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5 content marketing lessons from 'Pretty Little Liars'
2015-08-17

The ABC Family series "Pretty Little Liars" promised something big with its summer finale this week, and apparently it delivered, prompting tons of discussion.


The series' status as a social media event shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. There have been more than 100 million tweets related to the show sent out to date, and the series also boasts the most-tweeted-about telecast of all time (with almost 1.9 million tweets sent during a single 2013 episode). Even popular brands such as Chili’s have gotten into the craze with sponsored posts that directly appeal to fans of the show.


"Pretty Little Liars" drives the type of engagement that content marketers dream of. Whether you are a frequent visitor to Rosewood (the fictional town in which the series is set) or not, the show offers some valuable advice to new and veteran content marketers alike.


1. Always bring your “A” game.


Simply put, the inevitable result of more PR and marketing pros realizing the immense value of providing good content is that there is more of it out there, making it more and more difficult for yours to get noticed. Just as the lead characters on the show constantly have to find new ways to anticipate their antagonist A’s every move, every piece of content you push out for your brand should be of a truly forward-thinking “A-level” to help it stand out.


Furthermore, you shouldn’t keep churning out blogs, social media posts, and photos just to stay visible. If a post isn’t something that you would “like” or share yourself, why are you even bothering with it?


2. Reward audience loyalty.


One of the reasons I am still watching "Pretty Little Liars" six seasons later when I’ve given up on other shows years ago is because the series does an excellent job of rewarding viewers who have been with the show since the beginning through elements such as recurring characters, flashbacks, and even long-running in-jokes. As a content marketer, you have the opportunity to do the same thing; consider how even iconic brands such as Oreo used the consumer loyalty around its 100th Birthday Celebration to create a truly unique and engaging social media campaign.


[RELATED: Become your own news outlet to boost brand reputation.]


3. Don’t be afraid to throw in some surprises.


Like many television shows, "Pretty Little Liars" doesn’t shy away from cliffhanger moments like “Will Ezra survive?” and shocking stunts like making audience members thing Tony was A. Although there is nothing wrong with playing it safe and ensuring your content always tightly adheres to brand guidelines, there is also something to be said for the element of surprise. Continuing with the Oreo example, remember how shocked people were at how quickly Oreo was able to respond to the Super Bowl 2013 blackout with this ingenious tweet?


4. Be as social as possible.


Although pretty much every show on television has its own unique hashtag these days, "Pretty Little Liars" truly pioneered “social TV.” Beyond the regular hashtags designated for the show (#PrettyLittleLiars and #PLL), each episode also features 3-5 other hashtags that key into iconic scenes most likely to drive a significant audience response, and a separate #PLLchat hashtag also enables fans to interact with members of the cast and crew while watching the show.


For content marketers, this is a great example of social optimization on an entirely different level, going so far as to shape the kinds of conversations that fans have about the show. At every opportunity, good content marketers should consider just how “social” their content really is, and make every effort possible to ensure it not only gets people talking but also keeps the conversation going far into the future.


5. Keep your audience hooked.


Almost every episode of "Pretty Little Liars" ends with a mysterious, 30-second clip that provides clues to the identity of A, the show’s primary antagonist. While viewers still don’t know how all of them will fit together, each week we continue tuning in to get more pieces to the puzzle.


As a content marketer, you have the opportunity to participate in the same kind of brand-building. Each blog post you write, social media post you make, and photo or video you produce has the ability to make your audience become more deeply invested in your brand. You should capitalize on those opportunities to keep your audience as engaged as possible every chance that you get.


Drew Boehmker is a content strategist at O'Keefe PR & Marketing Solutions. A version of this post originally appeared on the O'Keefe blog.

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Vivian Li

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