Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter recently announced he'd be flying two of his blog and Twitter followers to L.A. to watch an episode of the show at his house. It's extreme, for sure, but it's also the perfect example of an unconventional way for showrunners to engage with fans. Below, Kendall Aliment of ID-PR suggests five creative ways for showrunners to interact with viewers, and maximize their exposure in the process.
1. Stay connected all week long. Remember: Your show is only on for (at the most) 42 minutes a week, but fans need to be connected to your content during all the days in between. Ask yourself, "What can I give them that's going to keep them engrossed in the characters and interested in tuning in every week?"
2. Put casting and creative elements into the community's hands. For example, if you're looking for a new piece of art to hang in a character's bedroom on set, post a call to action and have people send in their work. Showrunners have an amazing opportunity to crowdsource, since they're the ones who get to dictate what's going to be on the air.
3. Encourage the entire crew to participate. Sometimes it's the writers, directors and producers that have the most interesting information to share, as they are the ones creating the stories. We've seen on Twitter that some of the funniest, most entertaining voices on a show (and the most followed accounts) are the people behind the scenes. Try live-tweeting an episode from the writers' room or the director's chair. These people provide a totally different perspective and can give fun insights about, say, which jokes were cut and why, alternate endings and teasers into what we might expect in next week's episode.
4. Don't want to tweet in real time? No problem! One of the big concerns we see from showrunners is that they don't want anyone to post from set for fear of giving away story lines, new characters, cliff-hangers etc. It's understandable. In these cases, we encourage talent and crew members to capture tons of photos and video clips on set and then be discretionary when uploading. Have them post anything that isn't "sensitive," such as photos of rehearsal or of castmates in hair and makeup or hanging out between takes. Then ask them to catalog everything that might be considered a "spoiler" until the week that specific show airs. It will also help to build buzz around a specific episode.
5. Think of ways to reach new audiences. Last year, No Ordinary Family hired Shaycarl, a huge YouTube personality from Maker Studios, to guest-star on an episode. During filming, and prior to the show airing, he posted YouTube videos about it, and promoted it all over his Facebook and Twitter. His whole community — more than 1 million subscribers — were motivated to tune in and support the show, and No Ordinary Family saw a huge spike in ratings that week that they could only attribute to his guest appearance. So when you're casting, think outside the box — don't just go for another actor. Go for someone who has a strong, supportive online community. It's a way to deliver your show to a whole new audience.
Kendall Aliment works on the Digital Strategy team at ID-PR, a digital, entertainment and brand communications agency.