Building the Social Media Success of "Be More Chill"

 Will Roland and George Salazar in Be More Chill (Sara Krulwich/NY Times

Will Roland and George Salazar in Be More Chill (Sara Krulwich/NY Times

Kerry Breen

  • OnStage Blog News

Be More Chill, with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz, has 67.6 thousand followers on Instagram, 9,209 followers on Twitter, and 7,813 likes and 8,049 followers on Facebook. Even more likes and followers have been racked up on unofficial pages and the pages of the cast and crew. In the past day, 370 Twitter posts have featured the title of the show.

The current production, which opened last night, sold out a week before opening, and has gained much of its widespread fame from social media and an excited, involved fandom.

“Last summer [2017], we were at Joe [Iconis]’s apartment, and George [Salazar, who plays Michael] and Lauren [Marcus, who plays Brooke] were there, and we were just talking about how the show kept getting tagged in stuff on social media,” said Bailey Ford, who first initiated the show’s social media efforts. “This was kind of one of the first inklings of ‘This is crazy; this is starting to blow up.’”

Ford said that they also noticed an increase in fan engagement, including posts featuring fan art and cosplays of the characters.

“I remember thinking about it, and talking to a friend about it… She was googling the hashtags, how many hits they’d gotten and stuff like that, and it was huge numbers,” Ford said. She added that while the summer was too busy for her to start working on the social media, she began the project in the fall of that year, while she was an undergraduate student.

While a Facebook page, maintained by Iconis, already existed, she created an Instagram account and began making content for both sites.

“I just started making content that I thought looked kind of cool, and would be semi-interesting to fans,” said Ford, who had not officially worked on social media accounts before, but had had some experience in running social media pages for organizations at her school and helping people with their personal accounts. “It’s something I like to do, and I like my personal social media, and I was just like ‘I could make it work.’ And I looked at other accounts, other musical accounts, to see what they were doing.”

The content Ford posted included fan art, which “got a ton of attention,” and questions, which would also get lots of responses. “I did things like, a Music Monday, what’s your favorite line from a Be More Chill song, what song do you belt out in the shower - silly stuff like that. And a lot of lyrics posts that were just graphics and things like that.”

Ford also featured her own original artwork, accompanying lyric-themed posts.

“I would open my iPod every day and be like ‘Hm, what’s a lyric that sounds like a good graphic to make today? What’s a visual part of that that can be turned into a drawing that can be repeated?’” Ford said. “I feel like I did a lot of repeated drawings, like snowflakes or pills or cassette tapes. I’d just draw them and paste them together and try to make it look like a graphic.

“Once the account, the Instagram, was made, it was getting attention without really trying that hard,” Ford said. “Fans just wanted any content, so anything you would post would just get so much attention, so easily.”

As the show prepared for its off-Broadway run, Marathon Digital was brought on board to further establish the show’s social media.

“My first big show in the digital marketing space was Hamilton,” said Mike Karns, the CEO of Marathon Digital, who is part of the team for the Be More Chill social media. “I started those accounts, and have run them since the beginning. Since that time, I’ve never seen a fan base with the growth rate, or the depth and intensity of fandom, that Hamilton has, until I started working on Be More Chill.”

Karns, who has known Be More Chill producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper since they worked together at Davenport Theatricals in 2012 and was a “huge fan” of the show, reached out to the show’s team when he heard that the off-Broadway run would be happening.

“I sat down with Gerry [Goehring, another producer on the show] and Jenn at the West Side Cafe - which is where I believe the biggest deals of Broadway happen - and we talked all about the show, talked all about this crazy fan base that I had been watching from afar, and just discussed the opportunities that I felt social media could play in the trajectory of this show,” Karns said. 

“I had heard that they had started an Instagram account, and then in the first month and a half of the account being opened they had gained like, 36,000 fans. It was nuts! And so I had heard all of this from afar,” said Karns. “In the time since we have started working on it, it has never ceased to blow my mind. We’ll go sometimes, in a week, and we’ll gain 4,500 new followers. I’ve never seen that kind of growth rate on any other client I’ve ever worked on, except Hamilton.”

Karns said that maintaining the social media for the show has been “thrilling,” since so many members of the social media team are also fans of the show.

“It’s always exciting when the people around me are as equally excited as I am about the clients we take on,” he said. “They have added so much. McKayla Brewster is the account manager on the show, and she has a wealth of knowledge about the Be More Chill universe. And as a result of the depth of knowledge they have about the brand and fandom, we have been able to tap into that in a deep way, and speak in an authentic tone that matches the brand and matches that community.”

 Be More Chill's Twitter Page

Be More Chill's Twitter Page

According to Karns, matching the tone of the social media to the tone of the show was one of the most important parts of Marathon Digital’s social media strategy.

“I feel like you look at a lot of social media accounts for Broadway shows, and it feels like you can sort of take the copy of each post and copy and paste it into any other show. Our whole goal is always to identify a unique and distinct tone for each of the accounts that we work on,” Karns explained.

The tone that he and his team found for Be More Chill was one that is “accessible, vibrant, and real,” according to Karns.

“It’s human. It’s flawed. It is not this thing that stands distant from the people that are part of the community,” said Karns. “We sort of assign a quote on quote ‘person’ to each brand, and that’s how we dictate the tone of voice - and this person we have created for Be More Chill is so human to me that I think that’s what people are able to identify with us, and subsequently feel as though they have such a closer connection with the brand because of that.”

Karns said that while his team “souped up the engine” underneath the show’s pre-existing social media, the brand was already established by Ford, who currently interns with Marathon Digital and Be More Chill.

“Bailey established what this community was, Bailey established the world in which we would live in the digital space, and so when we came on and started working, it was very clear that she had nailed it, as far as the identification of what this brand wanted to be,” Karns said.

“I think the social media has absolutely changed, in that it's more professional,” said Ford. “Like, you can totally tell now that there’s a real graphic designer making our stuff, and that there’s more of a strategy happening. It’s not just random the way that I was doing it before.”

According to Karns, much of the current social media strategy revolves around keeping the content in line with the brand and the community that surrounds the show.

“My favorite piece of content we’ve created in the entire time we’ve been working on the show was done when we did the full cast announcement,” he said. “If you look at it on Instagram, it’s like we made them look like a part of all these video games. That to me is how we have really tried to capture what that aesthetic is, and blend into that world with the content we’re creating.”

In addition to the show’s cultivated content, the cast members themselves have been engaging with fans, both on their personal accounts and by doing “take overs” of the official accounts, where a cast member will be placed in charge of the Instagram story for the day.

“I think this version of the show, this New York run, is happening because of social media,” Ford added. “I think it really lends itself to that. Just trying to give the fans access to what’s been going on in rehearsals has been a huge part of our social.”

“I would say one of the things that we have charged ourselves in that effort is we’ve identified that there is an audience outside of just young people listening to the cast album and connecting with it there,” Karns said. “We are seeing just as much engagement and excitement out of the sort of ideal Broadway ticket buyer, and so based on what platform we’re working on, we have adjusted some of the copy and really tried to gear it towards the audience that we’re talking to.”

Both Ford and Karns agreed that the show has continued to grow its social media reach throughout its off-Broadway previews.

“We are sort of constantly observing the growth and engagement that we have, and now that there is a thing to be experienced, and a thing to show, it feels as though it has cranked the heat up significantly on the digital community that we’re cultivating,” Karns said.

“There’s a goal,” said Ford. “There’s this actual tangible run happening, instead of just, you know, shooting into darkness, like when there wasn’t anything happening with it before.”

Karns also pointed out that Instagram has been the most effective platform to grow the show’s social media. However, he said that b-roll footage from the show, posted to Facebook, had gained about a thousand likes, “a huge amount of shares,” and “significant engagement.”

“I think that we are seeing a large amount of Instagram [engagement], but we are still seeing crazy activity on all of our channels,” Karns said. “We do weekly staff updates for these marketing meetings, and every time they send [the social media information] for me to approve before the meeting, I always say “Is this really the growth we’ve had in the past week? Is this number wrong? Is there a typo?” And they’re always like, “No, this is real!” It’s really nuts. It’s a really cool thing. And I think that it will drive the digital space going forward, as a result, which is exciting.”

While no future plans for Be More Chill have been announced following the Signature Theater run - which ends on September 23, 2018 - both Ford and Karns have expressed hope for their continued involvement.

“I think I’ll always kind of be involved,” said Ford. “I hope so.”

“The question that everyone is anxiously curious about is what the trajectory of the show will be, going forward,” said Karns. “We are very interested in continuing to cultivate that community, regardless of what the trajectory looks like.”

“I haven’t seen anything like this before, especially a show that isn’t on Broadway,” Karns said. “It’s crazy, and it’s really an exciting thing.”  

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Be More Chill is currently running at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center, with an opening night set for August 9 and a closing set for September 23.

The cast includes Gerard Canonico (Spring Awakening, Groundhog Day) as Rich, Katlyn Carlson (Dirty Dancing, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin) as Chloe, Stephanie Hsu (SpongeBob Squarepants) as Christine, Tiffany Mann (Waitress, Jerry Springer the Opera) as Jenna, Lauren Marcus (The Humans at St. Louis Rep, Company at Barrington Stage) as Brooke, Will Roland (Dear Evan Hansen) as Jeremy, George Salazar (tick...tick...BOOM!, Godspell, The Lightning Thief) as Michael, Britton Smith (Shuffle Along, After Midnight) as Jake, Jason Tam (Jesus Christ Superstar, KPOP) as The Squip, and Jason SweetTooth Williams (Freaky Friday, Benny and Joon, Bloodsong of Love) as Jeremy's Dad/Mr. Reyes, and Cameron Bond (Finding Neverland).

The production features scenic design by Tony Award winner Beowulf Boris (Come From Away), costume design by Bobby Frederick Tilley. (Lizzie Borden, Top Girls), lighting design by Tony Award winner Tyler Micoleau (The Band’s Visit), sound design by Ryan Rumery (Fool for Love), projection design by Alex Basco Koch (Buyer & Cellar), musical direction by Emily Marshall, orchestrations by Charlie Rosen (Prince of Broadway, Honeymoon in Vegas), casting by Telsey + Co./Adam Caldwell, CSA and Rebecca School, CSA, production stage management by Amanda Michaels (The Children, The Ballad of Little Jo), general management by Lisa Dozier King, and production management by Senovva Production Core.