What the Comic Book Industry Can Teach Us About Social Media Campaigning

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From 2000 to 2005, the comic book industry was in a slump. The 2005 debut of Batman Begins marked the start of an impressive turnaround, further bolstered by the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. Ever since, the industry’s growth has remained steady and relatively constant (with minor post-holiday dips). Of the top 10 grossing films of the last decade, four of them are comic-book adaptations, and Marvel’s The Avengers had the biggest box-office numbers of them all.

The success of these films trickled down to the industry as a whole. The following chart represents comic book sales from comic stores over the last 12 years.

When graphic novels, digital sales, and sales made by bookstores and digital retailers are factored in, the numbers explode. In 2014, sales of comic books and graphic novels added up to 935 million dollars. A full hundred million of that sum was in digital sales, and that’s a number that’s going to grow.

Your industry may have little in common with comics, but their successful turnaround can teach us a lot about marketing, consumers and business in general.

Here are five social media campaign tips taken straight from the funny pages.

1. They’re familiar

If you want to learn about the comic book industry, The Comics Chronicles is the place to go. The site is run by the former editor of the now-defunct Comics Retailer magazine, and every month the editor ranks the monthly sales of all the currently-running series.

In September, they were:

1

Star Wars: Shattered Empire

1

$3.99

Marvel

208,884

2

Star Wars

9

$3.99

Marvel

135,817

3

Batman

44

$4.99

DC

114,409

4

Deadpool Vs Thanos

1

$3.99

Marvel

108,610

5

Darth Vader

9

$3.99

Marvel

100,235

6

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows

5

$3.99

Marvel

94,653

7

Batman Annual

4

$4.99

DC

80,684

8

Justice League

44

$3.99

DC

76,752

9

Walking Dead

146

$2.99

Image

69,006

10

Deadpool Vs Thanos

2

$3.99

Marvel

67,901

Now, these titles all have a few things in common. Most are from Marvel (Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars). DC is also represented with Batman and Justice League. Only Walking Dead is published by anyone outside of the Big 2.

So what does this mean for your social marketing campaigns?

It means that if you want your campaigns to succeed on a grand scale, tailor your social marketing campaigns to fit your brand’s identity as close as humanly possible. People want to know what they’re getting, and if they’re fans of your brand, they’re fans of what you already are. Spider-man often has more than one title in the top 10, as a well-known character. Amazing Spider-man: Renew Your Vows has Peter Parker doubling-down in his relationship to Mary Jane Watson, easily the second-most famous love interest in comic books. Walking Dead has a hit TV show boosting its profile, and both Deadpool and Thanos have been getting more media attention with their appearances in recent and upcoming films.

Our clients do their best when their social marketing campaigns provide their fans with a more interactive or higher-stakes version of their normal brand experience. Some brands have more extreme personalities, and they can afford to go bigger and more outrageous than a more refined brand.

Tip #1: Give them the best possible version of what they know they can expect from your brand. If you feel you have to diverge from your existing brand persona, introduce the changes over the course of your pre-campaign social media promotion.

2. BAM! POW! BOFF! They’re action-packed

Image by JD Hancockunder CC BY 2.0
Image by JD Hancock under CC BY 2.0

Comic books are a little different than they were in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but some things never change. Looking at the top 10 comic books from June 2015, all of them have at least one big punch-induced onomatopoeia.

Not many people would describe the process of entering a social marketing campaign as action-packed. Whether they fill out the form or create the user-generated content (UGC), it’s a linear, streamlined process.

So how can you add a little action to your campaigns?

If there’s going to be action, it’s going to have to be on your end. Emphasize how dynamic the process of designing and launching the perfect campaign is for your fans. They should never think that you strained yourself in the process, but giving your fans an idea of how deeply you care about creating a compelling experience is always a smart move. Begin promoting your upcoming campaign while you’re still in the design stages. Let them know they’re in for a chance to win big, or take part in a massive undertaking, like a poll, quiz or social hub.

To make it more active and compelling for your fans, put the emphasis on the campaign’s most important verb. You don’t have to lead with the verb, but you can. Many campaigns do choose to have a verb leading both the title and the body copy of their campaign. ‘Win $5,000 in prizes now!’ establishes the second person point-of-view for all the campaign’s copy. You’ll find that the social marketing body copy of campaigns with verb-forward titles tells you what you need to know so that you have a chance to win. The ‘now’ brings urgency.

Keep the language active in the promotion. Each promotional Tweet should remind fans what they can win or accomplish by clicking the link now. Every ‘Thank you’ tweet is a chance to reiterate the urgency and the momentum of the campaign.

Tip #2: Comic books are action-packed. To make your campaigns as exciting, make your language as active as possible, in both the campaign itself and all of its promotional materials. There’s a reason McDonald’s slogan is “I’m lovin’ it,” not “It’s bein’ loved.”

3. They’re short

No, seriously. This is one of the major advantages of comic books: neither comic books nor graphic novels take very long to read. They’re a satisfying way to spend a few minutes each day, and that’s exactly how your fans should think about your social marketing campaigns. Whether you’re running a sweepstakes, a poll or a quiz, or a user-generated content campaign, your campaign needs to be easy to find, understand, and enter.

Short campaigns are almost always the best for business. Small-stakes sweepstakes can run weekly or bi-weekly; photo or video contests should max out at a month, or six weeks if you’re hoping for long-form video content. No matter the size or scale of your business, do your best to keep your campaigns short and sweet.

Tip #3: Multiple short campaigns will make your company look more active on social media than fewer long ones. Keep up the pressure to maintain engagement and conversion.

4. They’re part of something bigger

Image by Sean Benhamunder CC BY 2.0
Image by Sean Benham under CC BY 2.0

Not every issue of every comic book is a non-stop action sequence. Sometimes writers and artists will take the time to let their characters breathe, form attachments, and set up the conflicts for the next few issues. This is especially common when a publisher is running what’s colloquially called a comics ‘event’; examples include Marvel’s Civil War or DC’s Convergence. Comic events occur over a few months (at least two, though longer events can take a whole year) and the stories they tell occur over multiple titles. For example, DC might run an event involving the characters in Gotham: that event would likely take up issues of Batman, We Are Robin, Grayson and Justice League.

If single issues are analogous to single campaigns, a comic event is like a company’s yearly marketing plan. They’re devised months in advance of their launch, are carefully coordinated to maximize the efficacy of all their parts, and are promoted as loudly as possible.

Every issue under the wings of a comic event has to be evaluated as both an entertaining read in its own right and as a chapter of the larger story. When your campaign has ended, take the time to evaluate how successfully it has contributed to your overall marketing goals. Publicly, celebrate how many fans participated in your campaign, and give the loudest shout-out you can to whoever won if you ran a contest. Consider offering everyone who entered your campaign a complimentary voucher or discount on their next purchase of your product.

Privately, take some time to review the results of your campaign. Did you get as many entries as you wanted? Which of your promotional efforts made the biggest impact with your fanbase? Did the campaign help you appreciate any particular segment of your audience a little better?

A successful campaign won’t just give you what you want—it will show you how to get even better results from your next campaign.

Tip #4: Review your campaign in great detail and take note of any trends. Where are your fans? When did you see the most engagement? Which Tweets or statuses gave the biggest boosts to entry? Did you achieve your goals? What will you change for the next social marketing campaign?

5. There’s a next one

Image by Shad Bollingunder CC BY 2.0
Image by Shad Bolling under CC BY 2.0

In your mind, what does the last page of a comic book look like?

Maybe you see a villain, shaking his fist, swearing revenge ‘next time.’ An experiment in a secret lab might be cooking up a new threat for the heroes; maybe the issue ends with a starry-eyed fan falling in love with the hero, all the while nursing a secret of their own.

Every comic book ends with a promise of more drama and adventure to come. Your social marketing campaigns need to hold the same promise if you want your fans to stick around. Ideally you have a full year’s worth of social marketing campaigns planned, if not designed, in advance so you’ll know what to tease your fans with as you bring your current campaign to an end.

Reactions to your first campaign on social will have provided you with a clearer picture of your fans’ desires, goals, and habits. If you want lightning to strike twice, you’ll be able to launch a second, updated iteration in minutes. If you don’t know what kind of social marketing campaign your fans would like to enter next, why not run a poll and ask them?

Comic books continue to succeed because they continue. Social marketing campaigns will help your brand succeed in the same way.

Tip #5: Don’t stop. Whether your campaign hit every goal or fell short of the mark, keep climbing to the top. Have your next campaign ready to go within a month of your last, if not sooner, and remember that social marketing campaigns are about proving that you want to be fully engaged with your fans always, not just when you need something from them.  

To learn more about how social marketing campaigns can work for your brand, reach out to one of our product experts for a demo of Hootsuite Campaigns today.

And, in the words of Stan ‘The Man’ Lee…

Excelsior!