The Outlander Guide to a Viral Social Media PR Campaign

October 18th, 2013
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Tips for a viral social media campaign from Starz series OutlanderWith a saturated social media landscape and the constant pressure to keep things “new,” instigating a buzz-worthy PR campaign and keeping the flames alive is an active challenge.

One current campaign is making a social media splash: Outlander. Starz network is adapting the first in a series of seven (soon to be eight) books into a television show, and their social media campaign has grown every week since its inception in June.

Here’s how you can take a page from the Outlander book to maximize your social media PR campaign.

Engage with your base

The Outlander book series has an existing zealous fan base. Starz network is leveraging that base – which is devoted to the books and their author, Diana Gabaldon – to help the campaign become more widespread. By bringing existing brand evangelists into the fold, they’re not only keeping conversations about the show almost wholly positive, they’re spurring those evangelists to spread the word. The lesson: leverage your fan base to broaden your message.

Share new developments…

The Starz team shared casting information as they confirmed individual cast members. They’ve also shared progress on production and tidbits from locations and the set. Updating followers on exciting developments is crucial to maintaining engagement, so instead of insisting on total secrecy regarding updates on projects, new products, or campaigns, release salient tidbits at a slower but consistent pace. This keeps users anticipating the next announcement, but gives them enough time to discuss, process, and publicize the latest developments.

… But don’t share too much

Much as Starz keeps its fans in the know, there’s a lot they’re keeping under wraps. They haven’t released any photos from the set that show actors, costumes, or locations (though bystanders have shared many unauthorized on-set photos).

Though fans are clamoring to see photos of the two stars (and on-screen love interests) together in costume, the studio hasn’t released any. They also delayed announcing cast members for significant supporting roles, causing fans to generate plenty of social media threads speculating.

Allowing the base to know just enough but not too much keeps the hype and energy going. If you’re running a campaign for the launch of a new product or service, start the PR campaign as the project is being developed, sending out bits of information that will create interest without giving it all away. Think of it as building to the climax of a story, not just dumping information. Allowing room for speculation creates extra press and anticipation.

Pursue author engagement

Another thing in the TV show’s favor is that the books’ author, Diana Gabaldon, has a significant presence on Facebook and Twitter, and already engages in prolific brand evangelist interaction. Knowing how devoted the fans are to the books, Starz consulted with Gabaldon when casting, which helped assure fans that the brand was author-approved, regardless of how much say Gabaldon ultimately had in the casting.

Similar tactics can pay off for your PR campaign. If the subject of your campaign has dedicated, involved authors or creators, integrate that person into the campaign, especially if that person is known in his or her field as credible, a thought leader, or an influencer. Even if they’re not, the campaign can help establish them as such, at much benefit to your organization.

Get key players to engage

Starz uses its official account to disseminate information, but the show’s director, writers, and lead actors are all on Twitter. They all interact with fans and help spread announcements. In fact, one of the show’s leads, Sam Heughan, went from around 1,000 followers before the casting announcement to over 15,000.

Getting your key players to participate in social media campaigns can have a huge positive effect. Make sure to establish ground rules from the beginning – what’s permissible for sharing, how to interact with fans, how to deal with any negativity – and set a baseline for daily or weekly interactions. This will have the two-fold effect of diversifying users who see your social media efforts, but will also help turn your members in authorities, in turn bolstering your organization’s profile.

Build a presence around industry attendance

Last weekend, Gabaldon and the show’s writer and producer, Ronald D. Moore, made a joint panel appearance at New York Comic-Con. Not only did this stir up a lot of excitement on social media as they shared new insights, it also raised the profile of the show and made them visible to a larger audience.

If you’re attending industry events and conferences, incorporate that into your social media campaign. Create your own hashtag around the campaign and your presence, and before you get there, engage with people who will be going. Then, engage with them in person and on social media during the actual event. Post pictures, provide updates, and maintain an active presence throughout the event.

Stay true to the brand

Throughout everything, it’s essential to stay true to your brand’s values and vision. If the campaign deviates too sharply from what fans know, it could create a lot of confusion and animosity. It comes back to knowing your audience, harnessing your existing fan base, and building off of past success.

4 Responses to “The Outlander Guide to a Viral Social Media PR Campaign”

  1. Bekah says:

    Love this! As an Outlander fan (and co-owner of one of the sites linked to in this article) AND marketer myself, I am fascinated by the social media uproar around this show & book series! It’s a great lesson for the brands I work on (plus a lot of fun!) Thanks for this!

  2. Ellis Friedman says:

    Hi Bekah,
    Thanks for the comment! From one Outlander fan and marketer to another, I think Starz is going a great job so far and you’re right, their tactics definitely apply for other brands. The best thing they’ve done so far (in my opinion) is engage, encourage, and respect the fans. I hope they keep it up, and that they give us a lot more marketing/PR takeaways (and a great show) in the future.

  3. Thanks, Ellis! [smile] Glad you think we’re doing OK! I’m both thrilled and amazed with the way Starz has handled everything, and much appreciate the degree to which they’ve included me in the project. We hope for great things!

    –Diana

  4. Ellis Friedman says:

    Diana, thanks so much for the comment. I’m also thrilled they’re doing such a great job since it means I get to write about my favorite book series for work. You are definitely crucial to their campaign, since you’re so engaged with the fan base. It’s all a most excellent convergence of talent, I’d say.

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