Summer movie word of mouth gets social media twist

Actress Cara Delevingne attends the 'Paper Towns' New York Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on July 21, 2015 in New York City.
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To promote its newest film, "Paper Towns," 20th Century Fox is relying on good, old-fashioned word of mouth—online.

The studio tapped tech platform TheAmplify to find the most notable voices on social media to tout its teen drama, which will be released on Friday. By giving these influencers behind-the-scenes access through unique experiences, it hopes to build the buzz to make "Paper Towns" a summer blockbuster.

"One of the most effective communications is to send the message at scale," said Justin Rezvani, CEO and founder of TheAmplify. "We can effectively send out posts to 16 million unique people in 35 seconds."

For "Paper Towns," 20th Century Fox shared clips with some of TheAmplify's 1,500 influencers. The platform's algorithm helped select which social media super users would best fit the target audience for the film.

For example, actor Keegan Allen—best known for his work on ABC Family series "Pretty Little Liars"—was given access to the movie trailer before it was released. He has 3.1 million followers on Instagram, and happens to be a fan of the book series.

"Experiencing that first look at something and getting to finally experience that with everybody gave that sense of community and made it feel like something that everyone was excited about," Allen said. "Everyone wants to share on social media. That's what our show did from the beginning. As we engaged with our fans on social media, we were able to cast our show in a way that fans would enjoy."

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It also sent 22 people on a 17-day road trip in an RV, mimicking the story arc of the film. The influencers posted images and tweets throughout the journey, with a total of 11 million social media users expected to tune in.

"Social media is such a big thing now," said Jordyn Jones, a 15-year-old singer and dancer with 1.1 million followers on Instagram. "It's the easiest way to get things out…. It's the generation these days: Social media is the easiest way to get noticed and reach millions of people quickly."

The strategy may work. Variety is projecting that "Paper Towns" will only take in $20 million its opening weekend. However, analysts point out that the number is expected to grow exponentially if teens love the movie—which is currently at 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—and push it to go viral.

About 65 percent of TheAmplify's revenue is from film and entertainment entities, according to Rezvani. Prices start at $50,000 for just a consultation.

Fox previously worked with the company when it launched "Fault in Our Stars," a teen drama based on another book by John Green, in addition to being a best-selling author, has proven to have social media clout both through being a part of a YouTube duo called VlogBrothers and the founder of online influencer convention VidCon. Variety reported that Fault in Our Stars made $307 million globally on a $12 million budget.

Fox confirmed their involvement in both campaigns, but declined to comment because The Amplify's "Paper Towns" campaign is in exploratory stages.

"Our partnership with The Amplify not only allowed for a data-driven approach when selecting the ideal team of influencers to work with, but also the creative freedom to develop a more immersive experience, true to the themes of 'The Divergent Series: Insurgent,' " said David Edwards, vice president of digital marketing at Lions Gate via email. "More and more, web content consumers are expecting a level of production value previously afforded mostly to the more traditional broadcast mediums. And rightfully so; watching online video, no matter its length or purpose, should feel like time well spent."

Moviepilot, an online community of fan-driven content, has also helped facilitate access between movie studios and its influencers for films ranging from Pixar's "Inside Out" to Fox's "Poltergeist." It has upward of 25 million unique visitors each month, and 80 percent of its audience is 35 and under.

"Social media is more and more being seen not only as a pure PR play, but as a marketing and media play," Moviepilot CEO Tobi Bauckhage said. "The turning point is the scale."

Moviepilot recently teamed up with Entertainment Weekly to co-produce and promote San Diego Comic-Con content. To date, videos--which were hosted on influencers' channels--have been viewed more than 3.69 million times.

Bauckhage said the reason these campaigns are so successful is because fans with a large online presence can create an "echo chamber" to build excitement. Because it comes from authentic voices, their peers are more likely to trust their opinion.