Never underestimate the power of a popular TV show. There’s so much video content available to stream/binge that it might seem like classic shows aren’t as relevant anymore. However, that’s not the case! Fans keep coming back again and again to their favorite TV shows. That’s why it’s imperative to keep an active, data-informed social presence both to serve a show’s loyal fans and to gain new ones. Seemingly random pieces of content go viral all the time and with little predictability — so if your show doesn’t have a meaningful social presence, not only do you risk losing relevance, you risk missing opportunities to capitalize on the next viral moment that could send your show’s popularity into the stratosphere.
On May 19, 2019, the day of the Game of Thrones series finale, The King of Queens posted a Game-of-Thrones-related tweet. It garnered 72,000 likes and earned media from AV Club, reddit and PopCulture.com. Several commenters wondered why The King of Queens, which wrapped in 2007 and is now in syndication, even had a social presence. The reason is a good one, and we’ll get into it shortly.
As much as marketers would like to be able to create a viral moment, it’s simply not something that can be consistently predicted or planned for. You can set the stage, but you can’t know what the internet will latch onto at any given time. Much of the magic of virality is in its unexpectedness, and the best thing you can do as a brand to leverage these unpredictable moments is to keep an “always-on” presence and a data-driven strategy. This way, when something goes viral, you don’t have to scramble to build a presence. Instead, you can focus on more finely tuned strategy shifts and let the internet do the heavy lifting.
New memes go viral every day, and brands can either benefit from the virality or miss a massive opportunity.
Now, back to The King of Queens. We manage the social strategy and creative production for their social accounts. In mid-September of 2023, we launched a TikTok channel for the show. As we had learned from our work on other brands, high-frequency posting on TikTok, especially for TV shows, yields strong growth. We populated the channel with the greatest hits: data-backed, high-performing video clips with proven success on other social channels like Instagram Reels. We catered the copy to a younger audience knowing that’s who’s on the platform, and we avoided content only fit for die-hard fans. For instance, the show’s 25th anniversary is a big brand moment but it wouldn’t mean as much to a new, younger audience discovering the show for the first time.
Then, a moment of serendipity occurred. A certain stock image of Kevin James wearing a flannel shirt and a sheepish smirk (you may have seen it) became a viral meme in late September. Days after the meme went viral, The King of Queens social followers skyrocketed on all channels, but most notably on TikTok.
A strategic posting cadence, combined with the fortuitous timing of a meme, can create the perfect storm. When the meme went viral, there was already plenty of data-driven, fan-favorite content ready for anyone who searched for The King of Queens. The TikTok profile saw explosive growth about a week after the first meme post: It gained 70K followers in five days, which translates to 856% (or 9.6x) growth. And, while the virality of the meme has died down, performance on the TikTok channel remains strong.
So why did TikTok follower growth outpace other social channels including X and Instagram? According to Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, approximately 40% of Gen Z uses TikTok as their primary search engine. So, when the meme was making its rounds on the internet, Gen Z-ers were searching on TikTok to learn more. Inevitably, many users landed on the @TheKOQOfficial, watched videos, and followed.
Take a look at this graph showing total and new followers on Sony Pictures Television’s The King of Queens TikTok channel. For reference, according to knowyourmeme.com, the first known meme to use the image was posted by X user @ChampagneAnyone on September 21, 2023, and it quickly spread in the following days.
If The King of Queens TikTok channel wasn’t up and running with content primed for current and new fans, it would have been a missed opportunity to grow all those new followers who now may become fans of the show, boosting syndication and streaming performance.
The Kevin James trend may seem like fluke, but it actually had all the makings of “a perfect meme”: simple, funny and easily remixable. New memes like the Kevin James one go viral every day, and brands can either benefit or miss an opportunity. Here are a few more examples of memes that have boosted brands’ popularity:
Encanto: While the movie got lukewarm box office numbers, the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” took off – first on TikTok and then on the Billboard charts – giving the movie new life. Disney had recently added Encanto to Disney+, and so new fans of the song were able to search and find it there. It quickly rose up the ranks on Disney+ to become the most-watched feature film on the entire platform.
The below chart of Google searches for “Encanto” (courtesy of Google Trends) shows how the “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” audio trend on TikTok catapulted the film’s success.
House of the Dragon: When star Emma D’Arcy described their favorite cocktail in an interview for HBO, the moment became a viral meme. Although slightly different because it was originally posted on Max’s (then HBO Max’s) TikTok channel, the way D’Arcy’s answer struck a chord with fans was entirely unpredictable. To date, the original post has garnered 2.3 million likes, drawing people to Max’s already-established TikTok page, and no doubt likewise boosting viewership of the show. (BuzzFeed staff writer Nora Dominick stated, “Honestly, this sound bite of Emma saying this phrase has been stuck in my head for a week now, and I’m not even sorry. It also single-handedly got me to catch up on House of the Dragon.”) Max was prepared for the serendipitous virality and took full advantage.
The Boys: A meme from the Amazon Prime Video show’s season finale featuring the facial expressions of the character Homelander blew up on Twitter and became one of the most popular memes from a TV show on the internet. Since this viral moment, Amazon has regularly shared footage of Homelander across its social channels. As a result, they have maintained brand momentum through the offseason, capturing fans’ eagerness for a new season and boosting awareness around their spin-off show, Gen V.
So how does a TV show or a movie capitalize on virality? Invest in regular, data-driven programming that targets new fans as well as your die-hard fanbase. It’s a relatively light lift for a potentially huge reward.