Long gone are the days of passive consumption and primetime tune-in—we've officially surpassed the tipping point wherein audiences require a second screen and sanctioned hashtag while watching their favorite shows. For young consumers, fandom doesn't stop at celebrating. In fact, a recent study found that 84% of Millennials believe that fans have ownership over whatever it is that they are fans of.
Building on its long history of fostering connection and its new role as an entertainment brand, AT&T challenged us to create the future of connected entertainment.
Cue "Guilty Party: History of Lying"—a real-time scripted original series that played out over eight weeks across seven social networks in a participatory multi-screen content experience.
Observing that social media has blurred the lines between friendship and entertainment, our strategy was to build an original series with a new narrative model that functioned more like a "friend-group" rather than a traditional "show." This meant engaging with our fans as if they were students who attended the same fictional school as the main characters, and were also trying to solve the story's central mystery. For example, fans were invited to "attend" the college on Facebook, watch episodes on YouTube, take the class on Google Classroom, and chat directly with characters on emerging platforms like Discord.
The show's eco-system encouraged audience engagement and its critical themes sparked meaningful connections and created hundreds of thousands of friendships in social communities that are still active today.
In creating "Guilty Party," we focused on entering the native spaces young consumers were spending time in, authentically, replicating their behaviors while delivering a consistently unified brand message. To establish a personal connection between the "Guilty Party" franchise and fans, the story is told in real time across seven social platforms, eight traditional mid-form episodes, a podcast, cast participation on their handles, and meetups.
While the show was distributed on traditional social channels like YouTube, we also facilitated audience engagement on an emerging platform: Discord.
Best described as a "Slack for Fandom," Discord is made of servers, which are communities you can opt to join. Servers are made up of channels for various topics related to the server theme. Though structured like Slack, we selected Discord as a prime story channel because of its emphasis on generating group discussion and community, rather than direct messages. Started in 2015, Discord is traditionally used by gamers to connect, but recently influencers have been creating channels. In fact, the highest source of web traffic to Discord comes from YouTube, which accounts for 11.5% of unique visits.
Given this new influx of influencer personalities on the platform, we positioned the "Guilty Party" Discord channel as being "owned" by one of our wannabe-influencer characters, Alvaro. We named Alvaro's channel "The Colvin Cauldron," so that it truly functioned as an in-world story extension rather than a personal tool. Our conceit was that Alvaro hosted his blog on Discord, and that all of the fans were actually his campus "spies." We introduced other characters into Discord over-time, sometimes clocking their identities until our fans "unmasked" them. Once show characters were in the Discord, fans grilled them, collaborated on homework assignments with them, shared clues with them, and, even, asked for life advice. None of this happened because we "tricked" fans into thinking it was real, rather they were just excited at the opportunity to immerse themselves deeper into the story.
But in some ways, it wasn't what we did that was exciting—it was what the audience did that really blew our minds. Here are just a few examples:
Finally, knowing that Discord has a devoted bot development community, we worked with a developer to create a "Guilty Party" bot that allowed fans to identify themselves as "Team Alvaro" or "Team Dan," as well as form their own sub-communities around the characters they were championing.
"Guilty Party: History of Lying" created a new template for audience participation in entertainment. In total, the franchise published eight episodes, 21 character vlogs, eight podcast episodes, and 1,700+ pieces of social content, garnering over 89 million views and over 83 million fan engagements. In fact, on YouTube—where we had no paid media—our engagement rate averaged 19.94%, far above industry and category norms. Additionally, we were able to see brand lift on key metrics such as relevance and innovation for viewers.
Discord played a major role in "Guilty Party's" success as the prime space our super fans to connect and engage with the story. In fact, despite the season being long over, fans are still active on Discord using it a safe space to continue to explore tough issues.
But its the lasting impact the show has had on fans has been the most rewarding outcome. We think one of our fan comments sums it up best: "Thank you for allowing us, the audience, to experience such a great story as if we were there. Can't wait to see what AT&T has planned for the future and how we can get involved and help!!"
Fill out the form below and we'll work on connecting you to the entry creator!