Social Media Impacts Box Office

How do you decide which movie to see? The recommendations of friends? Or online buzz and Twitter?

You may be surprised to find that Twitter, the online equivalent of actual word-of-mouth chatter and marketing, profoundly boosts the number of people who go to a given movie, according to research from Eastern Michigan University

Analysis of microblogging sites such as Twitter and movie box-office data from reveals not only that activity on Twitter has a direct positive effect on how many people go see a particular movie but also that content generated by movie studios and online engagement with the potential audience has an effect on ticket sales.

“The more a movie studio is willing to engage with its followers via social media, the more likely it is to have a higher word-of-mouth volume,” says Chong Oh, an assistant professor of computer information systems at Eastern Michigan University. “This subsequently increases the likelihood of having a higher opening-weekend box office performance.”

As part of the research, published in the “International Journal of Information Systems and Change Management,” Oh cites two very different outcomes for two well-known movies.

“John Carter,” a 2012 sci-fi thriller, lost $200 million for Walt Disney Pictures and led to the resignation of its chairman. “Paranormal Activity,” a 2009 release shot in a week on a $15,000 budget, grossed $107 million at the box office. Most movies, of course, lie between these two extremes.

Making sure the next movie is a “Paranormal” and not a “Carter” comes down, in part, to online word of mouth, according to Oh. Simply having a presence (or profile) on social media is not enough for studio marketers. They must reach out directly to would-be filmgoers.

“The key activity of sending outgoing tweets in the seven days leading up to the release weekend was a good indicator that correlated to word-of-mouth volume buzz about the movie,” Oh reports.

He also offers advice for movie marketers based on the findings from this research. “Social media represent an opportunity to reach an audience and establish relationships at a personal level that traditional advertising is not capable of achieving,” he explains. “Incentives to encourage more interactions, such as competition or Tweets from the movie’s cast members, should go hand in hand with other advertisements to pump up word of mouth.”