Happy 10th anniversary and welcome to the Hollywood establishment, Facebook.
In the decade since Mark Zuckerberg and his roommates launched Thefacebook at Harvard, the social network has changed the way studios market, cast and promote their movies.
MySpace and Friendster were the first, and Twitter and Snapchat are now en vogue, but the biggest player in the social media revolution has been Facebook, the largest platform in the world.
“Social media is an integral part of every campaign that’s done, and Facebook is the largest site out there,” Doug Neil, Universal’s head of digital marketing, told TheWrap. “It leads that conversation.”
The first step in a movie’s campaign now is often a Facebook page rather than a splashy website.
“People used to ask, ‘Why would I be on Facebook?,’” Oliver Luckett, CEO of social media marketing company theAudience told TheWrap. “We rarely have that conversation now. It’s not why would I be on Facebook? It’s why am I spending so much on TV?”
Social media’s impact on the entertainment industry is most evident in how movies are marketed. It is cheaper to let fans know about a movie and easier to target potential fans using Facebook than a splash website or hundreds of billboards.
When A24 hired theAudience, which has celebrity clients like Mark Wahlberg and Pitbull, to work on “Spring Breakers,” it bet Luckett and his team could leverage the social reach of stars like James Franco and Selena Gomez to deliver millions of viewers at a fraction of the price. While Franco handled his own accounts, theAudience worked with A24, which was releasing the film, as well as stars like Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens.
It paid off.
“Spring Breakers” grossed $31.7 million at the box office with a marketing spend that “was a tenth of what it normally is,” according to Luckett.
Some of that was Franco’s own social savvy. The actor, writer, director, playwright, artists and professional do-everything recently wrote an article about the power of the selfie in the New York Times. Yet it was also a campaign that mixed regular trailers and billboards with Facebook postings and Tumblr GIFs of the girls smoking a bong.
“We still bought paid media, but we were buying at an order of magnitude less,” Luckett said. “If you put up a sponsored story through Gucci Mane’s social presence, it is amplified through his 5 to 10 million followers. It is the path of least resistance to the consumer.”
While “Spring Breakers” has a low-budget by Hollywood standards, Facebook has proven just as vital for movie stars like Vin Diesel and Kevin Hart, driving the success of blockbusters such as “Fast & Furious,” “Think Like a Man” and “Ride Along.” Executives at studios across town have emphasized the need for actors to communicate early and often in the production process, whetting an audience’s appetite for a movie that is still months away.
As a result, an actor’s footprint on social media influences casting, whether it is in a commercial or a movie.
“It can help casting directors and creatives understand preconceived notions about actors,” Ben Carlson, president and co-creator of Fizziology, told TheWrap. “Do they like this person because they think they are smart? If you cast the person in a film role, how should you factor in audience expectations?
Carlson spent most of Monday analyzing the response on social media to movie trailers that aired during the Super Bowl. Facebook is still trying to catch up with Twitter for use during live events, but no site offers more data over time than Facebook.
Because the platform is more personal, people share more of their favorite movies and activities, make plans and say all kinds of things movies can use to their advantage. Carlson noted this is particularly helpful with family films. Fizziology measures how many moms on Facebook share their weekend plans or plans with friends.
“You see some of that on other platforms, but not nearly as much as on Facebook,” said Carlson, who spent Monday telling studios how their Super Bowl trailers played across social media.
While they can wait to see how audiences respond in test screenings, Facebook’s user base of 1.2 billion gives as broad a barometer as exists. Universal’s Neil deemed Facebook’s data “more powerful” than what one gets from any other media vehicles.
“People aren’t self-reporting elsewhere like they are on Facbeook,” he said.
The challenge for Facebook is sustaining Hollywood’s interest. Several new companies have challenged its primacy, and Facebook is now just one part of a larger social media strategy.
“It’s losing market share because studios are now spending on Twitter and Tumblr with Pinterest, Snapchat and various other smaller players lining up to take a bite out of Facebook,” one studio executive who insisted on anonymity because of ongoing relationships with Facebook, told TheWrap.
Facebook is also grappling with a change in its core audience. Once the province of college students, it is now where middle-aged parents share photos of their kids, or reconnect with high school classmates. The people who grew up with Facebook are now more likely to use Snapchat, or Pinterest or Instagram.
Yet as rivals have surfaced, Facebook’s reach has only grown. So while movie studios are experimenting more with Tumblr and Twitter, Facebook is already integral.
“One of the reasons they are the dominant social media company 10 years later is because they have tried to continue to innovate and look forward,” Neil said. “They will continue to do so.”