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Alan Wolk: Why Social Media Is the Latest Tool in the Streaming Wars

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(Image credit: Serdarbayraktar via Getty Images)

Having the best programming in the world isn’t going to make much of a difference if no one knows you have it.

Alan Wolk

(Image credit: Alan Wolk)

That’s a lesson the various Flixes are learning as the so-called “streaming wars” begin to heat up and everyone’s scrambling to add subscribers.

Marketing and creating buzz around original programs is going to play a big role in increasing subscriber counts. And for players like Netflix, who release their series in a single one-time drop, creating buzz in that narrow window is going to prove even more crucial.

While traditional marketing channels--on-air promos, billboards and the like—are still useful, social media is proving to be an excellent way to attract new fans.

A new study from Tubular Labs outlines just how excellent.

Tubular found that the services that made the most extensive use of social media—Netflix and Disney—were also the ones that experienced that greatest subscriber growth.

I’d put a giant asterisk there though, due to something I had identified around 15 years ago, in the early days of social media, called the “Prom King Brand” theory. this theory states that certain brands have a pre-existing level of cool, and viewers are more likely to follow them on social media, and then like and re-share whatever they post. 

Thus brands like Apple, Starbucks and Nike have had a much easier time launching successful social media campaigns than, say, Maxwell House coffee. (Not that millions of people don’t like Maxwell House, it just doesn’t have the same cache as Starbucks.)

Taking that to the world of TV, Netflix and Disney are both far more likely to be in the “prom king” category than Peacock or HBO Max, Netflix being the OG streaming service and Disney being, well, Disney, with 75 years of brand building behind it.

Which is not to say the prom kings just sat back on their laurels.

Netflix in particular, did more than just run trailers, relying more on what’s known as “shoulder content” — in addition to posting longer trailers and scenes from the show, Tubular found that shows like Bridgerton turned more to videos created by fans and influencers, interviews with the actors and behind-the-scenes footage.

Another Netflix hit, The Queen’s Gambit, made use of content created by the chess community (the show was about a female chess champion) in order to boost visibility and to give the show additional credibility. 

These are creative uses of social media by Netflix’s marketing team that take advantage of Netflix’s prom king status—they have 76 million followers on Facebook versus 159,000 for Peacock and 444,000 for HBO Max. That sort of advantage, which is mirrored on Twitter (11.3M vs 119K and 381K), YouTube (19.4M vs 216K and 668K) and Instagram (26.7M vs 274K and 1M)  makes it a lot easier for them to reach a wide audience on social media.

The International Angle

Disney Plus, which boasts 4.2 million followers on Facebook, 2.2 million on Twitter, 441,000 on YouTube and 4 million on Instagram, also used its stellar social media presence to boost its digital-first cinematic releases, Tubular reports. 

The carefully laid out plan started with programming announcements/teasers and trailers posted three to four weeks before the movie’s release, then pivoted to scenes from the movie, best/funniest moments, behind-the-scenes clips, and “meet the cast” videos, all of which ran for a few weeks after the movie’s release. 

Disney also used social video to expand the international appeal of its programming and movies. To promote the movie Soul, for instance, they created Spanish language content for Disney Plus Latinoamerica and French content for Disney Plus France. 

This focus on overseas audiences helped create buzz outside the U.S., and is likely to increase as the theater of battle for the streaming wars moves from the U.S. to international markets, where the various SVOD services are looking to create a presence and steal some market share from Netflix. It’s also a great way to pre-seed markets they have yet to launch in, as there is no geofencing on social sites, which means they don’t have to start from scratch when they do launch.

Social platforms will continue to play a major role as the various Flixes attempt to create buzz around their programming, said buzz hopefully translating into new subscribers. 

This will be a particularly useful ploy with younger viewers (ages 13-34), who, Tubular found, make up 67% of the SVOD services audiences on social media. Given that younger audiences are less likely to have firm allegiances to specific programmers, it would be foolish not to pursue them on social media. That means finding the sorts of shows that appeal to younger viewers while targeting them on platforms that they are more likely to frequent (e.g., not Facebook) while targeting their parents and grandparents on Facebook and other platforms that they can be found on