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How SparkNotes is winning the pop culture game on social

Shruti Ramanujam

SparkNotes is a company that provides study guides for literature, poetry, films, and more. Anyone who’s had classics as Required Reading in their high school English lessons would be familiar with their website. But here’s another thing about SparkNotes none of us ever expected back in high school—they’re really, really good at pop culture references.

Here at Unmetric, we do something called #UnmetricBrandStars—every day, we feature one brand that published a highly engaging tweet that day. We go through an extensive list of brand tweets for this activity and guess who’s been coming up on this list, day after day?

You got it right. SparkNotes.

SparkNotes is proving that classic literature doesn’t have to be a thing of the past by relating it to modern-day TV shows, movies, and stand-up sets. Classics, Greek tragedies, poems—nothing is spared by SparkNotes’ social team. Not even Emily Dickinson’s use of the em dash!

 

 

Brand and Internet culture: How SparkNotes sets itself apart

A number of brands try to appeal to millennials by adopting Internet culture but this sales tactic can fail sometimes. Find any brand trying to appear hip and cool on the Internet and you’ll see one of these two images in the replies.

A screen grab from the popular TV show 30 Rock, where Steve Buscemi says "How do you do, fellow kids?"
The "Silence, brand" meme
And there are handles like this one which share screenshots of brands participating in memes to appeal to the youth on social. Needless to say, the response is lukewarm at best when brands try to appear hip. The general audience on social seems to prefer making brands a meme themselves to appreciating the memes they create.

SparkNotes, however, sets itself apart from these brands. The general consensus on SparkNotes does not imply the brand tries too hard. Why? Because their main readers are in school and college. When required reading gets tough, it’s SparkNotes that students turn to. And if they can explain Shakespeare with a screengrab from The Office? Sign us up!

We took a look at SparkNotes’ social media profiles from January 1st, 2019 to May 31st, 2019 to better understand their social media strategy.

About this report

This SparkNotes social media report was put together using Unmetric Analyze. It listens to over 100,000 brands to help our clients create more engaging content, get more certainty around their social strategy, and automate their reporting.

SparkNotes on Facebook

While Twitter and Instagram are where SparkNotes is most popular, their social strategy involves a lot of cross-posting to Facebook too. The SparkNotes Facebook page has a total of 311K fans and has published 98 posts over the past year.

Despite being a site of study guides and blog posts, their Facebook page has more photos and videos shared than links. In fact, of all the posts they published this year, just one is a link. This is a great example of not just sharing your own posts on social and leaving it at that.

Most engaging post

This hilarious meme about the ending of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare garnered the highest engagement the SparkNotes Facebook page has received in 2019 so far.

A word cloud of all of SparkNotes’ posts from 2019 shows that some of their favorite classics to talk/meme about are Hamlet, Jane Eyre, and To Kill a Mockingbird. And of course, the star of all their posts is the connections they make between classics and pop culture, so it’s no wonder that TV shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Office, and movies like Avengers are mentioned in their word cloud.

One look at the comments section of SparkNotes’ posts shows that the page’s fans also seem to love their literary memes.

93% of SparkNotes’ posts are photos and these get the most engagement of all their posts. Over 21% of these images are in ivory black. The other dominant colors in the brand’s images on Facebook include burlywood, peachpuff, and gray.

SparkNotes on Twitter

SparkNotes’ tweets have been lighting up our Twitter timelines and #UnmetricBrandStars for quite some time now. Twitter is where literature nerds including yours truly come out to play, so it’s no wonder SparkNotes is very active on the platform. On average, they tweet at least twice per day and more often than not, both tweets are memes.

SparkNotes’ Twitter has a total of 60K followers, but interestingly, they’ve gained 45K followers within the time period analyzed for this report. Their follower count has been constantly increasing since the end of March.

Most engaging tweet

On average, SparkNotes replies to tweets within 6 hours.

SparkNotes shares most of its blog posts on Twitter, which is why links are the most frequent tweets. It is also these tweets that engaged best with their fans.

Word cloud of brand tweets

SparkNotes’ word cloud is full of some big names in English literature. Notice the lines at the bottom of the word cloud? They’re from the “In this house” ASCII meme that’s popular on Twitter.

 

Timing

While SparkNotes tweets the most on Fridays, they receive the most engagement on Monday.

They also tweet the most between 9am and 12pm each day and that’s when they get their most engagement.

SparkNotes on Instagram

SparkNotes has 135K followers on Instagram. In the 5 month period that we analyzed SparkNotes, their Instagram account gained 92K followers, displaying a massive follower growth rate of 211%.

Like many Instagram accounts that post memes, SparkNotes also cross-posts tweets on Instagram.

In addition to cross-posting, their account also includes quite a lot of original literary memes and pop culture references.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

sometimes people are really mean to the hot, popular girl ☹ #sparknotes

A post shared by SparkNotes Official (@sparknotes_) on

Color analysis of SparkNotes’ Instagram posts

The most used colors on the SparkNotes Instagram are light salmon, ivory black, and sepia.

They post photos more than videos and these photos receive the highest engagement too.

What can you learn from SparkNotes?

1. Appeal to your demographic

SparkNotes’ average consumer is the overstressed literature student trying to cram in on classics right before a test. Imagine the kind of reaction such a user would give to SparkNotes’ literary memes. Their tweets and posts are witty, memorable, and the best examples of meme marketing by a brand.

2. Have a sensitive team to screen your memes

While indulging in popular culture as a brand, keep in mind that success isn’t always the outcome. SparkNotes’ social team has millennials employed and they certainly have their finger on the pulse of their target audience. What better way to know your audience than to be from the same demographic yourself?

3. Be relatable and human

Internet culture and viral memes have proved how much of pop culture is about the shared experience. When your brand appears human and relatable, it makes you endearing to fans.

4. Stay on brand

It’s very easy to spot a SparkNotes post in the wild. It’s usually a block of text followed by screen grabs from popular TV shows such as The Office and Parks and Recreation, John Mulaney’s standup sets, or an ASCII meme. If a post combines classic literature with pop culture, there’s a good chance it’s from the SparkNotes account. When you stay on brand and are represented well on social media, your audience finds you more memorable and endearing.

5. Create your own report like this

This report was put together using Unmetric Analyze. It listens to what over 100,000 brands are saying on social media and understands how their fans are reacting to that. Clients use Unmetric to help them create better content, get more certainty around their social media strategy, and automate all their reporting. Pricing starts at $1,000 per month.