Social Media Buzz: Has Liam Neeson Put the Fear in ‘Son of God’?

How this week’s wide releases are shaping up on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google

Non Stop Film Review

Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness and predict box office success even before awareness turns into intent? We analyzed this weekend’s new movies across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google (the methodology behind the numbers is below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.


Last weekend, Kevin Costner and “3 Days to Kill” attempted to stake a claim to Liam Neeson’s throne as “toughest older male lead” and took $12 million on opening. “Non-Stop” has the social stats and box office potential to vanquish the usurper and reaffirm Neeson’s status as Hollywood’s pre-eminent aging hardman with a soft side, a position he established with the “Taken” movies.

Search is the prime indicator for older demographics and “Non-Stop” will open with the highest search volume for an action movie since “Lone Survivor’s” 134,000, surpassing the 34,000 of “3 Days” and 63,000 of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” by a distance. “Non-Stop” is similarly ahead on Twitter, leading “3 Days”’ 10,000 tweets and “Jack Ryan’s” 23,000. The audience who watched “3 Days” last weekend was 80% over the age of 25, emphasising that this is the key demographic to activate for this similar movie to succeed.

While search is the best indicator, “Non-Stop” has a comprehensive social presence, including a Neeson-worshipping Tumblr, featuring a series of action GIFs and amusing quotes saluting Neeson’s cult action-hero status. This taps into an established sentiment, reminiscent of the Chuck Norris facts meme. Neeson has been front and center of the campaign across every platform, with notable mentions for Julianne Moore and “Downton Abbey’s'” Michelle Dockery.

“Non Stop” will open with a Facebook presence five-times the size of “3 Days” and a solid PTAT score, both metrics assisted by an astute media spend targeting those most likely to see the movie, concentrating on supporting video content and sharable images. While these views don’t count towards the overall total shown above, this has been boosted by a Lego version of the trailer and a sketch with Comedy Central favorites “Key and Peele,” which has driven 1.2 million views, pushing the total up to a respectable 11 million views.

Final Expectations: Social stats suggest Liam Neeson will be able to pull in the crowds and make “Non-Stop” take flight at the box office.

Son of God

“Son of God” is the first religious movie to hit theaters since Mel Gibson’s controversial “Passion of the Christ,” in 2004, and comes with a huge built-in audience. This base of Evangelical Christians have launched a grassroots campaign to spread the word about the movie and ensure as many people see it as possible, including booking out entire cinemas and distributing tickets for the movie.

The weight of the fan-driven online campaign is unprecedented in the days of social media. The center of the online campaign is the website Share Son of God, which encourages fans to host an event, become a movie “mobilizer” or ambassador and take over theaters in order to “spread the word and help the ‘Son of God’ influence millions of lives.” The website encourages users to share “Son of God” content on their social media profiles, something which every movie marketer wants you to do, but rarely explicitly requests. Seldom does a movie come with such a volume of vociferous brand advocates, including religious leaders, whose video testimonies are being posted to the Facebook page in a multitude of languages, including English, Spanish and Korean.

Very high engagement on Facebook and YouTube suggests that fans are hearing the message and engaging with the content, with a 60% PTAT on Facebook and the 0.61% YouTube buzz — double that of an average movie. It is a very positive sign that more than half of the fan base is engaged, showing the digital campaign has hit home with them. Enough fans were tweeting on release day to make “Son of God” an organic trend.

While search isn’t showing the same strong numbers that Facebook and YouTube are, this can be chalked up to the self-explanatory nature of the film. If “Son of God” is truly hitting its core audience then a low search volume is less indicative — this fan base doesn’t need to search “Son of God” on Google. They probably have found Jesus already.

Thus the real social network in play here is not the one we typically measure online, but rather the one that meets every Sunday morning at church offline. Yet fan engagement is high and the response to early screenings has been overwhelmingly positive, suggesting that word-of-mouth in the community could see “Son of God” start big this weekend.

Final Expectations: “Son of God” has used social media and a large online presence to raise awareness and drive high engagement rates across online communities.

Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of http://www.moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching over 15 million Facebook fans and 7 million monthly unique users. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying, analyzing and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and FilmDistrict.



While individually these metrics may not mean a lot, compared to one another and in context of competition and genre benchmarks, they give a good impression of the performance of a movie’s marketing campaign and the audience’s appetite for the movie. Needless to say, there are limitations to these data points and the causalities they explain, but as Hollywood just enters the era of Big Data, the potential insight offered by these numbers cannot be ignored.

Facebook fan (or like) numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie, even months before the release. For mainstream movies with younger target audiences, fan counts are particularly important. However, big fan numbers can be bought and movies with older target audiences typically have lower fan counts. Fan engagement measured by PTAT (People Talking About This) is a more precise but also a fickle indicator, heavily driven by content strategy and media spending.  Both numbers are global and public facing numbers from the official Facebook fanpage.

YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. We track all English language original video content about the movie on YouTube, down to videos with 100 views, whether they are officially published by a studio or published unofficially by fans. The Buzz ratio looks at the percentage of unique viewers on YouTube that have “liked” a video and given it a “thumbs up”. Movies with over 40 million views are usually mainstream and set to dominate the box office, while titles drawing 10 million to 20 million views indicate a more specific audience. If a movie does not have a solid number of trailer views on YouTube four weeks before its release, it is not promising news. But again, it is important to understand whether trailer views have been bought or grew organically. These numbers are global and public facing.

Twitter is a good real-time indicator of excitement and word of mouth, coming closer to release or following bigger PR stunts. Mainstream, comedy and horror titles all perform particularly strongly on Twitter around release. We count all tweets over the period of the last seven days before release (Friday through Thursday), that include the movie’s title plus a number of search words, e.g. “movie” OR a list of movie-specific hashtags. Some titles with common words or phrases like “HER” or “LABOR DAY” are very hard to track in a meaningful way on Twitter. The numbers are global, conducted using a Twitter API partner service.

Search is a solid indicator for intent moving towards release as people actively seek out titles that they are aware of and are thinking about seeing. Search is particularly significant for fan-driven franchises and family titles as parents look for information about films they may take their children to see. We look at the last seven days (Friday  through Thursday) of global Wikipedia traffic as a conclusive proxy for Google Search volume. We have to consider that big simultaneous global releases tend to have higher search results compared to domestic releases.