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How NBC harnesses social buzz to fuel fan fervor for This Is Us

Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia play Rebecca and Jack Pearson in NBC's hit show This Is Us / NBCUniversal

NBC’s smash hit This Is Us already had legions of fans before the show hit airwaves in September of 2016. That’s because the show’s trailer – which NBC released during its 2016 Upfront – instantly became a hit in itself, racking up 105 million views on Facebook and YouTube before the first season premiered, according to the network.

Part of that was by design, of course; Jared Goldsmith, NBC’s senior vice president of marketing strategy and digital, says his team worked hard to create something that would have the propensity to go viral, which explains why Milo Ventimiglia – who plays devoted husband and father Jack Pearson on the show – bares his butt in the trailer’s opening shots.

“We took great care in the way that we crafted that trailer,” says Goldsmith. “We were certainly mindful of optimizing the trailer from a digital and social standpoint.”

Since the day the trailer went viral, This Is Us, which wrapped up its second season last month, has enjoyed success that few network TV shows see in today’s Netflix-obsessed world. The show’s post-Super Bowl LII episode racked up 27 million viewers, making it the most-watched drama on any network in 10 years, according to data from NBC’s parent company Comcast. Per Nielsen, its season two finale pulled in nearly 11 million viewers, making it the number one program of the night in the coveted 18-49 age group demographic.

With two seasons under its belt and a third set to premiere this fall, This Is Us shows no signs of slowing down. This is good news for Goldsmith, who says much of show’s marketing revolves around connecting fans with the show’s stars and creating content for its rabid fanbase to share, not hammering home a tune-in message or trying to drive a particular view.

“We try to have a real relationship with the fanbase,” he adds. “We think of ourselves as one of the fans, and so we do things like work with the talent to create personalized birthday messages that we’ll send out via social media to an individual to give them a special message.”

Creating personalized experiences and fostering “one-to-one” engagements are ways that Goldsmith says This Is Us and its cast are able to capitalize on the show’s buzz, even if it means doing so in a spur-of-the-moment fashion. For instance, Ventimiglia surprised an unsuspecting fan on his doorstep last year after he noticed the man watching an episode of the program in his house, which happened to be next door to where the cast was shooting.

“He came by and knocked on the door and gave the gentleman who was watching the show a real surprise, and we were able to capture that on video and have him share that out on social. That was a huge hit,” Goldsmith recounts.

On the marketing front, NBC also leverages the fact that the series is anything but niche. The sheer amount of viewers who regularly tune in is proof that the family drama and its various themes appeal to a wide swath of people, something that Goldsmith says plays a key role in how NBC positions and markets the show.

While the series revolves around the marriage between Rebecca Pearson (played by Mandy Moore) and her husband Jack, it’s the intricate storylines of their triplet children that make the show relatable to so many people. Throughout the series, the three children – played by Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley – deal with issues around weight loss, race, addiction and sexuality, all while grappling with the untimely death of their father.

“When we first read the script, we knew we had something special. The thing that we really latched onto was the authenticity of the show and the relatability to the stories and characters,” Goldsmith says. “So when we talked about how we were going to market the show, we sort of honed in on this concept of ‘the universal us’ and that sort of relatability the show provided.”

This concept of "the universal us" has manifested itself in many of the show’s social campaigns, like its real-time 'Share the Moment' effort on Facebook that encourages users to share pivotal clips from the show that resonate with them. According to NBC, 'Share the Moment' has driven millions of conversations about the show and how topics addressed in the series relate to viewers’ own lives — and has been such a success that Chevrolet signed on as a sponsor.

“People just want to share moments from the show because it’s so relatable and represents so much of what they’re thinking or feeling,” Goldsmith says.

In addition to highlighting content from the show on social, NBC takes great care to ensure that it is amplifying the conversations that are naturally happening around This Is Us in order to showcase just how passionate fans are. For instance, the series celebrates #FanArtFriday on Instagram each week by posting artwork that fans have created.

“We try our best not to step on the toes or prevent the conversation that the fans are doing organically. If anything, we’re trying to showcase what they’re doing, because we know that’s what’s carrying the success of it,” he notes.

As the series gears up for its third season, fan fervor for the show will likely only continue to intensify as viewers anticipate the fate of the Pearson clan, especially since the season two ended with multiple cliffhangers.

While Goldsmith says the show will continue to engage with existing fans, it’s also become increasingly important to make sure his team’s marketing and promotional efforts cater to those who might just now be getting into the show or are still playing catch-up. Considering This Is Us is available on Hulu, there’s a whole generation of cord-cutters that can start watching the show without ever tuning into NBC.

Because of this, Goldsmith says the team purposely keeps some of its messaging vague to ensure it’s not spoiling the plot for those who’ve only recently discovered the show or have yet to start watching.

“There are still people getting caught up on the show. Everyone’s watching at different moments, so that’s where we speak to the general affinity for the show as well so that people always feel like they can jump in and get connected,” he says.

Even so, the dedicated fans who have stood behind the show since the day its trailer made waves online are the ones who’ve helped keep the show buzzworthy despite fierce competition in the TV landscape, which is why NBC is largely focused on connecting with them and making sure their passion for the breakout hit doesn’t wane over time.

“Any way that we can feed that passion is going to help drive the success of the show,” adds Goldsmith.

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