‘Arrow,’ ‘Awkward’ Exec Producers, YouTubers Talk the Impact of Social Media

Social media has emerged as a crucial tool for fan feedback, though one that must be taken with a grain a salt, according to a panel of creators from television, film and digital media at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit Monday.

With the preponderance of entertainment options on television and the web creating an ever-growing competition for consumers’ time, social media presents a way to break from the crowd to reach fans, says “Arrow” creator/EP Marc Guggenheim. While that engagement and feedback can provide a helpful voice for writers to listen to, it doesn’t mean fans are writing their own choose-your-own adventure stories via Twitter.

“I wouldn’t say we let it drive plot points,” Guggenheim said. “I sort of treat it as market research. This is playing, this character is resonating, this moment wasn’t so successful. … I call (fans) the extra writer in the writers room. Not always the writer we listen to, but certainly a voice.”

Guggenheim said he likes to treat social media like one massive, but not universal, focus group.

“You can’t think that you’re getting a subsection of the entire audience,” he said. “You have to recognize that these are a very specific subset who have very specific opinions that they want to go online and voice, but I think with moderation it’s very helpful.”

For “Awkward” EPs Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler, social media can provide instant gratification that a casting or creative decision landed in the way that they wanted it to, even if the fan reaction does not have any real impact on the show.

“We were still in production of the second half of episodes that are airing right now when the first half were airing,” Alberghini said. “So we were watching the twitter feeds, on set watching, and it’s kind of thrilling. You’ve got this big moment you’ve been planning and mapping out, and … boom, you get all these comments instantly. It is thrilling to get that live feedback.”

A common theme of the panel was the danger of giving fans too much power in the creative process. But a high level of fan involvement via social media is an integral tool for Smosh creators and stars Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla though, as encouraging fan involvement and allowing fan input on projects can be beneficial to growing their brand.

“We will literally take feedback from the audience and make an entire video based on what that feedback is,” Padilla said. “For us it’s really important that really cater to the audience and make them feel like they’re involved. It makes them appreciate the things that they’re not even involved with at all even more.”

For all its positives, though, social media has its downside as well, with “Big Brother” EP Allison Grodner saying that she has to develop thick skin when she reads fan feedback. The panelists all agreed with her in that finding the balance between engaging fans and going down the rabbit hole of getting too involved, both creatively and personally, in what people say about a creator and his or her show on the internet is a difficult line to walk.

Charlie Corwin, co-chairman and co-CEO of Endemol America, pointed out that it’s important to remember an important principle about creating successful entertainment, even if it’s tempting to try and please fans as much as possible.

“You can’t reverse engineer a hit,” Corwin said.

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