When Ryan Penagos created his @AgentM
Twitter account for personal use, he didn't expect it to become the basis for everything his employer, Marvel Entertainment, would eventually do in social media.
"I had already built the Agent M persona and then we wanted to do some stuff at Comic-Con, so we started with Agent M on Twitter," says Penagos, Marvel Digital Media Group's executive editorial director, who will speak at Ragan Communications' upcoming International Social Media and PR Summit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Since 2007, that account—which has an astonishing 1.35 million followers—has served as the starting point for more than a dozen Marvel accounts including @Marvel, @Avengers, and @RealDeadpool, an account for one of the company's most popular and irreverent characters. The ease and immediacy of Twitter, along with the reality of a huge community of passionate comic fans congregating there, made it the best fit for the company.
"It made a lot of sense for us to reach the audiences and get feedback quickly," Penagos says.
Though it seems like Marvel, with its billion-dollar movie franchises and deep bench of characters, is wholly unique when it comes to Twitter success, lots of companies can use the same techniques to climb to the top, he offers.
Expansion and control
Marvel has a plethora of Twitter accounts for characters, movies, animation projects, and other arms of the company, but Penagos says he's very careful not to just "put them out there to put them out there."
"We're a little bit particular about how far we go with it," he says.
For example, the company doesn't have a huge number of character accounts similar to the Deadpool one, because they're difficult to pull off. They have to have a consistent voice, which is why Penagos handed the keys to the Deadpool account over to the comic's editor and writer, though he still contributes to it, too. Penagos doesn't mind that the account seems to be a bit overactive at times.
"It's fine. He's crazy. It makes sense to me," he says.
For other accounts, such as this one for the X-Men, Penagos says he often just allows editors "to do their thing." Penagos says he's never had to delete a tweet someone wrote or otherwise call something back. You have to give your people a degree of freedom, he says.
"You have to have faith and trust in the people you're working with," Penagos advises.
The five-person team that runs @Marvel doesn't monitor it 24x7, but does often look back into the feed to make sure no one missed anything. Penagos says he sometimes will reply to tweets directed at @Marvel as @AgentM, to give the reply a personal touch.
"Marvel is big and exciting, but there's a little more rigidity," he says.
Penagos and Marvel have quite popular presences on other social media sites, particularly Tumblr, which has a comics section Penagos was even asked to curate.
"The fans are there," he says of Tumblr. "They're all over the place with their love, their hate, their sarcasm, their memes."
Even so, Penagos says Tumblr is an extension of his Twitter account. It's a place for supplementary content for people he has connected with via Twitter.
Taking a cue
In January 2012, six months before the release of the "Avengers" movie, Penagos sat down at a table with director Joss Whedon and actors Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, and Tom Hiddleston to kick off the Avengers Twitter account in a way that fans would love. The group sat in a conference room at the studio where the movie was being edited, answering Twitter queries from inquisitive followers. People could watch the whole thing via an online widget.
That attentiveness to what the fans want is a huge priority for Marvel, Penagos says. So much of social media is about addition rather than subtraction, he says. It's easy to give fans more of what they want to see.
"People will complain," he says. "That's the Internet. You sort of have to parse things and understand that maybe the loudest voices aren't the majority."
When fans ask for more, however, as fan groups did did with the character of Loki, Marvel can serve that up.
"It definitely shaped the way we talk about him," Penagos says.
Becoming a smash
One thing fans really responded to in regard to the @Avengers account is that the team answered questions "in-universe," as someone who lived in the reality of the movie. A company that makes air fresheners can't exactly do that, but Penagos says any communicator can take that idea and run with it.
"It's having fun," he says. "It's being attentive. It's being appreciative and giving fans something exciting to talk about, to share, to really embrace."
One way communicators can do that, Penagos suggests, is by crossing paths with people on Twitter who are excited about your brand and then figuring out ways to do something mutually beneficial.
Also? Hire someone who really cares about what you do. Everyone on Penagos' team has been a Marvel fan since childhood.
"We are the brand, and that comes through in everything we do," he says. "There's always somebody who's passionate about the brand. Get them in control."
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.