The greatest education is often wrapped in entertainment, which is why Bill Nye the Science Guy made a deeper impression on me than any real-life science teacher ever did.
And when it comes to social media marketing, you’re in luck: there are a ton of valuable lessons to be gleaned from pop culture.
Here are nine movies and two TV series that every social media marketer should watch.
Bonus: Want to know how a viral social video creator makes millions of dollars in sales? Download the free guide now.
11 movies and TV series for social media managers
Simultaneously heartwarming and excruciating to watch (especially if you were ever a teenage girl), this movie follows quiet, sensitive 13-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) over her last week of eighth grade.
Social media is a constant presence in Kayla’s life, as she takes Snapchat selfies, uploads videos to her YouTube channel, or scrolls mindlessly through Instagram. For Kayla, social media is a source of anxiety, but it’s also an escape.
Eighth Grade really captures what life is like for the Gen Z teens who have never known a world before social media, and how hard it is for adults (like Kayla’s father) to understand their relationship to it. And while plenty of films capture the dark side of social media, Eighth Grade also shows that it’s a place where shy, awkward teens feel like they can express themselves and explore their identities.
If you want to understand how the average teenager is using social media, this movie is your field guide.
This Netflix documentary explores the seedy underbelly of internet fame and influencer culture.
It focuses on four social media celebrities—Paris Hilton , former Vine star Brittany Furlan, Josh Ostrovsky (a.k.a. The Fat Jewish), and Kirill Bichutsky— who talk candidly about the ways that fame has messed with their personal relationships and mental health.
The American Meme reveals the real people behind their carefully-constructed online personas, and the disconnect is striking. Even though these stars have tremendous influence and massive followings, they all experience feeling isolated, trapped and alone.
Considering that many Millennials would choose fame over a career or a college education, this movie should be required viewing for anyone who idolizes internet fame.
In this twisted, funny thriller, Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a “mommy vlogger” who befriends Emily (Blake Lively), a glamorous, successful PR executive, after their sons meet at school. After a few weeks of arranging playdates for their kids and drinking martinis in the afternoon, Emily suddenly disappears and Stephanie launches her own amateur investigation into what happened to her.
The two women are contrasts in how social media can be used to hide.
Emily is completely offline: she has no internet presence, and she refuses to even let Stephanie take her photo. In the words of her husband (played by Henry Golding, fulfilling his moral obligation to take his shirt off in every role), she is “a beautiful ghost.” In comparison, Stephanie uses her cheerful vlog full of crafts and baked goods to mask her own dark secrets.
You could take a few lessons from this movie (and its marketing) on how to stoke excitement and anticipation with a social media campaign. Blake Lively set off a flurry of interest when she deleted all of her Instagram photos and began only following accounts that shared her character’s name.
But you can also just turn off your brain and enjoy it for Emily’s wardrobe of incredible three-piece suits. Your call!
While this movie came out before Instagram even existed, it’s shockingly relevant to our era of social media influencers and #sponcon. It follows the Jones “family”, who are actually an unrelated group of stealth marketers. Their job is to use their social influence in order to convince friends and neighbors to buy things, from frozen food to golf clubs.
If you’ve ever bought a top because it looked great on your most stylish friend (or your favorite Instagrammer), you’ll understand the premise of this movie. Influencer marketing is a powerful tool because people make purchasing decisions based on the opinions of real people who they trust and admire.
The Jones family begins to fracture when they start realizing that they don’t believe in the integrity of what they’re selling. Similarly, when working with an influencer, it’s important to make sure your values are aligned.
Compromising what you believe in may help you make a quick sale, but it will ultimately erode your followers’ trust in you, and damage your reputation.
A sports movie that’s secretly a movie about analytics! That’s a spicy bait-and-switch.
Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the Oakland Athletics coach who had to build a strong baseball team without the money to hire top-ranked players. To do it, he hired Peter Brand (baby-faced Jonah Hill), a young analyst who proposed a new strategy: recruiting players using data about their in-game activity, rather than relying on the recommendations of baseball scouts.
While there’s no actual social media in this movie (Brad Pitt, sadly, never takes a single selfie for the ‘gram), it’s a perfect analogy for the value of data in crafting your perfect strategy. The Oakland A’s were failing by trying to use methods that worked for other teams, rather than measuring and understanding what could work for them. When they started recruiting strategically, they started winning.
Many companies try to find success by copying what’s worked for a competitor, rather than looking at what works best for them. There are many ways to refine your marketing strategy with data, like running A/B tests and researching your target audiences.
Another tip from Moneyball? Assess your marketing strategy as a whole (your baseball team) rather than focusing on stand-alone pieces (your individual players), so you can understand how the pieces fit together.
In this very dark comedy, the mentally unstable Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) becomes infatuated with Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), an influencer from LA who chronicles her glamorous beachy life on Instagram.
Ingrid packs up her bags and follows her new obsession to California, where she studies Taylor’s social media for clues to where she lives, shops, and eats, eventually manipulating her way into a real-life friendship.
Despite the time that Ingrid and Taylor spend together and the Coachella Valley photos they tag each other in, they never actually get to know each other. Ingrid is fixated on Taylor’s lifestyle and image, but doesn’t notice or care that the real Taylor is vapid and flaky.
“Why are you acting like this?” Ingrid’s quasi-boyfriend Dan asks. “You don’t even like these people!”
Both of them are so busy curating their own images that they never look deeper. It’s a reminder that you can’t build real relationships (with customers or with Instagram stalkers) if you’re 100 percent focused on your own content. You also need to engage meaningfully and show real personality. As Ingrid finds out (spoiler alert!), being fake only works for so long.
Bonus: Want to know how a viral social video creator makes millions of dollars in sales? Download the free guide now.Get the free social video guide now!
Continuing the stalker theme, You is a series best summarized as “Pretty Little Liars + Gossip Girl + murder.” If that phrase is meaningless to you, trust me when I say it’s an immensely entertaining combination.
Told from the point of view of Joe (played by Penn Badgley), a bookstore manager with an inexplicably spacious New York apartment, You is about his all-consuming obsession with a pretty blonde customer who wanders into his shop. He promptly Googles her name (Guinevere Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail) and finds her Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and home address—a stalking starter kit.
This is all in the first ten minutes; the rest of You chronicles Joe’s deranged efforts to attain a romantic relationship with Beck by any means necessary, including extreme measures like voluntarily assembling IKEA furniture and murdering her ex-boyfriend.
You is trashy fun, but it will also make you think twice about privacy and security settings.
When Joe steals Beck’s phone so he can read her email and monitor her text conversations, you’ll be screaming, “Why don’t you have a passcode?” at the TV. Soothe your resulting paranoia with these social media security tips.
In this thriller adapted from the Dave Eggers’ novel, Emma Watson plays Mae, a young employee of a tech company called The Circle, which is helmed by CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks).
The Circle is a Facebook-esque company that encourages both employees and users to embrace absolute transparency and share everything about their lives. Mae embraces the company’s values, and chooses to broadcast her life 24/7 through a wearable camera, despite the fact that it makes her friends and family uncomfortable.
The movie is a cautionary tale about what happens when users lose faith in tech companies, and underlines the difference between choosing to share your personal data with the world and having it shared without your consent. It’s a reminder to brands that building trust and championing integrity should be an essential part of your strategy.
In this comedy, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a travelling consultant for a job he loves: flying around the country firing employees for other companies.
It sounds bleak, and the employees he meets are understandably distraught, but Ryan really believes in what he’s doing. He wants to convince them that losing their job is a good thing in the long run, because it’s freeing them to do something that actually makes them happy.
It’s surprising this works—ask yourself if you’d really believe someone who told you, as they were firing you, that it was a gift—and part of the magic is definitely George Clooney’s charm. But the other reason it works is that Ryan is helping people through a tough moment by offering them comfort, honesty and encouragement. There’s a lot to learn about navigating difficult conversations.
Every company will eventually face an uncomfortable situation, whether that’s unhappy customers or PR disasters. But if you treat your customers with empathy and compassion, you can have a positive impact. When Ryan’s new colleague introduces a digital system of performing the layoffs remotely, it fails because it’s impersonal and scripted.
The episodes in this sci-fi anthology range from funny to touching to (mostly) very disturbing.
Each one takes place in the present, or a very near future, and explores the possible consequences of technologies like social media, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Every episode stands alone, so you can start anywhere in the series, and all of them will give you a lot to think about.
Nosedive is one of the lighter episodes, and one of my favorites. It imagines a world where every single personal interaction can be rated on an app (like Instagram combined with the Uber’s five-star rating system).
High ratings give users privileges, like express lines at the airport; low ratings come with penalties.
Because of the system, everyone is incentivized to be polite, friendly and totally shallow. Everyone is nice, but they’re also being painfully inauthentic, and the result is a world you definitely wouldn’t want to live in.
11. FYRE (2019)
The subtitle for this Netflix documentary says it all: Fyre Festival was “the greatest party that never happened.”
A destination music festival in the Bahamas dreamed up by entrepreneur (and scammer) Billy McFarland and Ja Rule sold thousands of pricey tickets with the promise of a luxury festival filled with swimsuit models and beach-front cabanas.
Fyre was promoted almost entirely through an Instagram influencer campaign, with an early boost by a promotional video that featured celebrities like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner frolicking on the beach. The chance to party with Instagram celebrities on a white-sand beach was irresistible, and the festival quickly sold 5,000 tickets.
But behind the scenes, the FyreFestival team was scrambling with logistics and insufficient funds, unable to deliver on the extravagant promises they had made to attendees. Even as it became obvious that Fyre Festival would fail, they continued posting luxurious and misleading photos on Instagram, promising a world-class experience.
When festival-goers arrived, they found wet mattresses, hurricane relief tents, and not a single bikini-clad Victoria’s Secret Model. All the bands had pulled out abruptly and the influencers had stayed home. Instead of the “Bahama-style sushi” they were promised, they were fed infamously sad sandwiches.
— Trevor DeHaas (@trev4president) April 28, 2017
As stranded attendees began posting panicked tweets, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Messages, the entire world saw the Fyre Festival implode in real-time on social media.
The Fyre fyasco is the most obvious reminder in recent history that faking it on social media will always come back to bite you. Unless you’re the Oceans 8 crew, all scams are eventually discovered (hello, free bikini offers on Instagram). Even if you don’t end up going to prison like Billy McFarland, you’ll erode your customer’s trust and ruin your reputation.
If one documentary isn’t enough to sate your curiosity, Hulu also released a documentary just weeks before Netflix, called Fyre Fraud.
Once you’ve watched all of these movies and TV shows, use Hootsuite to easily manage all your social media channels from one dashboard. Grow your brand, engage customers, keep up with competitors, and measure results. Try it free today.