Conan O’Brien: Social Media Monster

It has become widely known in recent years that the use social media is vital for marketing and personal branding. If there were ever a success story of harnessing social media, it would be Conan O’Brien. Whether you are a fan of his or not, you might remember what happened to him in 2010. In early 2010 Conan took over The Tonight Show, but was soon replaced by Jay Leno when NBC executives were concerned with his low ratings. He was not allowed to appear on television for 9 months, which was bound to destroy his visibility and marketability. Fast-forward one year, Conan’s new show “Conan” debuted on TBS with a colossal 4.2 million viewers (more than both Leno and Letterman). So how did he do it? In most regards, his success was due to an incredibly targeted and aggressive social media strategy.

Fully aware of the fact that he could easily slip from memory over his 9-month television layoff, Conan and his team launched an incredible social media campaign that included a presence on Twitter (he has almost 7 million followers), Facebook (nearly 2 million likes), and YouTube (over 105 million views). Conan was very active on all of these platforms and took the time to produce great content for each platform. For example, one of his most famous tweets came long after being fired by NBC – “In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theater, and now I’m headed to basic cable… My plan is working perfectly.” Conan’s constant presence on social media across a multitude of platforms allowed him to stay connected with his target audience despite being absent from television, and this presence greatly contributed to his fantastic debut on TBS. The army of followers he amassed online made Conan a social media force to be reckoned with. Here is how Conan is dominating the digital age:

As written in Fast Company’s Conan O’Brien, King of Social Media piece, “The source of all things Conan features daily blog posts, a vibrant comment system, show tickets, and gear: a hub of Team Coco activity that also provides a home for his various social media accounts.” This site became an absolutely viral powerhouse, and was place where Conan first revealed his new shows print ad as seen below:

Flickr, Foursquare, and the Conan Blimp

To promote his show, Conan was flying around in a giant, orange blimp all around the U.S. last October. His team hooked up the blimp to a GPS, making it possible for fans to follow it in real-time on Google Maps, see his high-resolution images on Flickr, and see inside his cabin with a live camera on the blimp (Carr). Foursquare followers can even earn a Conan Blimp-Spotter Badge as well as watch a series of blimp-related commercial for the new show:

Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter

As I noted earlier, Conan is an absolute monster on Twitter, Facebook, and Tublr, where he communicated with his audience with some of the funniest content in social media. Twitter is where he first announces deals and latest news, and where fans go to keep up with the latest from Conan.


Perhaps the most popular platform that Conan used to spread his brand is YouTube. The videos on his channel amassed almost 105 million views, some getting’s hundreds of thousands hits a day! What makes his videos so popular is that aside from being hilarious, Conan uses YouTube to make announcements to the public.  For example, Conan announced the name of his new show on YouTube, as well as announcing some guest stars. He also uses the platform to respond to questions that fans post on his website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

Looking at Conan O’Brien’s social media presence from a theoretical perspective, it is evident that Conan and his team have a pretty clear idea of who their target audience is. According to danah boyd and Alice Marwick in “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience,” people present themselves in ways that we image our audience to be. They argue that our imagined audience on social media is a group of people who are our mirror image. Although I think Conan has a very wide variety of fans and followers, the content he produces caters to a very broad audience of supporters. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh? Conan clearly maintains his authenticity and originality on all his social media accounts, while building up his personal branding and strategic self-commoditization. His audience can access his content at any time of day, across a multitude of different channels. As Conan himself said to Hollywood Reporter in this article,

“It’s so much more than who watches the show at 11 p.m. Who watches it at 1 a.m.? Who watches the clip online the next day? Who sees the ad with that clip? This is where it’s all going, so let’s get ahead of it rather than pretend it’s still about American gathering around the TV to watch Roots or Ed Sullivan.”

Conan’s “lowest common denominator” is a very wide range of people, and he appeals to all of them. His social media presence is appropriate to the framework of his industry and his loyal fan following.

Conan O’Brien is without a doubt a unique character, and his presence on social media depicts him as such as well. The vast array of personal branding techniques discussed above are unique (Blimp, YouTube videos, etc), and seem to align themselves with the differentiation taste statement as identified by Hugo Liu. I find Conan’s “about me” section on Twitter particularly unique and funny – “The voice of the people. Sorry, people.” It can also be argued that his social media profiles give off an authenticity taste statement, with their relaxed moods and slight imperfections and use of every day language. He continuously uses colloquial expressions, slang words, and expresses his personal thoughts in a direct manner. His profiles are a mix of differentiation and authenticity, although I would say they are more magnificently unique than anything else.

In her article “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter,” Zizi Papacharissi notes that people tweet in order to “fulfill needs for expression and social integration, and to relate to other sin general. Frequent twitter users report gratifying a need for connection, fulfilled by posting tweets and replies, and re-tweeting others’ public posts.” She goes on to argue that presentations of the self often become networked performances that convey polysemic content to audiences, actual and imaged, without compromising one’s own identity. For many popular Tweeters, however, direct interaction and engagement with fans often has the negative effect of alienating their audience since they don’t understand the narrative incoherence. Conan O’Brien has none of that, on Twitter at least. Conan does not re-tweet, reply to fans, or engage in any other form of 1-on-1 conversation. Conan’s tweets are entirely his own content, although sometimes linking to other articles, photos, and videos. All the questions he receives from fans on Twitter and Facebook he chooses to answer through videos on his YouTube channel. Conan’s social media strategy is clear, crisp, and extremely innovative.


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