Back on February 1, Stephen Amell’s Facebook page hit 750,000 likes, and the star of The CW’s “Arrow” decided to thank everyone with an informal two-part Q&A session.
For more than 30 minutes, Amell sat in his trailer with his iPhone propped up against a Sharpie box, fielding fan questions ranging from his favorite music to why his character’s sister never seems to venture down into the Arrow’s lair beneath the nightclub she runs. It was the kind of candid, casual interaction that delights fanboys and fangirls by giving them a peek behind the scenes into a favorite show, while inviting them into the actor’s world.
And for Amell, spending a half-hour answering random questions in his Facebook feed isn’t something out of the ordinary; it’s just another day at the office.
Over the past two seasons, Amell has quietly built a reputation as a social media expert, just as the skyrocketing amount of original television programming has made the task of reaching and retaining viewers more competitive than ever.
But what makes Amell stand out is that he doesn’t seem to be doing it for the marketing lift—although that’s an added bonus. For him, it’s about taking care of the fans.
“It all started with John Barrowman, who is on our show and has an extensive history with fan bases because of the genre shows he’s done,” Amell told Brief. “He talked to me a lot about how if you give fans a little bit, then when you ask for privacy you’ll get it. Whereas if you hold them at arm’s length constantly, everyone will try to claw and get at you.”
He was also inspired by an interview George Clooney gave to Esquire where he famously said he didn’t understand why celebrities were on Twitter, since it makes them more available to the public.
“I thought to myself, ‘that’s his problem. What if I tried to be the most accessible person?’” Amell said.
And so any given day will see Amell asking “Meme This Picture, Facebook,” playing peek-a-boo with his infant daughter, proving once and for all that it’s actually him doing the show’s famous “salmon ladder” routine, or posting another Q&A with fans from his trailer—there have been seven already this season.
That kind of care and feeding of the viewers has paid off, with Amell adding more than 1.2 million Facebook likes since the beginning of the season—roughly 6,500 per day. He barely made it past Valentine’s Day before he was posting a follow-up to that February 1 video—this time thanking fans for helping him hit 1 million likes.
“It’s really not that much work: you give it 20 minutes a day, you find the stuff that’s important to you, you put up random things,” Amell said. “You sensibly run it like you would run your personal Facebook page, if you’re into Facebook.”
Aside from winning over fans, Amell’s social media prowess is winning over The CW’s marketing department, no small feat in an industry where talent and social media don’t always result in headache-free days at the office.
“Stephen to social media is like a duck to water,” said Rick Haskins, The CW’s executive VP of marketing and digital programs. “He absolutely understands it and embraces it. The other thing that is important is he is serious about it: he understands that that’s his way of communicating personally to his fan base. We don’t make him do it.”
His daily back-and-forth with fans means that when Haskins and the network have a message they would like him to share with the fans, they know it’s going to get heard.
About a month ago, “Arrow” had been airing repeats for two weeks, and there was some concern around The CW about bringing viewers back. Haskins and his team cut a special three-minute promo and launched it on Facebook and Stephen’s page. The video ended up getting more then 4.5 million views.
“In the past, I would have put it on cwtv.com, I would have sent it out to the affiliates—none of them would have run it because it’s 3 minutes long—or my other option would have been to spend millions of dollars on paid media,” Haskins said. “What that would have been is a missed opportunity.”
But before anyone rushes to put iPhones on Sharpie boxes in every cast member’s trailer, a word of caution: just because talent can Tweet (or Facebook, or Instagram, etc) doesn’t mean they should. One whiff of forced labor and your message is shot.
“Don’t make someone who is uncomfortable with social media do social media,” Haskins said. “There are definitely people who tend to be more private and don’t know what to talk about. The audience can sniff that out a million miles away.”
One of the keys to Amell’s success is that he actually has fun Facebooking with the fans. And that authenticity comes across in everything he posts.
“I have learned that when people have a PR company run their page, or people are just posting stuff that you could see in US Weekly, the fans recognize that. It’s so obvious,” Amell said. “Really just be yourself, and people will recognize that.”