Revealing A24’s Mystery Social Media Strategy Genius And All Her SecretsBy Joe Lazauskas September 30th, 2013
The social media prowess of upstart film studio A24 has been getting a lot of attention lately. The LA Times raved about how the studio letting loose “the viral image of James Franco as a resplendently thugged-out Jesus” helped Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” explode across the cultural consciousness and set per-screen attendance records. Earlier this month, Gawker’s Beejoli Shah wrote about the studio’s own incredibly fun and “genius social media strategy” and declared her love to the mystery staffer behind it all.
With hit indie films like “Spring Breakers,” “The Bling Ring,” and “The Spectacular Now,” the studio has been in lockstep with millennials, in part because of their social media mastery. It’s no surprise, then, that DirecTV locked up A24 this morning in a partnership to co-finance independent films in exchange for the rights to offer them exclusively before they hit theaters.
We quickly fell in love with A24’s social media, too—they’re the hilarious, pop culture-savvy best friend of your dreams, and only plug their own projects occasionally—usually in a very funny way. Their presence on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest features content that is perfectly crafted for each platform, but the real gem is A24’s Twitter, a constant stream of hilarious and bizarre pop-culture and technology jokes.
We had to find a way to talk to the mystery person behind it.
And we did. Her name is Zoe Beyer, a 2010 graduate of Wesleyan who’s worked on digital & social strategy at A24 since January. Over a series of emails last week, we attempted to unearth the secrets behind A24’s hilarity, and discover what other brands can learn from it.
First off, I just want to say again that you’re hilarious, and warn you that this first question is a two-parter.
I found it really interesting that in our initial correspondence about doing this interview, you said that you “always thought A24 twitter is a good model for what brands should NOT do on social media — alienate parts of their audience, offend people, make outrageous claims on behalf of the whole company, etc.” But these elements are what makes A24’s Twitter so funny, so…what gives you the liberty to take this approach with your tweets and short-form social media content? And why do you think it works?
Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. And thank you for the compliment. I prefer to think of myself as moderately Internet-funny.
So, the A24 Twitter evolved pretty organically into what it is now. There was no strategy when I started, no one told me to go try and be funny. But I was encouraged to use my own voice and essentially be myself. Immediately, I started writing in the first person plural [we / us / our], and I think that automatically adds comedy to a lot of tweets. Like a few weeks ago I tweeted “For Halloween we’re going to be the goat from the Blurred Lines video.” That’s only funny because you’re not quite sure who’s saying it. It could be the CEO or an intern.
At a certain point, I noticed that when I allowed that weird and playful side to show through, our audience responded. We don’t have a huge following yet – A24 is just over a year old – so it was important to our company that we engage the audience we have. I tweet about our films maybe once or twice a day max. For most of the content, I think of what will be relevant to people who like A24 movies. Fans of Harmony Korine or Sofia Coppola or Jonathan Glazer aren’t going to be offended if we use the word shit or poke fun at Hollywood or take a stab at Jaden Smith’s twitter activity.
Very occasionally, I will tweet something with no regard for whether it’s relevant to anyone besides myself. This is probably bad practice, but I think the film industry in particular can be so opaque, it is nice to know there are actual human personalities behind these companies. That’s why, sometimes, I will tweet about exotic pets or the NBA. The idea is just to keep it authentic.
Given the positive response your social media presence has gotten, do you think that social media and short-form content best practices aren’t best practices at all? Are brands far too afraid to take risks and be funny?
Brands are coming around to the idea that social media is a space where they can be playful and human. I’m surprised by how many actually are taking risks and being provocative with their content. I notice more and more doing this everyday. It’s cool when you see a brand get it right. And then there are those face-palm moments when someone tries and fails. Those are also hilarious.
A24 definitely has more leeway than other brands, so I don’t really consider best practices when I’m writing content. Sometimes I change my mind about a tweet and delete it, that’s probably a bad thing to do. Also, last night I was sleeping on my phone and tweeted out the letter R on accident. It got a lot of retweets though so I kept it. Basically I just want people to read our tweets think, “That sounds like something my friend would say.”
Every brand should probably make up their own best practices, and then update regularly. It’s important to stay nimble. Be ready to adapt as you see how people respond.
Do you feel like your humor has ever crossed the line or went too far? Is there such a thing in A24’s social media world?
Yes, in my mind there are definitely lines, I don’t think we’ve crossed them, though. I rein myself in all the time. It’s not a big deal if a few people get offended here and there – our movies aren’t for everyone, and neither is our social media – but I try to never say anything that’s in poor taste. It’s important to balance out the sarcasm and satire. Not everything needs to be treated as a joke. We take what we do seriously and have such respect for the audiences and fans of the films. And we always try to recognize others who are doing good work.
Let’s go past tweeting and talk a little bit about creating short-form social media content. A24 got big props from the LA Times for that, particularly the viral picture of James Franco as a thugged-out Jesus at the last supper. How do you approach the original short-form content you create?
Our film campaigns are handled separately from A24’s social media. “Spring Breakers,” “The Bling Ring,” and “The Spectacular Now” all had their own social campaigns, and we put a lot of thought into developing a voice for each film. All the content is created with that voice in mind. Everyone at the company comes together to brainstorm around these campaigns. We have some great collaborators outside of A24, too. No one cares where the good idea comes from. Recently, we’ve been having fun with the “Consider This Sh*t” Academy Awards campaign for James Franco. We’ll probably continue making content using Alien forever, it’s such a no brainer. I just asked our designer to photoshop Alien holding a pumpkin spice latte, I’m going to tweet it to @Starbucks. [UPDATE: @Starbucks just followed A24, but did not retweet.]
And what about content from other people that you share? Going through the photos and videos section of your Twitter is like some kind of pop-culture acid trip.
Yeah, sharing cool content is something we try to do on all our channels. Sometimes it’s a music video or commercial or a short we like, often its just weird images and GIFs I find on Reddit. Sharing this stuff is more than just our way of saying we like this check this out. When you share something you like – and I believe this applies to individuals as well as brands – you’re making something new. You define your sensibility or aesthetic or sense of humor, and in the process you’re creating who you are. This used to happen in the physical world, and now it’s happening on social media. So the videos and pictures we share are a small piece of how we’re defining what A24 is all about. In addition to our slate of films and the filmmakers we work with.
How does your approach change depending on what channel you’re on? I mean, what’s funny on Facebook will probably be funny on Twitter, but are there some subtle intricacies?
There are so many intricacies, I haven’t mastered them yet. Twitter is the most fun, there’s no Edgerank algorithm so you can take more risks. On Facebook, I keep the posts visual, usually just 1 or 2 lines of text and maybe a Bitly link. As far as crossover between the two, here’s what I’ve learned: If you have a hilarious image, Facebook or Instagram are best because people don’t have to click on a link to see it. On Twitter, you can play off of the fact that the link is hidden. A while ago I tweeted “Just gonna keep posting this image until it comes true.” and when you click on the link it’s a picture of Idris Elba as James Bond. That’s wouldn’t have worked anywhere else.
Instagram is like a “Best Of” where I post my favorite content from our other channels as well as stills and posters from our films. It’s usually something I do on the walk home from work, on Instagram it doesn’t matter what time of day you post. If you look at our Tumblr you’ll see it’s a whole other thing; it’s all about the sum of the images and GIFs and how they’re arranged. If I had to describe it, it’s like our love letter to cinema. I’m not concerned with engagement on Tumblr, most of the people who visit the page aren’t even on the platform.
This is something I’ve always wondered—do you think brands are potentially missing out on an opportunity to play against each other more? Like if you started a beef war with Annapurna studios or something. Just seems like an untapped treasure trove of possibilities.
I have mixed feelings about this. I love when individuals make fun of brands. I love when brands make fun of themselves. But the thought of two brands trolling one another for their mutual benefit seems really lame to me. If it can be done in an authentic and clever way, I guess that could be cool. As for A24, the closest we’ve gotten to playing against another brand was last week when we questioned the United Nation’s authority to name 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. They replied to us, “Quinoa is a high quality food for health & food security.” We’ll occasionally have light banter with the other indie studios like Roadside, CBS, and Fox Searchlight. We have friends at these other companies so it’s fun.
Fair point. I guess I was thinking of examples like this piece of banter between Old Spice and Taco Bell. Or when Kit-Kat challenged Oreo to a game of tick-tack-toe for a fan’s affection. But anyway: What possibilities do you see in the future for A24 to do awesome stuff to engage consumers?
Oh man, so excited about the four films we have coming up. Narratively and stylistically there’s tons of stuff to play with. It will be a fun challenge to figure this out over the next few months. These films are very different than anything we put out last year, if you think about the audience for a film like “The Rover” (with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson) compared to “The Bling Ring” or “The Spectacular Now.” What worked on those films may not be right for our new stuff. As for A24 the studio, the plan is to keep doing what we’re doing. We want to grow awareness for the brand and our movies. It will be interesting to see what happens to our social strategy as our profile grows, but for now the approach we’re taking feels very natural.Image by A24