[Disclaimer: If you have not yet listened to “Hamilton: An American Musical,” do so now. Like, right now.]
The life story of founding father Alexander Hamilton isn’t exactly common knowledge. Most people either recognize him as the guy on the $10 bill, that he was the first Secretary of the Treasury or that he died in a duel with his political rival, Aaron Burr. Contrary to somewhat-popular belief, he was never a president.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the story of Hamilton was thrust back into the spotlight in Broadway’s hottest new musical, aptly named Hamilton. The show tells the tale of Hamilton’s life, from his role in the American Revolution to his political rise and eventual downfall.
But what makes this show so groundbreaking is that it’s performed as a rap musical and features a cast almost entirely composed of people of color.
The refreshing, energetic showstopper is revered by its fans, and a large majority of them haven’t even seen the musical live. (Broadway’s not cheap, and not everyone can make a quick scamper over to New York.)
Even if they haven’t seen the show, many Hamilton fans feel just as involved as those who have because of the energy and personality the musical and its cast have shared with their world online.
Hamilton on Social Media
That’s not to say that there aren’t other fans that feel this way about their favorite musical; Wicked and Rent fans are arguably just as passionate. What separates Hamilton’s fans from the rest of the crowd is that their fandom is all over mainstream social media, and the show is benefitting tremendously from it.
Broadway isn’t unfamiliar with social media. Like other shows, social media is normally used as a means of promotion. Photos of the cast accompanied by song lyrics tend to have your standard “Come see the show!” message.
That’s a tried and true strategy, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Hamilton’s social media presence, however, offers something a little more substantial. It doesn’t just promote and inform; it engages and encourages a level of fandom not often seen on Broadway.
“My company’s goal with social media is to act as the ‘DVD Bonus Features’ on the accounts we oversee. We have always strived to provide content that people will love whether or not they’ve seen the show,” explains Mike Karns, Social Media Manager for Hamilton.
“The first time we really saw the interest explode on a piece of content was when the show was still at The Public Theater, and we created a video parody of the original ‘Got Milk’ commercial featuring Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr,” Karns says. “We were able to use people and ideas from the show to tie into a greater conversation, and fans seemed to eat that up.”
The fans absolutely adore this strategy. Anything they can tie Hamilton into, they do. They’re almost always impulsively spouting lyrics from the show and applying it to any situation. Any situation at all. The show’s material is so dense and memorable that simply saying “take a break” is enough to get a fan singing. That kind of flexibility within the lyrics makes Hamilton very easy to meme.
Of course, the Hamilton Twitter wouldn’t look quite the way it does if it weren’t for the musical’s creator, composer and star – yeah, he plays Hamilton – Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“We knew that we would inherently have a strong early following due to Lin’s visibility on Twitter and the early buzz about the show, but we never could have imagined that it would take off in the way that it has,” Karns says.
“We’ve loved having the ability to directly connect with fans using social media in order to bring them along for the ride,” Karns added.
How Two Popular and Engaging Twitter Accounts Work Together
Miranda is notoriously unable to remove himself from Twitter. Since his first Broadway show, In The Heights, he’s been a formidable social media presence, willing to share backstage photos, videos of him singing on the subway or little quips that are completely unrelated to the show.
His cute demeanor and willingness to engage with fans over Twitter and Tumblr is charming to say the least. Going into Hamilton, Miranda already had a large fan base that he was regularly communicating with. So when it came to promoting the show, the collaboration came naturally.
“We work in tandem with Lin’s account, and I am in close contact with him pretty much every day, but there is rarely an explicit decision to post on one platform versus the other,” Karnes says of managing the two Twitter accounts. “More often, we typically will coordinate who will launch something, and then the other page will share it.”
If you look at Miranda’s Twitter feed, you’ll find a lot of retweeted Hamilton posts, and vice versa. The two accounts work together seamlessly, and keep fans both informed and entertained. Interestingly enough, Miranda’s account has more followers than the Hamilton account.
There’s no doubt that Miranda’s account is a major player in this social media game, but to see where all real fun is, you’d have to take a look at #Ham4Ham. #Ham4Ham is a lottery to win tickets to Hamilton for only $10 (get it?). Lotteries for Broadway tickets are nothing new, but #Ham4Ham spawned something a little different…
“The lottery for inexpensive front row seats was a concept pioneered by lead producer Jeffrey Seller during the Broadway run of Rent back in the ‘90s. While Hamilton was at The Public Theater, they offered a $10 ticket lottery, and we created one as the show moved to Broadway,” says Karns.
“The #Ham4Ham shows were derived organically. Lin came out before the first preview lottery to chat with the crowd, and realized that there was a large, passionate group of people coming in hopes to get a chance to see the show. He decided that there needed to be some way to thank and reward those people, whether or not they won tickets.”
#Ham4Ham was a bonafide hit; not just for the crowds of hundreds outside of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, but for the online community as well. Because of the amount of people that showed up for the lottery, #Ham4Ham quickly found a home online, where performances of all kinds sprouted up, including this one from none other than Jimmy Fallon:
As it turns out, #Ham4Ham was just the beginning. Fans have taken the format of the hashtag and given it multiple lives of its own that expand on their amusement with applying the show’s characters and lyrics to other pop culture phenomena. They literally love Hamilton so much that they want to make it a part of everything else they love.
When the news broke late last year that Miranda had worked with J.J. Abrams to compose the cantina music for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, people were so excited by this fandom mashup that #Force4Ham became a full-blown Twitter game in no time.
These little Twitter hashtag games are crowdsourced social content that end up becoming promotional materials for the show. It’s nearly impossible to be on a social platform without seeing somebody talking about their favorite #Hamiltunes, and the show’s reach has massively expanded as a result.
Miranda and the Hamilton team don’t even have to start these trends – creative fans do the work themselves because they want to.
Perhaps the most brilliant (and socially relevant) version of the trend came during President Obama’s final State of the Union address in January. Fans quickly realized how applicable the show’s lyrics were to their feelings about Obama’s imminent departure from the White House, and thus #Ham4SOTU was born.
And the most poignant of them all:
Of course, being his Twitter-obsessed self, Miranda watched as the #Ham4SOTU tweets rolled in, amused and impressed by people’s love for the show.
Miranda is constantly engaging with fans on Twitter, whether he’s answering questions or retweeting accounts like the new fan-favorite Hamilton as dogs. His social engagement with fans doesn’t stop there, though – he also has a personal Tumblr where he reblogs fan art, comments on funny pictures of the cast and makes the occasional request for a gif of his castmates.
There’s even an entire Tumblr genre of Hamilton-inspired text post memes, most notably in the styles of Cher and Jaden Smith tweets:
Plus, when Miranda gave a now-infamous description of internet fandom during a recent #Ham4Ham show, he was quickly gif’ed and reblogged over 27,000 times on Tumblr.
If you love Hamilton, you’re probably Hamilton trash.
Social Media Lessons from Hamilton – Take Some Notes
So, as always, here’s the burning question: How does any of this apply to other brands? How can lessons learned from a bunch of Broadway nerds be translated elsewhere?
Simply put, it’s about listening to your fans. Crowd-created content is a blessing that you should immediately take advantage of if given the opportunity. If your audience memes (yes, that’s a verb) something related to your brand, don’t just have a quick laugh in the office. Engage, engage, engage!
Taking the time to retweet and share jokes, memes and simple interactions initiated by members of your audience allows people to feel like a part of your brand’s world from far away, just like Hamilton’s social takeover has created an engaged fandom that expands far beyond Broadway’s usual reach.
Basically, be ready to meme anything, and encourage your followers to do the same.
Take it from Karns himself. “Regardless of the show and the excitement/breadth of the fan base, I think it’s always important to find ways to connect with and engage your audience without saying ‘Buy This’ [or] ‘See our show.’ It’s imperative to create content and conversation that a fan base will latch onto and continue to come back looking for.”
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t be afraid to monetize and have fun with mistakes people make about your brand. It’s like having an inside joke with your audience.
For example, this:
Turned into this:
The next time you have an opportunity to engage with fans, expand on your brand or make a meme out of anything. Do not throw away your shot.
Have you seen a brilliant use of social media like Hamilton’s? Tell us about it in the comments!