sharknadoJuly 2013 saw history happen — and it happened with flying sharks. The Syfy Network aired what has been universally reviewed as a horrible movie about sharks caught in a tornado that then go on a flying shark rampage. The show was cheaply made and had almost no viewers (including the actors that were in it).

Yet, this movie, according to SyFy channel owners, NBC Universal, was the ‘most social program on all television…’ According to The Independent, Sharknado saw 5,000 tweets per minute with 318,232 tweets by over 100,000 tweeters; and that’s just while it aired. There are now over 14 million results on Google for Sharknado. Celebrities were joining in and people who would’ve ignored this cut-rate gorefest were clamoring for a rerun.

Man-eating flying sharks caught in a tornado are not exactly my movie genre of choice but, as an expert on Public Relations, this cultural event certainly made me ponder what lessons, if any, could be learned.

Lesson #1: You don’t need a big budget to get big results. Sharknado can’t even remotely be considered a blockbuster. In fact, it was produced for an estimated $1-$2 million, according to The Boston Globe. That left very little budget, if any for promotion. It’s more like the equivalent of photocopying flyers for your cars and placing them on the table by the front door in your dealership. The lesson to be learned is that the important thing is to take action. Whether that means you do your own social media, create your own ad campaigns, do your own press releases or hire a professional firm to do these things, just do it.

Lesson #2: The Right People Can Make A Big Difference. While you may not have the connections to get celebrities tweeting about your store, you do have influencers in your circles. You have customers and employees you interact with on a daily basis that may have influence in social media that you aren’t even aware of. The trick is identifying them. The only way to do that is to pay attention. It’s a given that you have little chance to achieve any social media exposure if your dealership doesn’t have a presence on social media. Make sure that you’re taking advantage of social media in your marketing and branding.

Lesson #3: It Doesn’t Have To Be Amazing To Be Talked About. In no way did the executives that green-lighted Sharknado ever believe they had a potential blockbuster; but they made it anyways. Why? Because it fit their demographic.  Are you creating content, ads, offers and marketing messages that fit your demographic? It’s sort of like bacon and cats on social media. For some reason, people love to talk and share about these topics on social media. In no way am I suggesting you start posting pictures of bacon and cats on your Facebook page. What I am saying is that you need to pay attention to what your customers respond to and tailor your content to what they want to see, not necessarily what you want to tell them.

It’s implausible to think that some studio executive green-lighted this movie with the thought that this was going to be a blockbuster. This was more likely an exercise in content creation to fill their channel with original programming and, because they created that content, they got scored.

Lesson #4: You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play. Sharknado was Syfy winning the lottery. They paid the $2 and happened to win. While it doesn’t happen often, it does happen! They understood that. In the world of public relations, our job is to get your message out in a way that generates buzz and to get it in the hands of the right people. I’m certainly not saying that hiring a public relations firm is like buying a lottery ticket. What I am saying is that good public relations firms have the connections and contacts appropriate to your business that can maximize the chances of success. Even if you have made the decision to do it yourself, there are many services that, for a premium, can deliver your content into the right hands. If people don’t see it, however, you’ll never have any chance of winning.

Lesson #5: Exposure Can Equal Success. Sharknado was destined to be late-night content for a cable network that their demographic would view but fate intervened. Public relations is about getting your message heard by the right people.  There are many ways we go about accomplishing this including press releases, relevant and timely blog articles and social media. Having a comprehensive mixture to deliver your message is integral to maximizing its reach and success.

This horrible movie will become a part of our pop culture for years to come and, it will do this because someone at the Syfy Network decided to create the right content for the network’s audience no matter how bad they thought it was going to be. And, because they did, they happened to get lucky on social media. There is no better example of nothing turning into something than this…

Until Sharknado 2 comes out, that is.

Sara Callahan | Carter West Public Relations