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People

‘You’ve got to know your sh*t’: How Netflix reinvented its marketing on social media

The streaming service has launched a series of accounts for Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+ and other subsets of its audience.

‘You’ve got to know your sh*t’: How Netflix reinvented its marketing on social media

The podcast "Okay, Now Listen" is just one of the ways Netflix is marketing to niche audiences.

Image: Netflix

How do you market a product to the world if you already have close to 200 million committed customers? For Netflix, the answer has been to realize that its audience is not a monolith.

A little over two years ago, the streaming service began to zoom in on subsets of its audience that are big on social, but often overlooked by traditional marketing. To do this, Netflix launched dedicated social channels, including NX for all things geek and sci-fi; Con Todo, a channel for Latinx audiences; LGBTQ+ channel The Most; Netflix Family for everything parents enjoy; and Strong Black Lead, an outlet celebrating Black films and TV shows.

You wouldn't know much about these efforts just from browsing the Netflix app. But on social networks like Twitter, Instagram, Twitch and Reddit, these channels have become mini brands in their own right, complete with vibrant communities consisting of hundreds of thousands of followers each. It's an approach that invites fans to connect over their shared life experiences and passions, and it's worth studying for any company looking to cater more authentically to diverse audiences.

One of the first such efforts for the company was Strong Black Lead, which launched in early 2018. "The Netflix universe is this wonderful, vast tapestry of a lot of different content and stories," said Netflix Editorial and Publishing Director Maya Banks, who oversees these social channel efforts at the company. "But Black audiences didn't really know that we had all this diversity in storytelling for them."

What's more, some of Hollywood's content didn't resonate with Black audiences simply because of the way it was marketed. "I've been working in entertainment my whole career," Banks said. "Traditionally, when you launch shows and movies, you come up with one way to talk about it. And then you market it to a bunch of different audiences through that one lens."

When Netflix launched its Strong Black Lead accounts on Twitter and Instagram, the company tried to instead start with the audience, and then ask: What does this show, this movie mean to them? "It's all about perspective," explained Netflix Editorial and Publishing Director Myles Worthington, who heads the Strong Black Lead team. "As a Black man, I watch things that don't have Black people in them. 'Ozark' is one of my favorite shows." But for Black viewers like him, the show may resonate for very different reasons than for a white suburban mom.

Today, Strong Black Lead has around 550,000 followers on Instagram. Just in the past couple of days, posts included clips from the sitcom "Girlfriends," teasers for the new Netflix film "The 40-Year-Old Version," snippets from the Strong Black Leads podcast "Okay, Now Listen" and a list of "New Black and on Netflix" content. Resonating through many of the posts is a shared sense of Black pride and a spotlight on Black excellence in Hollywood and beyond.

"We really wanted it to feel like a home, a community of celebration," Worthington said. "For underrepresented groups all around the world, there's a lot of hardships on social, a lot of things that bring you down. So we really wanted it to be a place of joy and representation."

That approach is similar to Con Todo's, which often celebrates the diversity of its community. "Growing up Puerto Rican in New York is not the same as the Chicano experience in East L.A. It's not the same as the experience of Tejanos," said Netflix Editorial and Publishing Manager Andrea Gompf, who leads Con Todo. "This is an audience that is culturally fluid and linguistically fluid. People who kind of see themselves as really living in multiple worlds."

We really wanted it to feel like a home, a community of celebration.

Many brands have in recent years awakened to the growing importance of Latinx consumers, but Gompf said that marketing is still too often ripe with stereotypes. "There are a lot of misconceptions, that we're all interested in a certain type of content," she said. In recent days, Con Todo's Instagram account highlighted quotes from stars of Netflix's East L.A. comedy "Gentefied," a plug for the service's upcoming "Selena" show and Lin-Manuel Miranda talking about writing music for "Hamilton."

Key to understanding this kind of diversity is to hire from your audience, Banks argued. "We hire fans and people who are obsessed about this stuff, who live and breathe it," she said.

That's also true for NX, the streaming service's social outlet for all things geek that currently has around 450,000 followers on Instagram. "You've got to know your shit," said Editorial and Publishing Manager Max Mills, who leads NX. "There's this really interesting nuance with this community where identity and content are kind of intermixed," he explained. "I am defined by what I watch, and what I watch defines me. It helps me find people who are like me."

Geek communities are nothing new in the world of entertainment, where Comic Con has become a mecca for many of TV's most popular shows. However, Netflix is in a bit of a different position than some of its competitors. "We don't have this legacy of 40 years of established I.P. We're creating these new stories, these new worlds and these new fandoms," Mills said. Starting from scratch can be a challenge, but also an opportunity, he said. "We're able to look at it: What is that next generation of geekdom, the next generation of fandom?"

Targeting niche audiences in this way also does have some risks. A generic brand message blasted out to millions may lead to less engagement, but that lack of engagement also makes it easier to ignore or drown out more-divisive responses. When you're in the weeds of it, ignorance is not really an option.

I am defined by what I watch, and what I watch defines me. It helps me find people who are like me.

That's been especially obvious in the comment section of NX, where some of the more toxic subsets of the geek and gamer community occasionally raise their voices. Some of those instances included discussions of "The Legend of Korra," a show that broke ground with its inclusion of bisexual characters when it first premiered on network television a decade ago and that recently debuted on Netflix.

"There was a lot of toxicity in the comments," admitted Mills. However, NX didn't shy away from the controversy, and instead defended the show, its protagonists and LGBTQ geeks in general, and frequently told homophobic commenters to take a hike. "It is a symptom of us standing up for a community," Mills said. "This story was important."

"We stand up for our members, for the audiences that we serve," added Banks. "We don't punch down."

Banks and her team have spent the last two-plus years refining their niche-centric approach, which included some hits and misses. A channel for action fare was quickly abandoned when it became clear that there wasn't a defined audience for it. Netlfix Family, on the other hand, became a massive success when the team brought on Editorial and Publishing Manager Megan Sayers, who at the time was a new mom herself, starving for content that spoke to her.

"There's so much media and there's so much entertainment, but it's focused on the business of taking care of and raising a baby, or it's focused really solely on what your kids are watching," recalled Sayers. "I didn't feel like there was a place that talked to me as a person and a parent."

These days, Netflix Family's Instagram account — which has almost 900,000 followers — includes not only recommendations for new family-friendly movies, but also references to "Schitt's Creek," "Gilmore Girls" and "Enola Holmes," and a craft tutorial for anyone looking to make their own "Stranger Things" monster. "Parenting is one of those things that you just can't really understand until you're living it," Sayers said. "We really try to not sugarcoat it."

More recently, Netflix has begun to adopt the same audience-centric approach to social media in other markets. The company has also begun to experiment with ways to reincorporate some of its social audience brands back into the Netflix app experience. For instance, viewers who frequently watch shows with Black characters may see a row titled "Strong Black Lead" within their Netflix app, and Netflix has also begun to market some movies as "Strong Black Lead pick of the month."

Worthington also hinted at plans for Strong Black Lead merch, and suggested that the company is in conversations with dating apps and other online services to cross-promote its channels. In other words: What began as a way to speak to specific segments of Netflix's large and growing audience could eventually turn into full-fledged brands in their own right.

Netflix's audience-segment-specific approach to social media marketing and brand-building might be new to the world of streaming services, but Banks argued that outlets like BuzzFeed, which has a dedicated LGBTQ Instagram account and frequently targets subsets of its audience with content that speaks their language, discovered it long ago. "Publishers have been doing this for years," she said. "But bringing that approach to entertainment is what makes it really interesting and different."

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Viewers like you: How PBS is adapting to the streaming age

The public broadcaster has had considerable success on YouTube and other digital platforms. Now, it is looking to revamp pledging.

PBS has begun to talk to ad-supported video services, including some that distribute programming via free 24/7 channels, to help it compete in the streaming age.

Image: PBS

If there were a playbook for the streaming wars, it might read something like this: Take your most valuable assets, slap a plus behind your most recognizable brand name, and start counting the money.

For PBS, things aren't quite that easy. While the public broadcaster has made some inroads in streaming, it has been slower to embrace digital business models than some of its commercial competitors. But that could change in the coming months. PBS is in discussions to bring its app to additional platforms, including a new crop of ad-supported video services, and has plans to turn smart TVs into donation machines that could ultimately make the old-fashioned pledge drive obsolete.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

No editing, no hashtags: Dispo wants you to live in the moment

David Dobrik's new photography app harkens back to the days of the disposable camera.

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Image: Katya Sapozhnina, Diana Morgan, Amanda Luke

Instagram was once a place to share Starbucks cups and high-contrast pet photos. After Facebook acquired it in 2012, it has turned into a competition of getting as many likes as possible (using the same formula over and over: post the best highly-curated, edited photos with the funniest captions). More recently, it's essentially become a shopping mall, with brands falling over themselves to be heard through the noise. Doing something "for the gram" — scaling buildings, posting the same cringe picture over and over — became the norm. Pop-up museums litter cities with photo ops for posts; "camera eats first"; everything can be a cute Instagram story; everything is content.

And to be clear, Dispo — a buzzy new photography app that just came out of beta — is still a place for content. It probably isn't going to fix our collective online brains and their inclination to share everything about our private lives with others online. It's still an app, and it's still social media, and it encourages documenting your life. But it runs pretty differently than any other image-sharing app out there. And that might be what helps it stand out in an oversaturated market of social networking apps.

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Jane Seidel

Jane Seidel is Protocol's social media manager. She was previously a platform producer at The Wall Street Journal, creating mobile content and crafting alert strategy. Prior to that, she worked in audience development at WSJ and on digital editorial at NBC Universal. She lives in Brooklyn.

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