By Tristan Weisenbach
Arts & Entertainment Editor
It was 1981. Amy Hargreaves had just stepped out onto a professional stage for the first time in her life, preparing to be one of three featured actresses in a high-budget commercial for Underoos. She was astonished to see the director, the make-up artists and the light crews — a full production team on a masterful set. Despite being a young, 11-year-old inexperienced child actress at the time, she knew she had found her place in the acting sphere.
“I looked around and I said, ‘these are my people. This is where I want to be,’” Hargreaves said in a phone interview. “That, I think, lit the fire for a lifetime of wanting to do this job.”
Now, with more than 40 years of acting experience under her belt, Hargreaves has come a long way from her first appearance in that 1981 commercial. Since then, she has starred in many movies and TV shows like “Brainscan” (1994) and “Homeland” before scoring her biggest role portraying Lainie Jensen on Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.”
More recently, however, Hargreaves has been involved in numerous smaller indie films, such as “Paint” (2020) and “Hungry Dog Blues” (2022). Without the branding and marketing power of a big streaming corporation like Netflix, these indie films must rely on other methods of advertising and engagement for viewers to discover them.
Social media offers a wide variety of platforms and features that create the perfect landscape for individuals in the entertainment industry to market their content. With 67% of teens indicating in a 2022 Pew Research poll that they use TikTok and 62% reporting that they use Instagram (compared to 52% in 2014-15), social media has a lot of opportunities to connect new entertainment releases with broader audiences.
“‘Wednesday,’ ‘The Addams Family’ adaptation on Netflix, is a great example of this,” said Emmy Liederman, a staff writer at Adweek who covers influencer agencies and industry trends. “Before the show even was released on Netflix, there were so many interesting previews that actually had nothing to do with the plot of the show, but it was just Wednesday — Jenna Ortega — releasing or speaking about pop culture and current events in character.”
Liederman said she believes Netflix’s marketing team strategized well in connecting with Gen Z on social media by appealing to “short-form consumption habits” on platforms like TikTok.
“A lot of times people have this preconceived notion that younger generations don't want to consume longer form content and entertainment, but I think the reality is they do,” Liederman said. “You just have to meet them where they are, meet them to figure out an engaging way to hook them into a storyline and then bring them into a different format of media.”
Hargreaves, who primarily uses Instagram and has over 89,000 followers on the app, uses social media for both personal and professional reasons. Whenever she goes on an exciting trip or gets to experience something new in her everyday life, she posts it. She also uploads photos and videos of the movies and shows that she is involved with, which she says is a key marketing tool for low-budget films.
“‘Paint’ and ‘Hungry Dog Blues’ are really smaller indies and it's hard, there's no marketing budget on movies like that,” Hargreaves said. “So you know what? Everything counts, so if I could get a handful of more eyes on there, that's what I'm doing to help the team.”
The “13 Reasons Why” actress has also been involved in “The 24 Hour Plays” on Broadway. This unique performance brings together directors, production crews and actors from across the industry to produce and perform a brand new play in just 24 hours.
Hargreaves was featured in the 2022 play “Betrothed,” and she said that publicizing this performance on her personal social media was especially important to her because the proceeds from the show are given to support theater programs around the world. The marketing team at “The 24 Hour Plays” also created graphics that were sent to each actor to be posted on their feed, making it easier for people to repost it.
“They're very good about providing social media assets for everybody,” she said. “They just give you a little folder, they're like, ‘here's for Twitter, for your Instagram,’ so you just have to open the thing and upload it. It's very easy for you to do, so that's helpful.”
For those in the entertainment industry, it can be difficult to create and produce content on social media without the help of a marketing team. While Hargreaves said that she does have a publicist, she says that she manages her own social media platforms herself.
Singers and songwriters in the music industry also face the same challenge. Musicians specialize in music, not social media or content production, so without a team of experts to manage their platforms, artists who have a social media presence must spend time posting photos and videos online themselves. This is something that Kiqué, a former top 10 contestant on Season 22 of “The Voice,” struggled with.
“My dream was never, ‘I want to be posting on social media every day and I want to be making a bunch of TikTok videos.’ That's not my dream,” Kiqué said in a phone interview. “I like to sing, I love music, but social media and doing that wasn't necessarily the dream. So getting into that world and seeing the social media world and how important it is for music was really jarring; I mean, it's everything. Without a social media following, you can't really do anything.”
Music has become a staple in social media content, especially on apps like TikTok where most videos include a short audio taken from a song. Liederman said that these social media trends have directly impacted the way that music producers approach marketing strategies.
“A lot of people in marketing call it reverse engineering virality, so figuring out how to think about going viral from the get go,” Liederman said.
This impact, however, isn’t always a good thing. When virality is at the top of an artist’s priority list, it can lead to inauthenticity in the art that’s being created, according to Liederman. She also said that with the constantly changing social media sphere — especially with TikTok facing political scrutiny in the U.S. federal government due to concerns over data security — the reliance on social media throughout the entertainment industry can create marketing instability, and thus negatively affect artists in the long run.
Kiqué plans to release new music soon and intends to utilize a common strategy of popularizing a short segment of a song on apps like TikTok in order to build anticipation prior to the full release — something that artists across the music business have done, like Sam Smith and Kim Petras on their recent song “Unholy.” However, he shared concerns about the success of his new music because of the heavy reliance on social media throughout the industry.
“The entire outcome of how well or how bad that does is 100% based on social media,” he said. “The advertising and the branding and how I'm going to roll out things…it all controls what happens to the song. Social media is everything in that.”
While the usage and marketing strategies on social media vary for different types of content — from Hargreaves’ films to Kiqué’s songs, for example — Liederman predicts that social media’s current popularity doesn’t have longevity. She explained how despite being a profitable way to garner engagement throughout the entertainment industry, it’s equally as important for artists and brands to create offline touch points, like setting up real-time events, and experiential marketing.
“I don't think it should be so black and white,” Liederman said. “I think that you shouldn't totally run on social media and you shouldn't totally be off the grid — it should be somewhere in the middle.”
Despite how complicated and frustrating it can be to worry about getting the best social media engagement with a new song or film, both Kiqué and Hargreaves intend to use social media to promote their future works. Hargreaves’ new film “The Warrant: Breaker’s Law” is currently streaming on Vudu and will be available for purchase from Amazon on May 30. She plans to post the trailer for the film on her Instagram page soon.
From Liederman’s experience, she said that while using social media to market and grow engagement is beneficial, it’s most important for an artist to maintain their sense of self-identity throughout the process.
“I think that it's important to pay attention to trends, but it's also important for an artist to just stay true to themselves and remember, what are the themes that they enjoy expressing through their work?” Liederman said. “At the end of the day, what do they want their image to be?”