One of the key challenges for any brand’s social media strategy is to create a sense of community and loyalty among its fans. Sometimes, that community already exists and the job of the social media leaders is to start engaging those people in new channels of communication. That’s what social media training and strategy firm Socialized! did when it was approached by Wizard World, the business that puts on “Comic Con” in cities across the U.S.

With the Philadelphia Comic Con coming up this weekend, we spoke with Shane Gibson, the co-founder and chief social officer at Socialized!, about how his company helped Wizard World to develop and strengthen the social media community around regional Comic Cons. Gibson said that the goals laid out for Wizard World were to grow the reach of the brand on Twitter and Facebook, to create an alliance of influencers to promote the events on social, and to generate more revenue for the event’s sponsors by getting them involved on social as well. Here’s how they did it, with the help of pop culture and committed fans all across the country.

Work With Your Fans Toward One Goal

One of the highlights of Socialized!’s plan was to tap into the existing network of Comic Con fans. “The pop cultural fan base is massive online,” Gibson said. “Tens of thousands of people attend these shows and have amazing experiences. Wizard World wanted to make sure that those people told millions via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.”

The challenge was to get those fans talking on social, and Twitter became a hub of conversations related to Wizard World and its events. Socialized! pursued many different facets of Twitter chats in order to reach and appeal to the broadest number of potential supporters. One successful route to engaging more fans was to have some of the celebrities scheduled to appear at the Cons host Twitter chats. For example, pop culture icons such as Sean Patrick Flanery from Boondock Saints or the Bella Twins of WWE ran discussions with the #wizardchat hashtag. Gibson said that when those celebrities promoted the chats to their own feeds, that generated a big boost in interest and traffic.

Another approach to getting attendees involved ahead of time was to incentivize existing fan groups of people who shared common interests and met up in person. These organizations were already booking tables at the events and talking amongst themselves, but Wizard World found an opportunity to involve them on a bigger level. The company ran a contest offering a free booth on the main floor to the group that drove the most social traffic. Gibson said that traffic included videos views on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook click-throughs, and analysis of individual Twitter accounts.

At the event, people who posted photos with the #wizardworld hashtag were automatically entered in a contest to win related prizes. Not only did this help build the number of impressions and engagement Wizard World experienced, but by sharing glimpses of the event with their followers, Gibson noted that other people started to get excited about their local Comic Con events in the process.

All of these projects increased the number of people talking about and attending the events. In turn, their presence led to more energy and excitement on the show floor, making a better event for them personally, and for the organizers, financially.

Get Influencers and Sponsors on Your Side

The second goal of this social media program was to directly communicate with highly influential fans and get their support for the Cons. Socialized! leveraged Twitter’s internal features as well as outside tools to keep track of potential influencers to bring on board. The Wizard World chats and contests were another way for the team to connect with passionate fans. “We can run an analysis of the audience and pull out those people who had larger reach and more engagement and foster relationships with them,” Gibson said.

The process of finding and courting influencers boiled down to building relationships, Gibson said. “You connect with fans on Twitter, treat them well, engage them personally at the event, and give them a permanent reason to engage,” he explained.

The final prong of the plan included looping corporate sponsors into the social media presence. Gibson said most of the companies approached were enthusiastic about joining the social push. “Wizard World’s sales team did a great job at getting its existing sponsors and vendors engaged,” he said. “The ability to offer an integrated sponsorship package at a Wizard World Comic Con was very appealing.”

Companies that signed on to be part of the social push received extra exposure on many different channels. Gibson said that included tweets from @WizardWorld, posts on the regional and national Facebook Pages, and a presence in the Wizard World app, plus more traditional promotions such as email, contests and signage.

Getting Results 

The program was largely successful in achieving its three goals. Over the course of nine months, Wizard World’s Facebook reach grew over 300% across all of its Pages. Online impressions and engagement on Twitter also saw marked improvement, with Gibson crediting those numbers to the related hashtag promotions.

The influencer network was a stable source of social media traffic, and Gibson said that many of those people have remained vocal supporters of the Cons. “In places like Austin and Portland where Wizard World helped specific influencer events and promotions last year, it already has an engaged group of social media influencers waiting to get involved and spread the word for the next one,” he said. And on the corporate side, while he was not able to give any hard figures for specific vendors, Gibson said that the continued growth of Wizard World’s digital presence would allow the company to pursue “more creative and social marketing opportunities to its vendors and partners.”

Gibson emphasized how crucial the group effort approach was to the program’s success. “The PR, marketing, and sales teams all worked together to get the word out via blogger outreach, traditional press releases, and of course social media,” he said. Beyond the teams at Socialized! and Wizard World, the theory behind their plans was to unite many people behind the Comic Cons. Whether it was the “cosplaying” fans or the hosts of company booths, this campaign encouraged the whole Comic Con community to work together to make the best and most profitable experience possible for all involved.

He also said the point of the program was to build long-term results. “It was more than a campaign,” he said. “Campaigns have a beginning and end, and this was about permanently building and growing an online presence and integrated marketing approach.” Gibson noted that the team dutifully curated content from the event online after the fact. “More is happening than the Wizard World team could ever document on-site,” he said. “Engaging the community was absolutely vital to really amplify the event.”

[Image credits: Shane Gibson]