Olivia Pope, the D.C. adviser on the addictive hit series Scandal, has never faced a crisis that she couldn’t fix. The character, who is inspired by real-life crisis manager Judy Smith’s former career as a press aide to President George H.W. Bush, has a quick wit, cunning intelligence, and terrific connections that keep her one step ahead in every situation.
Of course, this being TV, the situations Olivia finds herself cleaning up are pretty ridiculous – not to mention ridiculously entertaining – and frankly no PR pro in his or her right mind would follow some of her less than above-board responses to crises.
But when it comes to the savvy use of social media, they should pay heed to the actress who portrays her, the talented Kerry Washington, who was one of the celebrity speakers at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
In a session called “The New Rules of Social Stardom,” the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress spoke to InStyle’s editorial director Ariel Foxman about how she leveraged social media to not only further her acting career, but also help make Scandal appointment viewing.
Here are some key takeaways from their conversation.
Be a student of social media
Washington said her foray into social media was a lot like her entry into the world of fashion – one she was felt a necessity for her career to truly flourish.
“I didn’t grow up loving fashion, but there came a point where I started noticing certain actresses being considered for roles because of their presence on the red carpet,” she said. “In the same way that I realized I’d better start learning about fashion, I thought I’d better get started on social media.”
She now has almost 4 million Twitter followers, 4 million likes on her Facebook page, and 2.4 million Instagram followers.
Social media channels have grown, and continue to evolve, at frightening speeds. Washington understood it was a business imperative to get on top of them. Brands need to continue approaching it with the same contentiousness.
Leadership support needs to come from the top
Washington became convinced Twitter could have a huge influence on TV viewing after helping with President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. She planned to live tweet Scandal when it premiered back in 2012.
But she wanted a larger share of voice on the micro-blogging platform during the show’s Thursday night broadcasts. So she secured buy-in from showrunner Shonda Rhimes, the woman responsible for hits Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder.
“While we were filming the first season,” recalled Washington, “I emailed Shonda and said, ‘You’re the boss. Could you ask the whole cast to live tweet it so that they all join in, because they’ll feel like they have to?’”
Explaining just how pivotal that move was, Washington added, “I truly believe we wouldn’t have had a second season if it wasn’t for that engagement [with fans].”
When the fifth season premiered last fall, several of the cast members were live tweeting alongside Washington.
Always be authentic – and transparent
Celebrities, CEOs, and politicians don’t typically have the time to manage their own social media accounts and social media strategy. However, they should take a page from Washington, who is always in control of her own narrative.
Washington has a social media manager, but when the latter sends a tweet on the actress’ behalf, she signs it “KW’s Krew.” This way, fans always know when Washington herself is directly interacting with fans.
But, said Washington, “Every tweet that comes out from the ‘krew’ is approved by me. There’s nothing that goes up that doesn’t have my approval. I have made it a real commitment that my engagement in social media reflects me.”
“I don’t have the energy to maintain a false identity on all these platforms,” she continued.
No one should try to be something they’re not on social media. That’s a sure-fire way to bore or lose fans, who are quick to detect accounts that are controlled or manipulated by a third party. The only way to build a true rapport with followers is to be transparent and yourself on social, just as Washington herself has. It’s an approach that has made her a bona-fide star both on TV and social media.