How Twitter can make or break a movie

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Cinema Box Office
Image by Kevin H. via Flickr

Research in September by 360i, a search agency in London, shows a direct correlation between the balance of negative and positive Tweets about a movie, and its performance at the box office. Looking at four movies (District 9, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Brüno) they show that films that have a greater proportion of negative posts and reviews on Twitter also enjoy a higher day-on-day fall in Box Office ticket sales after launch. And whilst we must not confuse correlation with causality, it seems for these movies that those movies who have more negative posts on Twitter also see a bigger drop in sales after they open.

The relationship between Twitter and the success of a movie is starting to become clearer. Whilst this data is not sufficient to claim that there is a direct impact of negative reviews on Twitter on ticket sales, it is evident that negative reviews in Twitter, among other things, are impacting on consumer choices. And in many cases they are choosing not to view the movie.

Traditional movie marketing and performance is tracked closely, with day-on-day ticket sales being measured and the results feeding directly into the amount and type of PR and marketing activities that take place. This is a long-standing technique that is used to bolster ticket sales if they are not performing as well as expected, and to identify over-performing movies and work to amplify the impact they are having. With social media, this approach needs to adapt and change.

The main impact of Twitter is its speed. It is easy and quick for movie-goers to post a review of the movie they have just seen, and for a blockbuster movie in an opening weekend, you might expect many thousands of reviews in a short space of time. The content is concentrated in a small amount of time and discussions about a particular movie can quickly become trending topics. For a short amount of time it is relatively easy for it to seem that “everybody is talking about” a movie when it opens. And if users are negative about it, then this can have a serious impact on the movie and on ticket sales. This is dangerous for the studios, especially those who don’t have an effective social media marketing strategy. They can very quickly lose control of their movie’s reputation and the positive word-of-mouth can get drowned by the negative.

Twitter is, in fact, a great place for studios. Whether the direct causation between negative posts and decreasing box office sales is true or not does not matter. Twitter provides an instant and detailed feedback mechanism for studios. Those with effective buzz tracking and monitoring services can quickly see the impact of a movie from the moment the audience leaves the first screening. They can then use social media, and traditional marketing and PR activities, to amplify the positive word of mouth and also to help to minimise the impact of the negative. By knowing and tracking what is going on, studios can use this information to their benefit.

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