Note: This got really long, so it’s been split into two posts. Part two is located here.
This spring’s annual TV show slaughter seems to have been a particularly brutal one for genre fans. The wailing and gnashing of teeth are audible throughout my timeline, as are the desperate calls for petitions and campaigns to save beloved shows. I don’t get to watch them all, but I hear you. I feel you. And I may have a few tools for those who are willing to fight, but don’t necessarily know how to get started. For shows like The Expanse, that have already been canceled, this should still provide a framework for targeting streaming services or alternative networks. These are just the things that worked for us, in case they can help someone else.
I want another season of The Expanse, and then four more after that. I haven’t seen Lucifer, but I feel for those who mourn its loss. These shows, and so many others like them, unite us through narrative, they connect us across geography, language, and circumstance. The ability to feel uplifted and excited by a story, to feel fulfilled just by having those worlds in our heads, is what unites us. It makes us one tribe, no matter what our particular passion may be. And every time I hear the grief over another lost show, I hurt for my people, whether I’ve seen it or not.
Fringenuity as a collective, unified force accomplished its goal. And if we could do it, anyone with enough commitment can do the same thing. And so, for anyone out there with the desire and personal determination to fight for your show, here are some pointers from someone who led the fight to successfully save Fringe.
No one can promise that your efforts will be successful. Fringe was lucky in a way, to get into trouble at a time when social media was just breaking into the mainstream, and companies everywhere were still trying to work out how to monetize engagement. We were a kind of experiment. But I still think we had a solid road map, and some of our methods would likely still prove effective if a fandom can find the cohesion to put them into action. Most of this specific advice will focus on hashtag trending, since that was our most successful effort by far, and still the most likely to have a major impact.
Fringenuity’s entire strategy was based around proving that the social factor surrounding our show had its own value and revenue potential. We did that by showing that we could reliably trend hashtags for each episode as it aired, making the show visible to non-watchers. It didn’t help much with the ratings, but, by choosing unique hashtags, we amplified our reach far beyond our little fandom. One of our most successful early campaigns, #BeABetterMan, was picked up by a celebrity account with hundreds of thousands of followers and ended up evolving into a whole different discussion, but Fringe was still one of the top keywords for those tweets, and 23 million social impressions makes people with bankrolls sit up and pay attention.
Unique hashtags are crucial. It’s a lot easier to get something trending if it’s never been tweeted before. Even if it does trend, a generic ‘tag like #Supernatural, that shows up routinely, is too easy to parse. Everybody knows why #Supernatural is trending on Thursday nights, and non-fans will never be curious enough to click on it or boost the signal. Choose something that relates to the show, but is unique enough to make the trend list when it spikes at the designated time. As much as possible, choose something intriguing enough to catch the attention of the general public and amplify your signal.
We did extensive research into how Twitter trending worked and the mechanics don’t seem to have changed much in the intervening years. You can read some of what we found in more detail, but in a nutshell:
To create a spike that shows up in trend lists, you need a unique hashtag or phrase that appears suddenly in multiple locations – but you don’t need thousands of users to get it rolling. To quote an example from the article linked above, “Trends are identified through a combination of novelty, and number and location of participants: 1000 people in Texas sending 100 tweets an hour containing a tag that’s used all the time are less likely to trend than 1000 people all over the world sending 10 tweets an hour on a topic that’s never been seen before.” This is why you see major events trending within minutes, first locally, and then gaining worldwide momentum as people in other locations join in.
You need enough lead time on your hashtag event to promote it to your fandom. A week or so should do it, if your group is unified and industrious. Schedule a time to begin, and do not use that hashtag until that time. Spread the word using shortcuts like #/hashtag, an acronym, or even better, just tell your people where to go to find it, and ask them not to use it yet. You can hamstring yourself if the effort to spread the word results in too much exposure for the tag to successfully trend. When it’s Go time, hit it with every tweet you have in you.