Bestselling Author Nicholas Sparks Seeks the Secrets of Social Media

August 3rd, 2012

The Wall Street Journal – Speakeasy
By Rachel Dodes
August 3, 2012

The relationship between buzz and box office is a subject of much debate these days in Hollywood circles. Movie attendance has fallen off a cliff owing to a variety of factors, ranging from the popularity of alternate forms of entertainment (read: video games) to the challenge of reaching young people via television ads in a DVR world. Those same young people happen to be the most active on social media.

Figuring out whether and to what extent social chatter has the power to get people to buy movie tickets “really is the Holy Grail,” says best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, who visited Silicon Valley in April, prior to the release of the movie adaptation of his book, “The Lucky One.” Mr. Sparks, who has nearly 300,000 Twitter followers and 1.3 million Facebook fans, was interested in seeing whether the tour would potentially help move the needle at the multiplex.

Over the course of the two-day tour, Mr. Sparks screened “The Lucky One” at Twitter’s San Francisco offices, participated in a Google+ hangout—a video chat with fans—visited Facebook and FourSquare, and did an interview with TechCrunch. The result: social media conversation about Mr. Sparks spiked by more than 300%, and tracking surrounding opening weekend for “The Lucky One” started to climb, according to Eric Kuhn, an agent at United Talent Agency who was hired last year as a specialist in social media. (The movie ultimately opened to a $23 million weekend, more than 50% better than predicted.)

In an interview, Mr. Sparks, who is most famous for the romantic drama “The Notebook,” said that he thinks that the cinematic adaptations of his books have defied box office expectations because his audience, predominantly young women, is difficult to track. “These aren’t the types of movies, like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Harry Potter’ that people know they are going to see six months in advance,” he said. “For my movies, there’s a subset of people who will go, but a lot of them are 18-to-29. They’re in school. They have finals. They might not decide to see a movie until Thursday.”

Mr. Sparks’s next film, “Safe Haven,” was recently filming in North Carolina where the author lives. It stars Julianne Hough (517,000 Twitter followers) and Josh Duhamel (276,000 Twitter followers). Both of them were encouraged to tweet about the film as they were shooting it.

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