– Executive Director of Social Media Adri Cowan and her team subdivide the Marvel audience into five broad demographics to make targeting content to its varied fanbase more achievable.
– The brand embraces having a different tone across platforms and among its different social media accounts, and uses a mix of educational, lifestyle and trends content.
– Don’t be afraid to adapt and pivot: after fans showed disinterest in user-generated content on TikTok, Cowan’s team reinvented this aspect of their strategy for the short-form video platform.
The social media universe of Marvel is as varied as the multiverse of its comics.
From planning for different social platforms and their varied requirements, to connecting with a diverse array of fan demographics, to juggling characters and universes from a host of media such as films, comics, and video games; Marvel’s social media has to balance a multitude of different requirements and goals.
At Econsultancy Live: April 2023, Marvel Entertainment’s Executive Director of Social Media, Adri Cowan, took to the stage to walk the audience through Marvel’s social media strategy and how she navigates these challenges. In her presentation, she explained the personas she uses to connect with different demographics, and how Marvel balances evergreen and trends-related content in order to stay top-of-mind.
She also outlined three key tenets for implementing a “multi-versal, multi-generational content strategy”:
1) From the ‘die-hard fan’ to the ‘family bridge’: know your audience and what they want from you
When Cowan joined Marvel, she recalled that, “it was the first time in my career that I had an audience clamouring for more information and content and entertainment. So the strategy wasn’t follower acquisition per se, but to keep our organic followers fed with content and entertainment and news.”
And there are a lot of followers: Cowan reported that in March, Marvel reached a combined total of 285 million followers across its four core platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. The brand has an official presence on various other social networks and YouTube, but these four are the social team’s main focus.
So, how to produce social content that appeals to such a massive fanbase from a wide range of demographics? Cowan explained that her team divides the audience into five segments based on their history with the brand and how they interact with it:
- The ‘die-hard fan’: what it says on the tin (primarily active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube)
- The ‘nostalgic casual fan’: formerly a die-hard fan who has let their Marvel fan identity go, but is nostalgic for it (primarily active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube)
- The ‘family bridge’: is interested in Marvel products and events on behalf of their family (primarily active on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest)
- The ‘MCU fan’ or ‘Marvel curious’: interested primarily in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and comics featuring those characters (primarily active on YouTube and TikTok)
- The ‘young pop culture fan’: interested in community and a non-traditional pop culture brand experience (primarily active on Instagram and TikTok)
“Now, we have a juggernaut of a challenge creating content for all of these audiences, varying in style and approach based on platform and how we want to reach them,” said Cowan. Marvel produces a mixture of evergreen content, which can be planned at least a year in advance; and trend-based content, which is more reactive, on-the-fly and unplanned. The content is divided into three main strands with different goals:
Educational content (how to draw, what to read…)
Primarily catering to die-hard fans, nostalgic casual fans and the Marvel-curious, educational content is designed to inform or teach a skill, such as how to draw a certain character in the Marvel style, or where to begin reading the comics for a particular character’s backstory.
“We want to guide new, returning and die-hard fans to the stories that really build off their interest,” Cowan explained. Educational content is typically longer-form, and performs best on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Entertainment or lifestyle content shows fans how to incorporate Marvel (and its products) into their everyday lives, such as an influencer showcase of Multiverse of Madness merchandise, or a video showing how to make a Marvel-themed brunch.
Other content is simply for fun, such as a video that Cowan referred to as her “personal opus”: positive aspirations from the cast of ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’.
Relax your mind, and prepare for some positive affirmations with the cast of Marvel Studios’ ThorLoveAndThunder. ❤️⚡ #Marvel
Engagement content (trends, memes, challenges)
Engagement content, which caters mainly to younger fans, plays off current trends, memes and social media challenges to keep the Marvel brand top-of-mind and keep fans responsive and interactive. For example, Marvel leaned into the ‘get ready with me’ trend with a humorous stop-motion video featuring the Scarlet Witch:
Cowan noted that most of the content she was showcasing was video-based, “but really that’s what social is, right now.” Sometimes older archive videos that were produced for YouTube are recut for social media, but Cowan emphasised that this isn’t as simple as making the videos vertically-oriented.
“We take all of the old footage and send it to our editor, who recuts it … People think that that’s really easy to do – ‘just cut it vertical’. It’s not: it’s making an entirely new kind of video.”
2) ‘Speak the language’
Marvel’s social team recognise the importance of ‘speaking the language’ on each of the platforms they post to. “We embrace having different voices on each platform because it helps us communicate effectively to the users across our ecosystem,” said Cowan.
‘Speaking the language’ on social media is about having the right video format, length, cadence, copy and messaging for each social network. Different accounts within the same platform may also have different ‘voices’: the Twitter account for Marvel’s Unlimited comics app, for example, has a very trendy, meme-y tone, created by Marvel’s Associate Manager of Social Media, who is Generation Z.
We embrace having different voices on each platform because it helps us communicate effectively to the users across our ecosystem.
“She’s so brilliant, she really does the internet speak,” said Cowan, sharing just example of how her team uses the vernacular on Twitter – incorporating Taylor Swift quotes, such as in the post below.
“So on Twitter, on Marvel Unlimited, we are Swifties, and we keep our eye out for trends that we hop onto with some comic panels that relate.”
Peter Parker's entire life: all very mercury in retrograde coded pic.twitter.com/01pejjjzle
— Marvel Unlimited (@MarvelUnlimited) April 24, 2023
3) Be adaptable (revamping the Marvel TikTok strategy)
Cowan and her team didn’t immediately hit the nail on the head with their TikTok content. In the brand’s first year on TikTok, one strand of their content strategy for the platform went over poorly with TikTok users – user-generated content.
“We met with the TikTok reps and got all of the insight from them and best practices,” she said. “And so I thought, leaning into our community of the MCU – and the Marvel community on TikTok – would be brilliant. We’re going to get them to create content for us, and we’re going to post it on our feed.
“What happened was it turned out our fans hated seeing human beings on our account – unless it was someone like Chris Hemsworth or Elizabeth Olsen or Tom Hiddleston,” Cowan recalled. “And so it ended up becoming our lowest-performing content – by ‘performing’, I mean views.”
The team kept up the user-generated strand of their TikTok strategy for a year to measure the results, and then pivoted in the new fiscal year. “Thankfully, I have leadership that understands that this is how digital content works,” said Cowan. “We need to have some trial and error and be able to pivot and try new things.”
Marvel’s official TikTok presence is now dedicated solely to higher-performing content like animation and MCU-related material – and no hosted videos.
During the audience Q&A, one attendee asked how Cowan balances adapting to trends and publishing more reactive content within the bounds of the brand approval process. Cowan confirmed that there are multiple layers of approval for anything related to Marvel’s films, but products like comics and games are less sensitive, and so approval is not always needed.
“However, we do have a brand assurance team that wants to take a look at our content whenever we’re showing our characters being used in a certain way, and making sure that it’s keeping to each brand guideline for that character,” Cowan said. For instance, Captain America is an aspirational and serious character, so a parody wouldn’t be in keeping with his brand guideline. However, for a character like Deadpool, content can be much more off-the-wall and outlandish.
“I give my team the freedom to create their content, and then they run it by me for approvals,” Cowan summarised. Marvel’s social media team is also responsible for approving content for every other licensee or department that touches the Marvel brand. “We have a whole system of social review where we need to look at it, send it to Legal, Brand Assurance, all of that.”
Registration is now open for our next Econsultancy Live event, taking place on 16th November at Kings Place, London. Members can claim a complimentary place – so don’t miss out!