Three Ways The Hunger Games Won Social Media Audiences
I was up until 2 a.m. the night before my Hunger Games book club.
Not because I was hurrying to finish the book — I had sped through the trilogy ages ago. Instead, I was up until the wee hours building a cornucopia out of pizza dough. This is the kind of crazy thing you do if you're a Games-obsessed fan.
If you're not a fan, you're probably rolling your eyes. I know. You're sick of the fuss over a novel that is part of a middle school reading curriculum. You feel like it's Twilight redux. You've had it with the hype.
I won't try to convert you. But fan or not — from a social media standpoint, the phenomenon is an interesting story.
Its pervasive social media marketing strategy no doubt played a part in its success. While Lionsgate did use traditional advertising (posters, billboards, trailers), its social media strategy built both suspense and buzz that reached a fever pitch last week.
Facebook "likes" increased by more than 900,000 in a month, BoxOffice.com reported, surpassing 3.1 million on March 23. On Twitter, social media tracking site Topsy logged 1 million "hunger games" mentions in the past month. Games-related topics, including "Catching Fire" (the sequel!), started trending as the east coast midnight showings let out.
What worked so well?
It was fun
The Hunger Games is heavy. The central plot is kids who kill other kids while adults watch and manipulate them. Great fodder for my book club but not something you want to talk about over and over on Facebook and Twitter.
You want to talk about your Hunger Games name instead. Or what District you live in. Or if you're #TeamPeeta or #TeamGale. The movie had a traditional website, Twitter handle and Facebook page for those who just wanted the basics, but they also provided entry points to the fun, geeky stuff.
The best part of these side sites is they are written in character. Facebook pages for each District pitch the movie, sure, but they also ask questions and share content that reflects the (fictional) area's personality. On Twitter, you can follow @TheCapitolPN or #LookYourBest and see messages from President Snow, speculation on what the Tributes are up to and interviews that blur reality and fiction. The best part is the fans play along, answering questions like they really are part of the Games or sharing pictures of their themed nails, hairstyles or homemade shirts.
It built suspense
The New York Times called the marketing strategy "lighting online kindling," a nod to the series' fire motif. For about a year, Lionsgate offered just enough — Facebook contests, Twitter scavenger hunts, online exclusives — to keep interest smoldering without burning out its audience.
In mid-December, when there was no reason to talk about the Hunger Games, Lionsgate summoned up Twitter buzz with a contest. The studio hosted an online "poster puzzle hunt" where you had to search for #HungerGames100 to find puzzle pieces on 100 websites and upload your solved puzzle. The hundred referred to the number of days until the movie release. Within minutes of the contest going live, Hunger Games was trending.
The Capitol fashion site won points with fans for exclusivity. Admission initally required a password, which, as Forbes said, made fans feel like they had unlocked something exclusive. An MTV Style blogger freaked out over it in January, saying it gave her "uncontrollable chillbumps" and that readers should log in immediately. Shh, she wrote, "the password is #lookyourbest. Eeep!"
Facebook fans were rewarded with a teaser on the official page three days before the premiere that thanked its 3 million (!) fans and said, "Now it's time to show them everything." That's when it unveiled the Capitol tour and released exclusive pictures, songs and video game trailers.
It was broad-based
The Hunger Games reached out into multiple social media platforms so you could play whether you preferred Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. And if you like everything, it's easy to bounce from place to place, thanks to ample links on the main and sister sites.
You could also decide how much of an appetite you had for the information. Following @TheHungerGames would get you a good overview, as would the official Facebook page. But if you really wanted to play along, you could "become a citizen" and get your Twitter updates from @TheCapitolPN. The related website let you sign up through Twitter or Facebook to get your district ID (I am a "blaster" in District 12) and then share that ID through social media of your choice or download it.
Once you had an assigned District, you could "Like" the Facebook page for it and talk about it to your heart's content.
It's all marketing but made the audience a participant instead of a spectator. With three other movies expected and social media continuing to grow and evolve, it will be interesting to see what the series has in store for us next. In the meantime, the Games continue to reach out to fans online. Liam Hemsworth, one of the stars, actually thanked fans for the opening weekend success via YouTube. Nicely played, Hunger Games.