Why Talking At People Is Bad for Brand Engagement -- An Interview With Funny Or Die's Patrick Starzan

When was the last time content made you laugh so hard tears were streaming down your face? I'm going to assume it wasn't while perusing a B2B technology website. If you haven't seen a Funny Or Die skit, you're missing out on some of the better content of our time. A lot goes on behind the scenes to engage Funny Or Die's six million Twitter fans. In light of last week's news that Funny Or Die is one of the 25 most engaged brands on Twitter and the #1 most engaged comedy channels on Twitter, I interviewed Patrick Starzan, VP of Marketing and Business Development. Starzan talks about how he went from 0 to 6 million followers, Judd Apatow's Twitter hijacking and KPIs that matter.

Patrick Starzan

How did you get started with the Funny Or Die social media strategy?

It started with content and community. We wanted to use the tools to have a conversation with our fans. We questioned the benefits of following Funny Or Die for the audience. What will they get out of it? We set out to entertain people -- to make them laugh. That's the marching order on any platform. What's the benefit for the follower? With each tweet and post we put out there's a lot of thought that goes into it. We're our own biggest critics. We know if we tweet a joke we get feedback right away. If you have good content people will find and share it. That's how we grew to the size that we are.

Do the celebrities you work with advocate on your behalf?

It's really a partnership with the talent that we work with. For example we just published a video with Ryan Lochte. The process of that was an initial meeting with his management team to talk about the whole marketing and PR process. It has to be a strong relationship. We talk about how we're going to tweet, use tumblr, Google+ etc to-get it in front of as many of the right people as quickly as possible. We'll tweet it out, and later in the day retweet each other to keep the conversation going. It's very thought out and planned. We work in the data all day and we're communicating that data to the talent and to our management team throughout the day. We were early adopters -- I use to go to LA and explain what Twitter was [to the entertainment executives]. Hollywood has matured. It has gotten a lot smarter and the conversations are a lot easier to have.

Do Will Ferrell or Judd Apatow have a say in the social media strategy?

They always have a say [laughing] but they never say anything about it though. Judd is very active and uses Twitter for a lot of different things. We've had him take over our Twitter account. He was on set and my social media manager gave Judd the phone to tweet. The next thing I know our social media manager called me to say, "um Judd stole our Twitter account." He had driven off with the phone.

Do you focus more on the content production or the social media strategy?

It's all about content for us -- without it we have nothing to market. Social media to us means two things: community and distribution. To build both of those on social media you can't just push content--it can't be a one way street. If we just pushed videos out all day we might not have the community and engagement that we have. There are other types of content that we create for social media. For example we write jokes just for social media. We also focus on what people are talking and tweeting about. We want to give people access to Funny or Die -- even about what happens in the office. We want people to have an inside look into thing that go on here.

How do you measure the business impacts of that strategy?

We're very data driven in terms of how we post. We set out our KPIs for everything that we do. We track click through rates for content and engagement. We also track retweets and @ replies. Since the beginning we track every tweet's time of day, day of week, type of content (photo/video/joke) and more. With the KPIs that we track we also do a deep dive analysis to identify the optimal times and days of the week. That helps us hone in on what resonates.

What tools do you swear by?

Tweets are done through Twitter. We use a lot of Twitter's analytics that are getting better and deeper. For weekend tweets we'll use hootsuite. We use bitly which is huge for tracking engagement. At Funny Or Die we also use an excel spread sheet. I realize it sounds remedial. Generally speaking social media analytics tools are getting better -- I recommend Crowdbooster and Simply Measured. They provide robust and actionable data to help mom and pop shops grow.

What kind of data are you interested in?

I'm interested in engagement KPIs. We want to know who are the people amplifying our voice? Who are the influencers in our network? Who are the people in the community who have that effect? We want to know who in our community is helping to build and grow the community.

Where do brands get Twitter wrong?

There are two main things I see wrong with other brands. One is they forget it's a community. Secondly they use Twitter for push marketing. They're just talking at people, not with people. The real question is how do you become a part of the conversation? Be a part of the conversation in an organic and natural way. Social media is the gift from God as far as being in a one to one relationship with your consumer. Your brand can have a personality deeper than any form throughout marketing history. Show people your personality and show your consumers you can relate to their interests.

What is the future of the Funny Or Die brand?

We're continually trying to push Funny Or Die forward. It starts with content -- embracing new platforms in social media and growing on the platforms were on. We're doing TV shows now with pilots in production. We announced our new film division and we have three micro budget films every year. Last year we announced The Occasional -- that's been steadily growing.

*All research commissioned by community engagement SaaS provider Nestivity.