10 Audience Development Hacks from Mr. Robot
The scorching summer TV series Mr. Robot is back, and the hacks are bigger than ever. But let’s look beyond the magnetic characters and mind-blowing reveals. Instead, we’ll try to decrypt how this series caught on so quickly. I’ll give you a hint; just like in email marketing, the key was audience development. Here are ten Mr.Robot-inspired tips for developing – and retaining – your email audience:
1. Combat cliches. Because Mr. Robot provided its audience with complex, intriguing characters, the audience was deeply and honestly invested in the show. This allowed the script to be wonderfully layered and thought-provoking at times, without fear of losing the audience — writers knew that they had set the stage in such a way that viewers were sure to pay attention.
Don’t let the fear of being too “out there” stop you from creating something unique that will truly captivate your audience. By cultivating a tone that is all your own, you are free to deepen your innovation and message while eliminating the fear of falling into stereotypes altogether. Which ties
nicely into my next point…
2. Nurture the niche. In the Season 2 premiere, as Darlene is writing a section of code, Mr. Robot producers included a nod to the real-life hackers in their audience: “Hack the Gibson… and remember… hugs are worth more than handshakes.” This line is a comment in the source code of a toolkit used by hackers & security pros alike, “Social Engineering Tool.” Chances are slim that this detail landed for most viewers, and slimmer yet that the missed joke gave them pause. However, this is one of many moments crafted specifically to give extra meaning to the true niche audience members.
If you worry that your content targets a group that is TOO niche… don’t. Ensure that there are takeaways for the various audiences that you want viewing your material, but don’t hold back when creating content for fear that it may not appeal to everyone. “Everyone” does not read your emails, or purchase your products — your loyal subscribers and customers do. Create content that entertains and informs YOUR niche, and do it well — other segments will take care of the rest.
3. Be accessible. On July 10th, 2016, Mr. Robot held a live Q&A via Facebook to promote Season 2, set to premiere on July 13th. This event allowed fans to reach out with their questions and comments for the cast, which included Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, & Carly Chaikin. By responding to fans in real-time, the cast members also provided an opportunity for viewers to become more invested in the upcoming season as well as the individual characters.
Your audience is interested in your company and content. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother to follow, subscribe, or visit your website. When you give an opportunity for them to get to know you, your product, or your company better, you are only strengthening that bond and loyalty. Your customers want to know that you’re listening, and that you care. What better way to show that your viewers are important to you than by connecting and communicating with them directly? One great way to do this is by ditching your “no-reply" address and sending from a “friendly from" that can accept replies (…but please make sure someone replies!).
4. Reward engagement. At the very same Q&A session on July 10th, Mr. Robot producers decided to surprise their viewers. 17 minutes into the hour-long session, a member of fsociety cut into the feed. This interception turned into a leak of the Season 2 premiere, surprising all fans that were tuned in. The sneak peek appeared on Twitter at 8:30pm, Snapchat at 8:45, and Youtube at 9:00pm – just before the leaked video vanished, almost as quickly as it had appeared.
When you periodically surprise your audience and reward their engagement, the users on your email list become hooked on your content. You never know when something unexpected might happen, so users are more likely to stay looped in to avoid missing out! These incentives are a great way to attract those who only occasionally viewed your content before, and to reward those who consistently do.
5. Results ≠ relax. After such positive feedback from Season 1 of Mr. Robot, you might think that this show has it all figured out. They’ve cracked the code; now they just need to maintain, right? Wrong — and the producers know it. The hacks in Season 2 only become more elaborate, and are now decided BEFORE the script is even written. Each show’s script is based on what hacks are necessary to achieve fsociety’s long term goals, which have yet to be revealed. The success of Season 1 has not gone to their heads — Mr. Robot’s cast and crew are just getting warmed up.
Seeing your audience grow and become more invested may tempt you to rest on your newfound success. However, growing your audience is only half of the battle, and even that is never finished. Now, you must work harder than ever; don’t just maintain the level of quality your audience expects — improve upon it. This is how to keep your current audience engaged, and how you continue to grow. Re-engage lapsed subscribers, and always work to gain new ones.
6. Be authentic. You may think that increasingly elaborate hacks in Season 2 just come down to increasingly creative writing on the part of the Mr. Robot staff. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. All code and tools shown in the show are absolutely real. Let me say that again: the code displayed for each and every hack is the actual code necessary to execute the task. The show’s creators and developers consider exactly how these events would occur, set the stage, then build and demo code for the hacks. There are certain pieces that take weeks to complete. The creators of Mr. Robot are striving for authenticity for their niche audience, alongside their expanded audiences, in every aspect imaginable.
Creating uniquely transparent and substantive content, while difficult, is crucial for audience engagement. If your content marketing pieces are poorly vetted, or sloppily packaged, your readers will notice. While it’s tempting to jump on a bandwagon and produce content that you know will contain popular keywords, you won’t gain anything by forging ahead with a topic you have no knowledge about. Your writing, reputation, and readers WILL suffer. Write what you know, research what you don’t, and avoid creating uninformed content just for clicks. (For example, it would be silly to craft this post without ever having seen Mr. Robot, wouldn’t it? Luckily, I’ve not missed a single episode.)
7. Details matter. From the hidden messages for niche audiences to fsociety “leaking” the Season 2 premiere, there is no denying that the layers of detail in Mr. Robot run deep. However, in Season 2 these “easter eggs” are taken to a whole new level; included throughout the season are clues to yet another group of real-world assets. Each IP address featured in the show, no matter how briefly, can be pinged to discover additional Mr. Robot content. Sometimes it feels as though the producers of Mr. Robot truly have attached meaning to every detail.
Along the same vein as authenticity, engagement comes down to the details. It may seem like it’s just one email, blog post, or podcast, but that one piece of content may be your reader’s first – and last – impression of you. If you aren’t willing to invest the time in keeping up with your industry, to provide viewers with current and accurate content, why would they invest the time in reading your mailings?
8. Commit to brand voice/themes. Across all episodes, social platforms and media content, Mr. Robot’s brand voice is wonderfully consistent. The same level of effort is apparent across all of their assets, and the content maintains their unique tone and themes throughout. From the Facebook Live Q&A to Mr. Robot’s interactive site, whoismrrobot.com, each asset and event is worth viewing. This creates a sense of unity and clarity regarding the meaning and feeling this show wants to convey.
From product launches to holiday newsletters, there is always a reason to reach out to your audience. As your campaigns multiply and your marketing department grows, don’t give up your brand voice and identity. You never know when a new audience member will first come in contact with your content, so it is crucial that you cultivate a voice that is consistent across all assets. Your newsletters should not feel completely disconnected from your announcements, or from the greeting sent to your new subscribers. After all, your readers signed up to view YOUR content — not the content that has your logo but comes across completely differently, just because your coworker wrote it. All communications must be on brand — consistency is key.
9. Provide an experience. You may not have been familiar with Mr. Robot when the first season was promoted, prior to the series really taking off. But for some, this promotion was one of the most intriguing they’d seen; after all, who wouldn’t perk up at the mention of “deleting” $100,000 in debt? USA and ISL partnered to create an experience that Twitch users would not soon forget. To promote Season 1 of Mr.Robot, fsociety cut into the E3 live streaming event (the world’s largest gaming event) on Twitch, announcing that there would be a massive wealth redistribution. After the E3 stream, real-time debt deletion began, and streamed for the next 17 hours. The hackers played and created video games with their audience, invented connected hardware live, and destroyed all evidence periodically during the live stream. The feed even showed a SWAT team breaking into the “hacking lair” to try and arrest the hackers. Every 30 minutes, a new code was revealed to the audience, giving viewers a chance to “reclaim” a piece of the $100k. These winners were announced on the stream, and were sent their winnings via PayPal in real time. This one-of-a-kind experience was the perfect way to build a fanbase for Mr. Robot, before the first episode ever premiered.
When someone signs up for your newsletter, they are giving you an opportunity to form a direct relationship with them. It is your responsibility to make them glad that they did — and to keep them from unsubscribing the next day. Start by making your mailings FUN; ensure that your audience looks forward to seeing your email in their inbox. Become a part of their routine. Show your current audience members that you value your relationship by sending them tailored content that they will enjoy. When you craft mailings that engage and enthrall readers, you are providing so much more than reading material; you are providing them with an experience.
10. Enjoy your brand. Every “easter egg”, event and deeply layered episode reinforces one thing, above all else: Mr. Robot producers and cast members are passionate about their project. Going above and beyond, creating additional assets and surprises for their audience shows a true desire to innovate. Enjoying the production of content is what sets a brand apart; with Mr. Robot, the ardor is obvious.
You were given an assignment or content vertical that is of no interest to you, and yet you are expected to produce something great. We’ve all been there. While it is possible to create decent content, even if you don’t enjoy the topic, it is certainly not ideal. However, if this is the case for every email you send, or blog you write, you may want to reconsider the brand you are writing for. If you aren’t interested in what you’re telling your audience, if you don’t think it’s as important as your exclamation points indicate, they will know. Rethink how you approach writing for your audience, or rethink the type of audience you’d like to be writing for. The most awe-inspiring content is produced by the people who are just as excited to create as their audience is to consume.
For additional audience development hacks, download our Audience Development Solution Guide. For additional discussion of the mind-blowing Mr. Robot, or to contemplate future plot twists, feel free to comment below.