There aren’t many people I idolize, but Conan O’Brien is definitely one of them. He’s a Massachusetts-bred, Harvard-educated comedy genius. He wrote for my favorite show, The Simpsons, when it was easily the best show on TV. After his stint at The Simpsons, he somehow edged his way into late-night comedy as a host of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and eventually made it to “the big chair” when he became the host of the coveted “Tonight Show.”
Conan’s zany characters (who can forget the Masturbating Bear or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?) just didn’t play well in the earlier timeslot because they didn’t connect with older, Jay Leno-loving audience. So in early 2010, when we all learned that Conan would be leaving NBC, the internet erupted and Conan O’Brien became a folk hero. Since then, he’s learned to harness the power of social media to create buzz for his new show, and he’s done it well enough to be crowned King of Social Media by Fast Company, which is no easy feat in the “Year of Old Spice.” Everyone can learn a thing or two about marketing from Conan O’Brien.
Listen to your fans
I remember when Conan quit amidst the rumors of Jay Leno reclaiming his old timeslot. #TeamConan was trending on Twitter for days, and #TeamJay was nowhere to be found. The groundswell of support happened on Facebook too. Conan had the support of the entire internet; the “cause” went viral. It was almost as if Conan was a stand-in for the American worker; he was a very talented, very qualified man who had been fired from his job in a recession. We related to him, and we supported him.
Without trying, Conan’s team crowdsourced promotional material from the mob of angry-but-supportive fans. Team Coco absorbed fan-made support into its promotional strategy. “Team Coco” became more than just a hashtag; it became a movement, and later an official blog. Sometimes, it’s okay to ride the wave of support. Often, customers and fans can be used to help determine your brand’s strategy…isn’t that what market research is all about?
Get creative with social media
Conan created his own Twitter account. He has a strong following on Facebook and Tumblr, where his team tells jokes and promotes Conan. He has a Youtube channel where he answers questions from fans (brands have learned some tricks from Old Spice). He also has a blimp (oh, the humanity!). The Conan Blimp is floating around the East Coast, and if you’re lucky enough to check-in on Foursqure at a venue where the blimp is checked-in at, you get a special badge.
Conan is using nearly every popular social networking platform to spread his Goofy Gospel. It’s a good example of how any brand can use social media to its benefit if it gets creative enough. If your brand’s audience is active on social media, then you should be attempting to interact with them.
Combine paid and earned media
Conan has been famous since before the internet became popular. He didn’t start out “internet-famous.” He put in a lot of work, cultivated his fan base on TV, and it all paid off for him when he needed it. His team also used many television ads, an in-person road show (aptly titled the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour”), and print ads to promote the new show. This is a very good lesson to remember: the best campaigns usually have a mix of paid and earned media to get their message to the consumer. Don’t forget that the Old Spice Guy first started out on a TV commercial before he blew up over the internet. It’s easy to have 15 minutes of fame on the internet; it’s much more difficult to turn those 15 minutes into a lasting benefit for the brand.
As I write this, Conan’s team just ended a 24-hour live webcam. They did some very strange, very wonderful things in those 24 hours: Bearobics, a dancing taco, a zombie attack, and intern twister, all while taking some direction from fans. It was another great use of social media and the internet by Team Coco. I watched a ton of it because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I definitely won’t be missing out on Conan’s return to the small screen on November 8th. Welcome back, Coco!
Are you as happy as I am that Conan is returning? What other celebrities have used social media well?
I love Bob Dylan’s music. I once tried to turn in a paper relating “Like a Rolling Stone” to colonialism (it didn’t go over so well). For most of college, I lived and breathed his story, his music, and his life. There’s something so hopeful, so invigorating about some kid from Minnesota moving to New York with nothing but a guitar and a head full of ideas and somehow succeeding. His music always spoke to a greater understanding about the world than one person could ever have; the melodies he creates and words he links together evoke the past, present, and future of America. Here are a few lessons about marketing that you can learn from Bob Dylan.
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