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Conan O’Brien: Social Media Success Story

I talk often about the importance of social media for marketing and personal branding, so today I thought I’d share a success story… Conan O’Brien. Whether you are a fan of his show or not, you probably remember what happened to him early in 2010. Conan had just taken over The Tonight Show, but NBC executives were concerned with his low ratings and decided to replace him with Jay Leno. Conan wasn’t allowed to appear on TV for 9 months—a length of time sure to destroy his public visibility and marketability. Soon after, O’Brien signed a deal to host a show on the cable channel TBS. At that point, it looked as if Conan was going to have to be content with being an afterthought to late night hosts such as Leno and David Letterman. Fast forward to last Monday, when Conan’s show debuted on TBS with a massive 4.2 million viewers—more than both Leno and Letterman. How did he pull this off? In large part, his success was due to an aggressive social media strategy.

Faced with the reality that he could easily slip from memory over his 9 month layoff, Conan and his advisors launched a massive social media campaign that included a presence on Twitter (he has over 1.7 million followers), Facebook (well over 1 million fans), and Youtube (nearly 4 million views to date). Not only was Conan active on all of these platforms, but he took the time to put together great material. For instance, not long after being fired by NBC, Conan composed this gem of a tweet: “In three months I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theater, and now I'm headed to basic cable ... My plan is working perfectly." His constant presence across the social media spectrum allowed him to stay very much in the minds of his target audience despite his long absence from TV, and this presence directly contributed to his strong debut on TBS.

While most of us don’t have our own TV show to host, we can all learn from Conan’s use of social media. An effective social media plan that includes well-crafted material and a constant presence can work wonders for your personal branding and brand awareness. You may never have 1.7 million followers on twitter, but you can effectively communicate your personal brand to the followers that you do have.