr is strong with teens and young adults interested in self-expression, but only 8% of U.S. Internet users with incomes above $75,000 use Tumblr.

Twitter has a surprisingly young user population for a large social network — 27% of 18 to 29-year-olds in the U.S. use Twitter, compared to only 16% of people in their thirties and forties.

Instagram is very female-oriented. Sixty-eight percent of Instagram’s users are women.

I highly recommend you check out that link to BI if you are a total data junkie because the charts and graphs they have on this… just heaven. Sadly, it’s only a two-week free trial to access the graphs, but TOTALLY WORTH IT.

We’ll get to the Instagram and Twitter stats in another post. One of the primary metrics of Tumblr is the reblogs and likes. It’s easy to like a post and super easy to reblog it. Creating content that gets reblogged is key.

Our most reblogged post was a “Script to Screen” from Episode 5 of Season 2 of the infamous “#Bellarke Hug” — it currently has 1,984 notes. Without a point of reference it seems meaningless. Look, we didn’t do Taylor Swift blog post reblog/notes numbers — And we see posts all the time with hundreds of thousands of notes, so just under 2k on one post, isn’t that great. But beyond the number is the conversation it generated in OTHER blog posts. Unfortunately, that’s not a quantifiable number, and we’ll have to save the anecdotal evidence for a later post.

If I could produce a chart for our Tumblr follower trends, it would look a little something like this:

tumblr followers

The numbers here are approximate for each month, save two milestones which were called out in posts. On December 4th, we hit 10, 775 followers. On January 21, we hit 18,000 followers and that number continues to grow without me managing it at all.

There were two huge spikes of followers, first in October/November when the season premiere aired on October 22 and also at the end of December. Over the Christmas holiday break I actually watched as our follower numbers climbed and climbed over a 72 hour period — more than 4,000 new followers gained in that time frame alone. It was insane, and I still don’t understand what spurred the huge follower count in such a short span AND when we weren’t airing or publishing much content. One hypothesis was that young people were out of school and on tumblr passing time and found our feed and started following, but that is still a stunning amount for 3 days!

Again, we’re not here to draw conclusions (yet). These are just the numbers.

And there’s more to come: Twitter, Instagram and Vine.

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on January 27, 2015

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