The summer season is just around the corner and, as always, is rife with potential successes and disappointments for every major studio. Let’s take a closer look at the social media indicators on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to try to ascertain the season’s biggest winners.
Our methodology here will be to look at three social media data points over the period of February 18–March 20 for all films opening between April 27 and August 31: the total number of tweets, the like increases for official Facebook pages, and the follower increases for official Instagram accounts. Over the past 12 to 18 months the surging popularity of Instagram, especially among users ages 12 to 25, has made the platform mandatory for most distributors; official Instagram accounts for releases are now the norm. In past years content pushed to these three major social media services were very similar, but as with most sophisticated marketing campaigns, those who embrace the differences among them and have different targeted content perform the best and reap the greatest rewards.
One point to note here is that, in general, films opening sooner rather than later have much larger marketing spend—and therefore stronger social media returns as their release nears. Due to this fact, our results show a clear bias toward films opening in the first half of summer, and most July and August releases have not yet started their marketing campaigns in earnest.
Cream of the Crop
There is little surprise that Avengers: Infinity War comes out on top among all other summer films. Its total tweets during our period of interest (1,834,836) and new Instagram followers (470,105) were strikingly more than all other summer wide releases combined. Its new Facebook likes (108,814) was second of all films, trailing just Overboard’s 161,497. There are many reasons for its dominance, including the engaging content across these different channels, the overall popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which is coming to a crescendo with 18 films leading up to Infinity War, as well as the fact that it comes on the heels of Black Panther, the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time in North America. It would be a big surprise if all these factors do not push Avengers: Infinity War into the season’s top earner spot.
The largely untapped box office potential of female-driven films continues to represent a big opportunity for major studios. Case in point: Ocean’s 8, with its female-led ensemble, occupies the second spot among all summer films in terms of social media tracking during our period of interest. The film’s ranking reveals a consistent finish on all three platforms—sixth on both Twitter and Instagram and ninth on Facebook. While it didn’t shine the brightest on social media, its even performance saw it eke out a slim lead ahead of other big-name films. Ocean’s 8 seems poised to be one of the surprise hits of the summer.
Fan favorite Deadpool 2 pulled down the third spot among all films, thanks largely to its very strong showing on Instagram with 121,127 new followers, good enough for second place among all summer openers. The first film in the franchise was a pioneer for social media in general with its creative and humorous campaign and the way it interacted with its fan base. Its total Instagram followers stands at over 2 million, which is one of the largest for any film franchise overall, and second only to Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is using the official Star Wars account with just under 9 million followers. The sequel appears set to walk in the footsteps of its predecessor, a film that proved there was an audience for R-rated superhero movies and big money potential in a February release.
Life of the Party was the fourth film in our matrix, with a consistent showing across all platforms. Results peaked with a sixth-place finish on Facebook with almost 11,000 new likes. Another key insight from our findings: female-led films accounted for 50 percent of the top four films in our social media anticipation index. Melissa McCarthy is no stranger to summer success, as she is one of the season’s most bankable stars. McCarthy has had a starring role in an $80 million–plus summer comedy in six of the last seven years. By the looks of things, she has a good chance of continuing the streak this year.
Uncle Drew, the Pepsi short film project turned feature film from NBA superstar Kyrie Irving, rounded out the top five with an inspired showing on Instagram and Twitter. This is a true dark horse for the summer, which might not be on the radar of many non-basketball fans. Prospects are high, however, thanks to the inclusion of some of the NBA’s biggest superstars from past and present. The hugely popular five-episode short film series behind it also gives this project a push, prompting us to think Irving & Co. could turn some heads come the film’s June release.
Solo: A Star Wars Story would have easily been in position No. 2 overall if not for its soft Facebook numbers. Given that the franchise Facebook page has almost 20 million likes in total, it’s safe to say that the skimpy increase in likes is not as significant as it would be for a film starting out with 100,000 likes. In other words, this shouldn’t be seen as a red flag: there is very little chance Solo won’t turn out to be a major hit.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fell into the same boat as Solo, with weak Facebook numbers dragging down its overall position. It also opens more than three months from when this column is being written, so its campaign is still in its infancy. The title’s overall box office tracking promises it will be one of the year’s top earners.
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! rounded out the top 10, with its strongest showing on Twitter with a second-place finish. Little surprise that its Instagram numbers were on the low end since its target audience should skew older. The film’s inclusion in our ranking also means that three of the top 10 films have female leads, a notable departure from previous years.
Awareness and buzz-generation has evolved in recent years, and different social media platforms have seen varying degrees of adoption by users. While established platforms such as Twitter and Facebook remain important, younger audiences are increasingly using Instagram and others such as Snapchat and Tumblr. A multipronged social media strategy is therefore more important than ever, as user demographics evolve across different platforms. The exhibitors and distributors who embrace the differences of each platform have a clear road map for reaching different audience segments through their prerelease marketing campaigns.