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How can a 75 year-old company, whose very business is completely ingrained in traditional print media, remain relevant and engage with its audience in the digital age?

I asked this question last month in How does Marvel Comics use social media?

Marvel has played a huge part in the push to build a bridge between print and digital content since mid-2012, through innovative app design and comprehensive online and offline access to its brand new and vintage comics.

Marvel has also shown incredible skill in rebuilding its own brand through the expert creation of content and marketing this huge amount of content online, through its various and well-tailored social media channels.

At the helm of all of Marvel's social media activity is Adri Cowan, who I talked to today about her role within the company, Marvel’s social strategy and its plans for the future.

Can you explain what your role is within Marvel and the tasks you concentrate on daily?

I'm the social media manager, which means I work with our digital team to develop the social strategy, plan and schedule content, and engage with our audience on all official Marvel accounts, including the Twitter and Facebook pages for Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Hulk and the rest.

This is in addition to the Marvel brand Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Google+, as well as our customer support channel @MarvelSupport.

How did you get the job, did you already have training or experience? 

I've had about nine years’ experience in marketing/PR and seven in social media (it didn't exist before then!) I've also been involved in the comic book and publishing industry for several years, so my blogging experience and knowledge of that universe helped.

My past in publishing, technology and pop culture made for a great fit for this gig, but the real key was my network, and the fact that I was on the radar of the folks hiring when a position opened. I'm thankful for that!

Are you part of a bigger editorial team? If a user is talking to Marvel, are they always talking to you?

Yes, an awesome, hard-working and brilliant team.

Ryan Penagos is the guy heading up our digital/editorial team, along with editors, writers, video team and producers and staff on both U.S. coasts, and we all work together to create interesting content for both the website and our social channels.

And yes, if someone is talking to Marvel or any of the movie pages it's usually me, though Ryan and Marc (our guy in L.A.) also talks to folks.

What do you feel the importance of social media is for Marvel? Was there a natural instinct to adopt social media, or did it take specific strategising?

For what we do at Marvel, social media is one of the most important ways to reach our audience.

The thing about Marvel is that we're not just comic books, of course, we're movies, TV, games, toys and everything else, so we have to pay attention to the different demographics and the multitude of topics that our fans are interested in. 

What a hardcore comic book fan cares about may not appeal to a casual Marvel movie fan, so it's our job to figure out ways to make it accessible for everyone, and guide casual fans to other awesome Marvel stuff they'll like.

There's also so much news and so many different books and projects that social media is simply the best way to disseminate lots of information to an engaged party. 

I personally did not build the social strategy at Marvel; that was Ryan Penagos, or @AgentM, who really helmed the idea.

I think a lot of it at first, as it was with many companies, was jumping in to social media and rolling with it, learning the platforms, and then devising a solid strategy over time like the one we have now.

Marvel has so much going on, in terms of going concerns - comics, films, TV, licensed products - how on Earth do you juggle all of those in the limited time and space you have? is there a hierarchy or priority for one over the other?

You're right – we have a ton going on! It's why we have such meaty social media; we typically have 10-20 Tweets or Facebook posts throughout the day.

And while I'd usually advise a brand or personality to simmer down with all that, it works for us because we have an audience that's hungry for the news and content – and that makes all the difference.

As for a hierarchy, the bulk of our social media real estate goes to whatever film is out currently, and the next one on deck.

That goes for any other properties supporting it – so for Captain America, it would be Cap-themed products, comic books and lots of film promotion. Same goes for comic books; it's all about what's out currently and what's next.

How free are you to adopt your own tone of voice, or tweet your own opinion through the Marvel social channel?

We keep the Marvel brand accounts to a more professional, neutral voice with a twist of humor.

It's why we have @AgentM and my own Twitter handle, @AdriCowan, where we can speak in our own voices and share things in a different, more personal way.

I think that works for many brands and is the best method. Depending on the account, however, we do get to have fun – Ryan Penagos and a couple other employees are the guys behind the Deadpool Twitter and can Tweet in their voice; we do the same with Iron Man and occasionally Hulk.

Are there any other brands that you feel are doing as great a job of engaging as Marvel?

Star Wars has fantastic engagement; and I love what Eat24 has been doing.

Charmin's social media accounts acknowledge that they're toilet paper and play along, which is important. A sense of humanity and humor is everything.

Is there a social network you feel is achieving the greatest success for Marvel? Is there one that you feel could do better? 

This isn't a cop-out answer, I swear – but I find it difficult to choose one over the other.

Each account we run has its own way of reaching an audience; we sometimes have different content for each, and I think that's important.

I personally have been loving the way our Instagram audience has been building, and it's clear that many of the users there don't necessarily follow us on Facebook or Twitter – they're younger, which is great for growing a fandom.

Are their plans for adopting different social networks in the future?

I think that's always a plan – as networks or platforms roll out that makes sense for our brand, we'll always be game to try it.

It's obviously important to stay on the cusp of where people are and what they're using. And if our audience is there, then we'll certainly figure out if we should be there too and how.

Are there any characters you're desperate to see transformed to the cinematic universe?

I wish I could answer this :)

You can find Adri on Twitter.

For more on Marvel from the blog, check out How Marvel is revolutionising comic books with digital and Building a brand the mighty Marvel way.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 22 April, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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