“Wynonna Earp” is an example of how TV shows should use social media


Twitter was founded in 2006 but didn’t begin to hit its stride with the general public until at least 2008. As individual users began to explore and grow their use of the application, the corporate world—always slightly slower to take up new technology—lagged behind. Once Twitter became a global social media giant, however, forward leaning companies began to view maintaining a presence on social media as essential to maintaining their brand profile.

Enter Hollywood. 

In the last few years, Hollywood’s relationship with Twitter has evolved from straight advertising (“Watch our new show premiering tomorrow!”) to a more collaborative, communal relationship with fans. Many Twitter accounts associated with TV shows tweet their cast, make jokes, retweet fans, and offer “behind the scenes” looks. Seen cynically, the shift to a more intimate relationship with fans has an economic basis: fans personally invested in a show, for example, are likely to push hard to have the show renewed for enough seasons to reach syndication. A highly visible, interactive fanbase can also raise the visibility of a show (by causing a hashtag to trend, for example, or articles to be written), leading more people to try watching the show and possibly winning the network more advertising money.

While money is certainly a factor in how shows shape their approach to Twitter, however, the complete cynicism of Hollywood’s use of Twitter is unwarranted. There’s no reason to believe that the company employees who run official accounts aren’t also dedicated to creating positive experiences for fans for the sake of enjoyment. Furthermore, most TV actresses aren’t so calculating that they maintain a Twitter account solely to push product endorsements and their own carefully crafted image. 

To the contrary, many have a sincere desire to engage with their fans and find that interaction fulfilling. In a perfect storm of social media-savvy actresses and actors, public relations specialists that use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to encourage fan involvement and investment. Fandoms with growing expectations for how their favorite shows will interact with them, Twitter is becoming a fantastic place to have tangible, rewarding engagements with shows that we love and the cast and crew associated with them.

A stellar example of this new approach to fan engagement right now that touches on the queer female community is the Syfy show, Wynonna Earp. Everyone associated with the show just gets it when it comes to the new frontiers in social media. Whether this is because much of the cast are Millenials who are naturally more comfortable with social media, or whether everyone associated with the show has purposely been encouraged to broaden their social media presence, the cast and crew of Wynonna Earp are all over Twitter. They show love for their fans, #Earpers, and their fans love them back in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.

The show’s official account, @WynonnaEarp, draws fans in with its light-hearted, inclusive “personality” and interacts with them on multiple levels through its tweets and retweets, embracing with more than open arms its queer fans. On Monday, for example, @WynonnaEarp tweeted its support for shipping Daenerys Targarian and Yara Greyjoy on Game of Thrones. After the Orlando shooting, the account tweeted information about how to donate blood. The account has also offered queer fanfiction prompts and retweeted the responses.

Members of the cast are just as proactive. They live-tweet episodes for fans and constantly interact with @WynonnaEarp using hashtags associated with the show like #WayHaught, the portmanteau for the queer pairing of Waverly Earp and Nicole Haught. The actresses’ personalities come through on their individual Twitter accounts, enabling fans to feel closer to their them: @MelanieScrofano has a wicked sense of humor, @KatBarrell, an empath, reads and retweets literally everything fans send her, and @DominiqueP_C is a perky Brit. All of them currently have a rainbow on their account pictures in honor of Orlando. They know their fans, and they love them.  

giphyvia Wynonna Earp’s Twitter

Wynonna Earp’s approach to fan engagement appears to be working (although great writing, acting, and directing clearly have the most to do with it): much of Wynonna Earp’s fanbase is committed and enthusiastic, and the show—and WayHaught—are receiving plenty of media coverage. If the show is not renewed for a second season (its numbers are low enough that most ratings monitoring sites list it as being “on the bubble,” it won’t be a reflection on the show’s lack of social media presence.

And yet, if the show is killed despite its growing visibility, does that undermine the argument for TV shows using extensive fan engagement to improve their chances for renewal? Not necessarily. The effect of social media efforts on viewership is hard to quantify, but since May 13, Wynonna Earp’s viewer numbers are up about 24%, possibly suggesting that it’s taken time for the show’s engagement to produce results but that it’s slowly working. What’s more, Wynonna Earp’s popularity could continue to build over the summer if the show is renewed—a slow burn, grassroots growth attributable in part to social media.

Regardless of whether Wynonna Earp is canceled, however, the model stands as a possible way of the future for at least some shows on cable networks. Official accounts choose how closely to interact with fans. @MTVfakingit, for example, was relatively limited in its retweets of fan content, and the account primarily served as a publicity mechanism for the show, reminding fans when to tune in for future episodes, retweeting its cast’s comments about the show, and posting commentary about characters and past episodes. @TheFostersTV goes a step further, retweeting fan reactions to episodes, and Orphan Black a half step beyond that, retweeting fans’ general comments about the show.

Where Wynonna Earp surpasses its peers is in its comprehensive, holistic approach toward its fandom, including retweeting fan art and fan fiction, and acknowledging fans’ interests beyond just the show itself. Fans get the impression that the Wynonna Earp account and the show’s cast’s accounts aren’t Tweeting just for publicity, but for the fun of it.

Social media has been a game-changer for the relationship between fans and their shows, and a positive one for fans even if the financial benefits to shows of expansive Twitter engagement are yet uncertain. For the queer community, in particular, shows’ use of social media to recognize fan support for queer characters and pairings may translate to more official support for queer storylines.

Not all shows will have the interest or capability to match Wynonna Earp’s level of fan engagement, but if the Wynonna Earp model proves successful at generating enough support to keep the show going, this type of comprehensive show-fan relations could begin to spread to other new shows. And if @WynonnaEarp proves to be a unique outlier in Hollywood…having a cast member of Wynonna Earp tweet or retweet you will prove you have no chill, so follow the show and join in the conversation, because who knows when another show with a queer pairing will demonstrate such fan inclusiveness.