Pop culture holiday

How Pop Culture “Holidays” Drive Engagement on Social Media


By   |   May 6th, 2016   |   Reading time: 9 minutes Communications & PR

We take a look at some of the biggest dates on the pop culture calendar and analyse how they drive engagement on social.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that pop culture and social media go together like tea and HobNobs. (Or your biscuit of choice, we don’t discriminate here.) From knowing in-jokes to referential memes, social is a place for the great and geeky to mark their favourite moments in film, music, and internet culture.

For fans, events like “May the Fourth” provide a light-hearted forum for them to celebrate or reminisce with friends. However, the flurry of social activity can also offer ripe engagement opportunities for brands and agencies.

We took a look at five of the biggest dates in the pop culture calendar to see what kind of engagement they inspired on social. Some were once-off events, others are annual occasions, but each inspired plentiful activity across Facebook and Twitter. As ever, all data comes from NewsWhip Spike. Take a trial of Spike now and keep track of the hottest talking points in pop culture in real-time.

May the Fourth

Screenshot of a video reading May the Fourth Be With You

May the Fourth be with you! Star Wars mania has seized the globe since The Force Awakens’ release, but this unofficial holiday has been around for many years. What initially started as way for fans to celebrate their love of Star Wars gradually evolved into an annual event. Daisy Ridley, star of The Force Awakens, used the occasion to raise awareness of the franchise’s official charity. Director J.J. Abrams performed the song he co-wrote for the movie with Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not one to be outdone, noted pop culture enthusiast President Barack Obama entertained Stormtroopers at The White House.

But how did social users respond? Over a five-day period from 1st – 5th May, content mentioning the phrase “May the Fourth” drove significant Facebook and Twitter sharing. Here’s what we found:

Table of social engagement around May the Fourth 2016

Using NewsWhip Analytics, we can also see who the biggest publishers were:

Breakdown of shares for Star Wars content May 2016

Star Wars’ near-ubiquitous recognisability means mentions of May the Fourth weren’t confined to geek publishers, as the likes of Time, NBC, CNN and Discovery all pop up here. This mixture of publishers also led to a diverse range of content.

BuzzFeed’s list-oriented pieces drew in over 6,000 engagements on Facebook in this period. The Verge took a different approach, publishing a feature which traced the origins of May the Fourth and how the day has evolved. This notched up over 2,000 Facebook interactions. Perhaps the most intriguing piece however came from Discovery. Using the movies as inspiration, it published an in-depth piece looking at whether it would be possible to live on exoplanets. This earned over 7,500 engagements.

Back to the Future Day

This was the big kahuna: an event quite literally thirty years in the making. October 21st 2015 is the date Marty McFly arrives in the future in Back to the Future II (at 4:29pm PST, if you want to be specific). Engagement around this date was colossal, with everyone from brands to fandom to public officials taking a moment to mark the occasion.

Back to the Future Day image 2015

Image via Rlevente/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

For this one, we looked at engagement around Back to the Future-related content for the five days leading up to and including October 21st 2015. Here’s what we found:

Table of social engagement around Back to the Future Day 2015

These figures speak for themselves. This was a once-off date, and one which had been anticipated since the film was released in 1989, meaning it got considerably more attention than similar events discussed in this piece. Like Star Wars, the Back to the Future films have wide cultural appeal and are generally much-loved. As a result, the breakdown of shares shows an interesting cross-section of publishers.

Breakdown of shares for Back to the Future Day October 2015

Comicbook.com and IFLScience.com both enjoyed success on Facebook, as did the BBC, CNN, and Time. On Twitter, Mashable and the BBC drove the most numbers, but the fact The White House also appears is testament to the recognisability and wider allure of the films.

The biggest stories for this period shows a colourful mixture of pieces. The most successful by far was Comicbook.com’s piece on a reunion between the films’ stars, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. This drove some 109,015 engagements on Facebook. One of the quirkier stories for this period came courtesy of the Queensland Police Department, whose spoof press release about a new hoverboard unit gained coverage on the BBC and IFLScience. Combined, those pieces earned over 133,000 Facebook interactions. USA Today – which was featured in Back to the Future II – took the opportunity to recreate the headline depicted in the film. Mashable’s article on this earned over 40,000 engagements.

October 3rd

In 2004, Mean Girls came out, and with it the pop culture lexicon changed forever. The movie quickly earned a cult following for its numerous memorable quotes, but one in particular stood out for social users.

Screencap from the film Mean Girls for October 3rd

Thusly, October 3rd became Mean Girls Day.

It may not inspire as much feverish adulation as May the Fourth, this day is still heartily embraced by social users every year. Looking at data for a five-day period from 30th September to 4th October 2015, here’s how the film drove engagement.

Table of social engagement around Mean Girls Day 2015

The level of Facebook engagement isn’t much lower than that driven by May the Fourth, underlining Mean Girls’ continuing popularity. It helps that publishers come out to celebrate the movie in their droves. Here’s a breakdown of the top publishers for this period in 2015:

Breakdown of shares for Mean Girls content October 2015

BuzzFeed earned the most shares on Facebook, along with the likes of HelloGiggles, Bustle, Teen Vogue and The Daily Dot. The breakdown of Twitter shares is a little more diverse, with more traditional publishers such as Time, CNN, and the Telegraph all generating considerable activity off coverage of the film.

The level of interaction around individual pieces was also impressively high. The biggest article for this period was HelloGiggles’ look at a cast reunion. This picked up almost 37,000 Facebook engagements and was closely followed by BuzzFeed’s list of choice Mean Girls quotes, which itself notched earned 33,666 interactions. The vast majority of coverage for this period centred on the cast reunion, although Teen Vogue took a slightly different approach. A feature on life lessons taken from the film earned the publisher over 6,500 engagements.

It’s gonna be May

You may remember late 90s boyband N*Sync, if not for their music then as the birthplace of one Justin Timberlake. However, the band’s greatest contribution to pop culture is arguably the song “It’s gonna be me” – mainly for the meme it unwittingly birthed.

It's gonna be May meme

Between enthusiastic use on Tumblr and some early endorsement from BuzzFeed, this meme – a play on the way Timberlake pronounces “me” in the aforementioned song – has become an annual staple on social. It’s less an event than an affectionate way of marking the beginning of summer, though it did inspire acknowledgement by the man himself this year.

Looking at data for a five-day period up to and including May 1st 2016, here’s how much engagement the meme inspired on social:

Table of social engagement around "it's gonna be May" meme 2016

Not too shabby, all things considered. This is what the sharing breakdown looks like:

Breakdown of shares for the 'it's gonna be May' meme April 2016

Content options for what’s essentially a self-explanatory one-liner are limited, so the mix of publishers here is fairly straightforward. However, it’s interesting to see the website knowyourmeme.com in there. Evidently, several users thought to share the story behind the meme for their friends and followers, so those few still staring at their late-April feed in incredulity could get in on the joke.

Most of the big content pieces for this period were website reporting on Timberlake’s tweet. One piece which stands out however is Bustle’s write-up on a would-be feud between the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync. It seemed the Backstreet Boys attempted to reclaim the meme by re-styling their song “As Long as You Love Me” to “As Long as You Love May.” It’s a cheeky throwback to a time when the bands were rivals for teen hearts, and it earned just over 4,000 engagements on Facebook.

Alien Day

Image of the titular creature from Ridley Scott's "Alien"

Image via Artur on Flickr/Creative Commons

This is a newbie on the pop culture calendar. While the Alien franchise has been around since the 1970s, studio Fox only this year decided to mark the occasion by declaring April 26th Alien Day. The date was chosen for LV-426, the planet (sorry, exomoon) featured in Alien and the sequel Aliens.

The creation of the date is a no-brainer from a marketing perspective. The first two films in the Alien franchise are more or less universally beloved and two related films are currently in production, meaning there’s plenty of scope to make this an annual event. The studio marked the event this year by releasing a slew of new merchandise as well as some updates on the upcoming films.

Here’s how that translated into social engagement for the day itself:

Engagement around Alien Day 2016

These figures are substantially lower than those generated by other dates in this piece, but still impressive for the event’s first year. Many of the top articles for this period were pieces focusing on the marketing tie-ins, which may contribute to lower sharing numbers. The success of different pieces for Mean Girls and Star Wars shows that users tend to engage more actively with thoughtful features focusing on the films themselves. Here’s the breakdown of publishers:

Breakdown of shares for Alien-related content April 2016

Compared to the other dates in this list, this is heavily skewed towards geek media. io9/Gizmodo, Black Girl Nerds, and Collider all drove big numbers on Facebook and Twitter.

As for the most successful content, io9’s piece on exclusive artwork released to mark the day got the most Facebook interactions (6,604). Collider wrote a comprehensive piece with background information on the day and earned 2,869 Facebook engagements. Thereafter, figures drop quite sharply, with GeekTyrant’s piece on Reebook’s commemorative shoes bringing in only 528 interactions.

The level of engagement shown in our data is testament to the allure pop culture “holidays” have on social. For brands and agencies, dates like these are an opportunity to engage with fan communities as well as promoting upcoming films or features. Fans’ inbuilt enthusiasm can drive awareness of a product and elicit valuable feedback.

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