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#SHARKNADO – Social Media’s Perfect Storm

Posted on: July 15th, 2013 by Kari Hulley | No Comments

Warning: This blog post is riddled with questionably funny puns (if only I was more like Lisa Mokaba).

Sharknado is the Syfy made-for-TV movie that took the Twitterverse – and the world – by, well, storm last Thursday night. In case the title left anything to conjecture, the movie is about sharks in a tornado (check out this 2-minute video synopsis from the Huffington Post). As the Guardian’s Alan Yuhas said, “the deliberate badness of it is charming.”

Putting my own debilitating – and slightly embarrassing – fear of sharks aside, this swirling cyclone of bloodthirsty fish quickly became a social media phenomenon, a “pundemic” the likes of which Twitter has never seen before. Sharknado “tore up” Twitter, generating over 318,232 tweets during its original broadcast, reaching a peak of over 5,000 tweets per minute. Fun fact: the film came within 2,500 tweets of tying the Game of Thrones infamous “Red Wedding” episode. Take a bite out of that!

What’s more, this little shark tale managed to get everyone from Buzzfeed to Mashable to The New Yorker to jump on the bandwagon and join the conversation – a feat usually attained only by major sporting events, political debates and the occasional act of war.

All of this begs the question, how did this low-budget B-list movie become the hottest film of the summer and coined “the show that ate the Internet?” Here are five takeaways from the Sharknado sensation that PR professionals can really sink their teeth into:

1.       Be honest & clear.

As Beth predicted at the close of 2012, in public relations transparency trumps spin. While it is a PR professional’s job to position a company in the best possible light, this must always be done in an honest manner. Sharknado is a great (albeit humorous) example of how putting it all out there from the get-go can work to your advantage. As Jacqueline Andriakos at Entertainment Weekly said, “The title doesn’t attempt to fool the audience… The characters speak entirely in elementary dialogue and tornado-fish puns.” But that’s why we love it.

2.       Tell your story in a unique way.

Breaking through the clutter of media messages and social channels is PR’s job. But getting the attention of your target audience is more difficult than ever before. In Sharkado’s case, some argue that the movie is actually political commentary reminding us of the ever-increasing dangerous effects of global warming and devastating potential of Mother Nature. If that was indeed the underlying purpose they did a “fin-tastic” job. Beth articulated this (far more eloquently) in another post, “Want Headlines? Have a Unique Viewpoint, and Tell it Well.

3.       Use visuals.

It is important for PR professionals to remember that text is not the only way to promote your client and their story. Visual content — infographics, motion graphics, slideshows, photos, videos, etc. – are increasingly popular ways for companies to get their point across quickly and succinctly. The majority of reporters and bloggers tweeting about #Sharknado had twitpics of the shark-infested tornado movie-promo attached – for added drama and effect. Now, in the aftermath of the storm – Buzzfeed and others are going crazy with the best of the worst clips and short movie reels. All these visuals are keeping the social phenomenon alive.

4.       Build smart social buzz.  

It is critical to embrace social. As The Pew State of News Media 2013 Report suggests, today it is just as important to get the press to pay attention as it is to get your target audience’s attention on their social streams. Twitter data editor Simon Rogers wrote that “the conversation didn’t come out of nowhere… there has been tweeting around #Sharknado since it was announced last year.” And a large part of the success was due to Syfy SVP of digital Craig Engler using Twitter leading into the airing of Sharknado to start building the buzz among the network’s followers.

 5.       Bring in expert commentary.

“The thing that transformed an otherwise normal Syfy campfest into a Level 5 Sharknado, however, was the participation of Twitter A-listers,” said Mashable’s Pete Pachal. Wil Wheaton tweeted a Vine counting down to the movie to his 2.4 million followers, then proceeded to live-tweet during the movie. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, Patton Oswalt and Mia Farrow all contributed to Sharknado successfully “chewing up” the evening. In PR, a well-known expert can add a great deal of credibility to your client’s story and unique point-of-view. What’s more, a re-tweet from a target reporter with thousands of followers can lead to more publicity than a byline article.

While some are left wondering if a Sharknado can really happen, I think we all can agree: we love to hate sharks but “Sharks in a tornado. Sharknado. Simply stunning.

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