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“Decoding” Social Media


Published on March 7, 2023, at 11:17 a.m.
by Jenna Richardson.

The internet has its own lingo. Between internet slang, jokes, memes and viral content, users have created an intricate and confusing web of information. If you grew up with it, this internet lingo is like a first language. If you did not, it can be difficult to decipher.

Photo by Shahadat Rahman via Unsplash

For businesses, decoding this social media language can be vital to shared media strategy. Many have realized the power of social media monitoring and scanning. If done right, organizations can catch on to trends and use them for promotion. In a world where social media reigns supreme, especially among younger generations, “decoding” social media trends can make an organization successful.

However, with great opportunity comes the great risk of failure. A misunderstood tweet or incorrectly executed trend can make a company the laughingstock of the internet. Recent examples within the film industry shows us the influence this social media decoding can have on the success of a campaign.

It’s Morbin Time: How internet memes tricked Sony into a rerelease

Sony’s motion picture “Morbius,” based on a Marvel Comics character, was released in April 2022. The movie starred famous actors including Jared Leto and Matt Smith and had a passable box office performance. It grossed $163 million worldwide, including just $74 million domestically, and had a budget of $75 million. This means “Morbius” didn’t break even domestically and only made $88 million in total, a low number compared to other comic book adaptations.

Then the memes began. All over the internet, people began to make content about “Morbius.” Phrases like “It’s Morbin Time” and hashtags like #MorbiusSweep took over the internet. The joke was rooted in pretending that “Morbius” was the most iconic and financially successful movie ever (“Avatar” who?). Leto even got in on the trend, although many users didn’t appreciate his contribution.

Sony’s mistake was failing to realize that the internet was laughing at the company, not with it. In response to the memes and the newfound popularity of the film, Sony decided to rerelease “Morbius” in over 1,000 theaters in June 2022. It was a box office

Photo by Simon Ray via Unsplash

flop again and only made $280,000 total, which is roughly $270 per theater.

Sony failed to decode what social media users were saying. Learning to understand an audience and its relationship with the organization is vital to its success in public relations. Whether Sony’s PR team didn’t catch the joke, or Sony executives failed to listen, the result was a failed rerelease and millions of dollars potentially lost.

Though “Morbius” did not profit from its interaction with social media, other movies have become box office successes because of the attention they got online.

Meet “M3GAN”: How social media content led to box office success

When thinking of a recent example of a movie using social media to its advantage, nothing looms quite as large as “M3GAN.” The film was released in January 2023 and has enjoyed immense box-office success. Currently, the film has made over $171 million worldwide, including over $94 million domestically. The film’s budget was $12 million. It is projected to make more before leaving theaters and has already exceeded expectations.

The film’s success couldn’t have happened without its social media team. Social media buzz over the film’s trailer quickly turned into an internet sensation with the film’s popular social media posts. The accounts’ hilarious content had many labeling the movie an instant cult film before it even came out.

Photo courtesy of @meetm3gan via Instagram

The official “M3GAN” TikTok account currently has 569,800 followers and 6.7 million likes. After the account posted promotional videos of M3gan dancing, #m3gandance began trending and now has over 504 million views. The film’s Twitter account was praised for its responses to critical comments, and fans have recently been asking M3gan for life advice. The accounts have closely monitored how fans react online. Fans have been calling M3gan their “bestie” or a “girl boss,” and the accounts have responded with similar language.

The “M3GAN” team knew how to decode social media lingo. Instead of taking itself seriously as a horror film, the film’s social media accounts emphasize its comedic side because of fan response. The film’s social media team has helped make the movie a success by both monitoring and actually understanding social media reactions.

Social media managers can use the successes and failures of other social media teams to see the importance of decoding social media. Tactics like social media scanning don’t help unless you understand what it is you’re evaluating. Taking time to decode trends before acting on them will help ensure a successful social media campaign.

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