How to take social media by storm

Nick's got influencers, Pinkfong is making viral moments, and Cottonwood Media is courting engagement—all in an effort to attract an audience to their shows.
October 31, 2019

It’s the golden age of content! But with so many platforms and shows to watch, no one can find anything new. All week we’re breaking down different discoverability problems and how to beat them. If you haven’t seen Monday’s introduction to discoverability and why it’s an issue facing creators today, then go back and check it out here, then follow that up with what platforms are doing to tackle discoverability and how to game the YouTube algorithm. You can also keep up with the whole series here.

Get influential 

Discoverability Nickelodeon 2

Nickelodeon sees social media as an opportunity to increase fan engagement, rather than as a tool to drive tune-in

If you’ve been around any kids recently, you’ve likely been exposed to the extremely large hair bows and the even larger personality of one JoJo Siwa. The teenage singer, dancer and actress is one of a number of influencers working with Nickelodeon to drive eyeballs to everything from the Kids’ Choice Awards to the network’s YouTube content. But as successful as these partnerships are, Nickelodeon doesn’t believe it’s a straight line that drives kids from YouTube to TV.

“We recognize people aren’t going to social media to find out what’s on television,” says Kate Sils, VP of multiplatform and brand engagement (Nickelodeon, Paramount Channel, Spike and BET) at Viacom International Media Networks. “A lot of times you’ve got super-fans who are going on social media to find out more about what they love already. I personally don’t think it’s a place where we drive tune-in, or drive people to go to linear experiences. Rather, we’re giving them adjacent and deeper experiences with content they love already. We’re really trying to build up our fandom.”

Social media deepens love, she says, because viewers who are engaged with a property will seek out the content on their own. This frees Nickelodeon up to focus on more strategic efforts, rather than encouraging kids to watch SpongeBob SquarePants.

Sils sees Facebook, with its older audience, as the prime place to increase engagement for evergreen properties like SpongeBob and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Instagram is a tween-favorite platform driven by discovery, and therefore one that Nickelodeon uses to test new ideas. YouTube, meanwhile, is treated like a second television screen.

“We look at our brands, our audiences and the platforms, and then we optimize all of our content depending on what that platform rewards, who’s on it, and how we want to display ourselves,” Sils says.

Kid influencers are particularly well-suited to driving young social media users to various online platforms, but Nick’s partnerships with these pint-sized performers can also be used to develop engagement and fandom around new digital and linear content. Teams around the world search social media for young influencers who will resonate in their respective regions, like Mexico’s Isabella de la Torre (known as La Bala to her six million YouTube subscribers) and João Guilherme.

Those kids are then invited to participate in an awards show, or on short-form YouTube content, to gauge their acting chops and whether they’re a good fit for the Nickelodeon audience.

“João Guilherme is a Brazilian influencer with 11 million followers on Instagram who we brought to the Kids’ Choice Awards,” Sils says. “He was super-funny and cute, and really resonated with our influencer squad. When those guys bubble up and we find success with them on digital platforms, we start looking to place them in our linear properties as well. [Guilherme] went back to Brazil and was cast in the YouTube-only format Nick Master Slime. It’s like a game show where he brings in the best slime-makers from around Brazil for a competition. ”

Siwa, meanwhile, has become completely woven into the fabric of Nickelodeon around the world, with everything from animated content to consumer products and her very own live shows. As the Nick team continues to build up its roster of tiny influencers, the company is focusing specifically on YouTube and Instagram.

“As a company, we’re focused on being able to monetize our content. I think the trouble with some of these new social media platforms is they have no monetization strategy. We’re always looking at every new platform and seeing if it’s something we want to get into. They might have a lot of buzz, but we really try to dig deep into what that means for us.”

Make viral moments 

Discoverability Pinkfong

After “Baby Shark” went viral, Pinkfong posted a thank-you video to ensure fans connected the company with the hit song.

“Baby Shark doo doo doo doo doo doo!” Chances are you’ve had Pinkfong’s “Baby Shark” song stuck in your head on several occasions since it first went viral in 2017. (And maybe again now? Sorry about that.) Pinkfong’s original YouTube video boasts 3.3 billion views, and the song spawned more than 700,000 copycat versions as part of the #babysharkchallenge social media campaign.

“People really got into creating user-generated content through the Baby Shark challenge, and that helped create huge traffic for the original content,” says Kevin Yoon, SmartStudy’s marketing manager. (Pinkfong is a SmartStudy subsidiary.) “When we realized there were hundreds of thousands of videos with the hashtag, we knew it was viral.”

The video first gained traction across Asia on Facebook in 2017, before spreading globally on Twitter and FB in 2018. According to Yoon, it’s easier to go viral on Facebook, not only because of its global reach (Pinkfong’s page boasts 276,000 followers), but because of its specific algorithm.

“Compared to Instagram or other social media platforms, Facebook is more open. On Instagram, you see posts that are relevant to what you’ve searched. But on Facebook, you see what your friends post and like.”

But despite the video’s rapid dissemination, many viewers weren’t making the connection to Pinkfong as a company. So in an effort to tie Pinkfong to “Baby Shark,” the team uploaded a video thanking the fans for creating their own versions. The connection was solidified, Yoon says, by including the kids from the original content in the thank-you video. It was crucial to make sure viewers associated Pinkfong with the music video to ensure the company could capitalize on its viral popularity.

And when it came to exploiting the video’s popularity, the team focused on building out the Baby Shark brand (along with Pinkfong as a company) through consumer products, long-form content and offline events, rather than trying to capture lightening in a bottle twice with another viral hit.

Pinkfong also continues to feed the fervor by creating new short-form content for YouTube, as well as micro-content (15- and 20-second teaser videos) for Facebook to drive new viewers to the channel.

“Another way to create long-term success is to collaborate with unexpected brands or influencers,” Yoon says. “They have a different audience base on social media, or whatever platform they’re native to, and that helps you extend your audience. We have a ‘Baby Shark’ remix we did with DJ Jauz [709,000 followers on Instagram and 156,000 subscribers on YouTube]. That helps to extend our reach to Millennials, for example. That happened just a few months ago and has generated five million views. There are tons of opportunities to collaborate and keep the viral video going on and on.”

Go for engagement 


Cottonwood works with the stars of Find Me In Paris to created content for social media when the show is filming

Do you follow your favorite celebrities on social media? Do you like their posts? Watch their live streams? Leave comments? Send direct messages? Did you sign up for notifications to make sure you wouldn’t miss a single social media moment?

It may feel close to fanaticism, but kids’ obsession with following their favorite celebs is something Cottonwood Media counts on. The Paris-based prodco’s founder and CEO David Michel says his team works closely with the stars of the dance-focused series Find Me In Paris to encourage as much online interaction as possible.

“There’s a lot of communication between the actors and the audience, especially on Instagram and Twitter,” Michel says. “With a live-action series, if you want that kind of outreach to be executed well, it really has to be done by the actors. Our job is to develop the strategy and then incentivize the talent to do more, talk to the audience and grow it.”

The show’s third season is currently shooting, which means the entire cast is together and capable of doing social media work from set for approximately six months. When the series first started in 2017, the Cottonwood team expected most fans to be on Snapchat. But it turns out that the majority of the tween and early teen audience is much more active on Instagram. And while under-13s aren’t technically allowed to be on the platform, Michel says the young fans have found work-arounds.

“Kids create a fake account, or come to us from their parents’ accounts. It makes targeting a campaign a bit more difficult because you’re not actually talking to an adult; you’re talking to a 12-year-old. The actual age of your audience isn’t really being reflected.”

This means that, when looking at analytics on engagement, the company has to make allowances for the fact that many of its viewers are younger than they appear. Luckily, Michel says, most of the company’s partners understand this new normal and are more interested in overall engagement than in age demos.

These deep levels of engagement are especially important for a show like Find Me In Paris, Michel says, given the current broadcasting and streaming landscape. Something that used to fall on the shoulders of broadcasters—like marketing and the issue of discoverability—is now the responsibility of producers.

“Usually that’s something we’d have left to the channels, because in every different territory there would be a slightly different sensibility, and they’d want to own that process. Not so much anymore,” he says. “A discoverability strategy was almost like an accessory a few years ago, and now it’s really part of our daily grind.”

For Find Me In Paris, Cottonwood hired a digital marketing agency to focus on growth in major territories like the US and the UK. Now, it’s creating an in-house digital marketing department and looking to hire a head of digital media as well as a head of digital content. In addition to a handful of full-time employees, Cottonwood will look to bring on freelancers to help with specific projects. When all is said and done, Michel anticipates the digital marketing division will be comparable in size to its licensing team.

“It’s part of the landscape now, and as independent producers we have to be able to provide that service.”

Tune in tomorrow for the final installment and to find out how offline events drive audiences online.

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