Jul 23, 2019

The brand created cross-platform digital campaign that lured new followers without losing fans of the original.

The cast of The Hills returned to the small screen in June. Their lives are dramatically different since the first time they were on-screen together nearly a decade ago. Another thing that’s completely changed: social media.

When the series ended in 2010, Instagram and Snapchat did not exist. Facebook was still just a site for sharing prom photos with your close inner circle, and much of the YikYak and TikTok audience were toddlers. So, when MTV decided The Hills would continue with The Hills: New Beginnings, the brand’s social media marketing team needed to craft a full digital strategy.

“We started with the nostalgia factor to get the OG Hills fan base back into it,” says Eric Dimitratos, director of social and digital marketing at MTV. “We sat down and brainstormed what Hills fans would love to see and the most iconic moments from the original series.”

The team also wanted to use the reality reboot as an opportunity to involve fans with the show's stars as a way to bring its cultural impact to life. Fans can watch exclusive online videos filmed with the cast, record a video of a sing-a-long of the show’s theme song with its singer, Natasha Bedingfield, and ask the show’s stars for fashion advice. They can even star in their own version of The Hills opening credits.

On the night of its premiere, June 24, the series was the number one cable series on social media according to Nielsen. It held the top trend on Twitter in the U.S. and number two worldwide. On Monday, MTV announced that it renewed The Hills: New Beginnings for Season 2.

Viacom spoke with Dimitratos for the details on the full digital campaign.

"If social media had been around like it is now during the original, it would have been a game-changer."

Viacom: What were the challenges of developing a social and digital strategy for a series that originally aired before the rise of social media?

Eric Dimitratos: Our main challenge was that the show didn’t have a social footprint outside of Facebook. Going back in time, our cast was on every magazine cover and entertainment blog and key storylines from the show made headlines before episodes even aired!

If social media had been around like it is now during the original Hills’ days, it would have been a game-changer for the show for sure. We played into this with some original content, where we had the cast unbox a time capsule from 2006 that contained a Motorola Razr, a picture of Tom from MySpace, etc.

V: How do you engage fans of the original series, as well as younger audiences who never saw the show?

ED: Nostalgia played a pivotal role in our overall strategy, starting with the launch of our Twitter and Instagram accounts in August 2018. We posted throwback clips day after day and fans couldn’t get enough. What makes people want to watch again is their love for the cast. They remember where they were and who they were with when they watched Justin Bobby break Audrina’s heart the first time … and the second time.

We’ve since launched a Facebook Group, Pinterest, TikTok, and we utilize MTV’s Brand platforms. The best performing platform for us right now is Instagram. In premiere week, we gained about 30,000 followers, which is insane organic growth.

Across social we have posted everything from clips of the original series, memes, regrams of the cast, and original content. We had a shoot with the cast and captured various types of content to test what would perform well for our fanbase. This included ‘react-to’ videos with the cast, trivia games, unboxing videos, clip-based montages, and tattoo tutorials.

We also leveraged new cast member Brandon Thomas Lee, who is really great, for younger viewers. Brandon’s so fun and an awesome addition to the show.

"It’s extremely important for us to make the fans feel like they’re a part of the show because 'The Hills' is such a huge part of pop culture."

V: The campaign also included elements beyond the traditional social media platforms. Can you delve into some of those?

ED:  It’s extremely important for us to make the fans feel like they’re a part of the show because The Hills is such a huge part of pop culture. One way we did that was through our Smule activation with Natasha Bedingfield. This let fans sing a duet with her to the iconic theme song, Unwritten. Since the launch of the song in the app, we’ve seen more than half a million in-app engagements. Users have listened to it 360,000 times and 40,000 users have sung the song.

We also launched The Hills Amazon Alexa Skill which gives fans fashion advice from Mischa Barton, Stephanie Pratt, and Audrina Partridge each morning. It had one of the most successful launches in the Viacom Alexa family and invites users to come back day-after-day to hear brand new fashion tips from their favorite cast members. Plus, our Opening Credits Generator where fans can insert themselves into the show has garnered 20,000 uses since launch last week.

V: How will you continue to encourage fan engagement as the season continues?

ED:  As the season continues, we’ll engage fans week after week through new and fun content like updated stickers in Instagram stories, refreshed fashion tips from the cast on Amazon Alexa, and bonus clips from every episode. Amanda Frey, Alexa Amato, Amanda Becker, Jordana Ossad, and Jonathan Henry on my team has made sure there will be no shortage of new content for fans!

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