Going Viral: What Star Wars Did to its New Stars on Social Media
Described by Wikipedia as an “epic space opera” and by Star Wars fans as a huge relief, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is on track to be the biggest movie of all time. Leads Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) were relatively unknown before the premiere and are now megastars.
How has big screen success affected Ridley and Boyega on social media? Does silver screen fame transfer to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?
Marketers can learn a lot from the two new stars’ patterns of virality, but let’s get down to what’s really important. Who’s winning on social media: the dark side or the light?
Image courtesy StarWars Wikia
A New Hope
Let’s set the scene: A long time ago, John Boyega had the foresight to join Twitter well before his Force Awakens costars. In 2015, Daisy Ridley joined Instagram and both created Facebook fan pages. Adam Driver avoided the social media limelight all together (method character preparation for the dark side?).
Before the premiere, Daisy’s Instagram account had reached 200,000 followers and Boyega had attracted 226,000 followers on Twitter. Judging Boyega’s account by its size, however, can be misleading; John had an anemic .1 replies per tweet. As shown in the visualization of retweets from January 1 to December 1 2015 below, Boyega’s pre-premiere engagement was low for his large following.
Daisy, an amateur Instagrammer, fared far better than Boyega before the premiere at an average of 571 comments per post to John’s .1 Twitter replies. Ridley also pulled ahead on Facebook. In December, her Facebook page had a 72% engagement rate (15,072 likes, comments, or shares per post) to John’s 56% rate (7,573 engagements per post).
Image courtesy StarWars Wikia
Did silver screen fame translate into social media virality after the Force Awakens premiere? There was a huge awakening for the stars after the premiere and they felt it on social media.As shown in the visualization below, made using Crowdbabble, Daisy Ridley’s engagement spiked on Instagram after opening night.
The giant spike in likes and comments for Ridley’s Instagram, above, shows fans whose engagement with Ridley and her character in the movie theater eager to continue to engage online. Ridley now has more than 1,000,000 Instagram followers, and Boyega has 383,000 on Twitter.
Boyega’s pattern of virality on Twitter, below, is strikingly similar.
After the premiere, engagement soared for Boyega: he now attracts .5 replies per tweet and 38% of his posts are shared more than 100 times, up from 30%. Boyega engaged with his social media following with a fun video of him surprising fans, which he tweeted and shared on Facebook. It became his most-liked tweet and Facebook post ever.
Boyega and Ridley’s “candid” posts — like the poorly lit, handheld smartphone video above — are the most successful. The polished movie-star mask? Boyega and Ridley’s followers say they don’t need it.
Social media is strongest with Ridley: her Instagram following outpaces Boyega’s on Twitter by 617,000 fans. The two stars are still learners, but it’s clear that they’re beginning to master Twitter and Instagram. Virality on the stars’ more corporate Facebook accounts? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Growth on Facebook was much slower. In December — when fans were willing to like everything they posted — Ridley and Boyega shared just 10 and 12 updates respectively. As shown below, in a graph made using Crowdbabble, Ridley didn’t share anything on her public Facebook page in the critical days after the premiere.
Similarly, Boyega shared nothing on Facebook for six days post-premiere. That’s not how social media works! Ridley and Boyega now boast about 310,000 and 146,000 Facebook likes respectively, but for stars in the biggest movie of all time, the numbers could be higher. The first order of business the week after the premiere should have been to post every day on all platforms, to turn the hype into a lasting following.
Adam Driver’s Facebook fan page, not under his control, lags well behind his light side counterparts at just 21,266 likes. But what about Kylo Ren?
The Empire Strikes Back
While the franchise’s new stars have been slow to gain momentum on social media, the characters they play are going viral. Rey and Finn might be a big deal in the resistance, but Kylo Ren and Darth Vader are a bigger deal on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Even counting Yoda, the light side can’t keep up.
Satirical account Emo Kylo Ren (@KyloR3n) went viral four days after the premiere, with more than 600,000 likes, comments, or retweets:
The whining cape-wearer has captured many of the series’ fans and mock-fans by turning Kylo Ren into a hilariously angry teenager.
At 155,127 average daily likes and retweets, plus 608,000 followers, Emo Kylo Ren is well ahead @FinnfromStarWar (the biggest Finn account) or Rey (@ScavengerJedi).
The resistance is also floundering on Facebook. Finn and Rey’s Fictional Character pages are trailing Kylo Ren’s by more than 70,000 likes.
Rookies Finn and Rey are also no match for wookie Chewbacca, whose Public Figure page has 208,000 fans, or Han Solo, who has 44,923.
The old-guard rebels are much more successful than the resistance on social media. A clear indicator that Finn and Rey aren’t reaching their potential on social media is that Jar Jar Binks’ Fictional Character Facebook page has four times the fans of Rey’s: 20,876 to her 4,428.
On social media, the dark side wins — but the franchise as a whole is losing. Added together, dark side and light, Star Wars’ stars and characters have surprisingly low fan numbers. With millions of movie tickets sold, shouldn’t they have millions of likes?
When the Resistance and the First Order Both Lose
A viral sensation that began on social media, like Alex from Target, only attracts more fans as it snowballs and is picked up in old media (TV, radio). After appearances on TV following his breakthrough on Twitter, Alex from Target now enjoys more than 739,000 followers on the platform and 1.8 million on Instagram. That’s more than seven times the original number of people who engaged with the initial tweet that made him viral.
How does Daisy Ridley, star of the biggest movie in the world, have 800,000 fewer Instagram followers than Alex Lee, a teenage Target cashier? Ridley’s Instagram following has gone from 400,000 to 1,000,000 over the past two weeks, but growth is slowing down.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, unlike Alex from Target, started in old media and moved onto social. Rather than gaining users along the way, it lost them. The Force Awakens has lost millions of viewers/users between movie engagement and social media engagement. Adoration for Rey and Finn, it seems, doesn’t make it from the silver screen to the computer screen. They haven’t translated into interest in updates on Daisy and John’s personal lives and projects via their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
Why didn’t LucasFilm launch social media accounts for all new characters? Publishing Facebook pages for Rey and Finn before the movie’s release would have been an exciting Like for Star Wars fans. After the release, character pages could have kept movie viewers engaged — and acted as a bridge between adored characters and the (relatively) unknown stars who play them. Fans were as ready to engage with Finn and Rey on social media as they were in theatres. Below, Ridley’s most engaging Instagram hashtags (collected using Crowdbabble):
The three most popular hashtags are related to Rey. Ridley’s followers are most likely to engage with her when she invokes her character.
Now, where they exist at all, character pages are in the hands of fans inept at promoting beloved characters — like Chewie’s blogspam-filled Facebook page — or intent on skewering hated ones (see: Jar Jar Binks on Twitter).
The lack of character accounts for the compelling leads of The Force Awakens, curated by the teams that created them, is a missed opportunity for the franchise and its fans.
Brands are often overly cautious about meddling in their fandoms because fans enjoy discovering creating content themselves. As proven by Tim Tai and Alex from Target, it’s grassroots, bottom-up virality that sticks. Ridley and Boyega’s candid shots, as well as Emo Kylo Ren’s complaining, make them come across like eager participants in a beloved storyline, not polished products of a huge business.
Was Star Wars’ box office boom reflected on social media after the premiere? Ridley and Boyega — and the franchise as a whole — were only partially successful. On social media, there is no try: engagement suffers when posts are infrequent and half-hearted. This seems to be a lesson that the dark side (like Emo Kylo Ren) has learned, but the light side has not.
Episode VIII does not come out until May 2017. That’s plenty of time for Ridley, Boyega, and their resistance counterparts rally against the first order and live up to their viral potential… Or for Darth Vader and Emo Kylo Ren to continue to triumph, and finish what they started.