Social Media and Strategic Communication Lessons from Professor Ryan Reynolds (Karen Freberg)

Karen Freberg

Imagine you are walking into a social media strategy class, waiting for a professor to walk in—and in comes Ryan Reynolds. What would be your reaction?

The reaction should be: We have one of the greatest minds in social media strategy here to teach us the tips, tricks and best practices for venturing out in the field.

Ryan has not only established himself as a prominent actor and force in the entertainment industry, but has become a beacon of innovation and creativity for marketing and branding professionals from all over the world.

When you have your own Adweek section on articles about you, you know you are the greatest of all time in the industry.

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We can learn a lot about Ryan and the work his team has done over the years and apply it specifically to social media and strategic communication practices.

Social media marketing success does not happen overnight

It is very easy to think that all you have to do to be successful on social media is to go viral or post lots of content and videos on certain platforms. However, this is not necessarily true, and it takes time and dedication in order to build success in social media.

Ryan has been very transparent on how to face additional challenges, obstacles, and what strategies seem to work to address these in real time. He has spoken on many occasions on how his agency Maximum Effort came about from his marketing experience on the first Deadpool movie.

Sometimes when everyone is going one direction, it is key to go in another. Doing something that stands out from the rest of the crowd is one way to generate interest and grab the attention of your audience.

Attention is the most valuable currency today as brands and businesses are not just competing with others in their industry, but other entities entirely. For example, Netflix is not just competing with Hulu or Disney+. They are also competing with TikTok, Mr. Beast, and others who are providing value audiences want.

With any idea, there has to be a sound strategy in place determining what the overall goals and objectives are, and the main ways to execute these ideas effectively. Ryan has done this in several ways, including partnering with brands like Kraft and The Adam Project.

You’ve got to build your “Avengers Team” for social media strategy

You can do a lot of things by yourself in social media and be very successful. However, if you are part of a team, you need to have key partners on board. To make an impact in the business, you have to have a great team in place.

We have seen this in place with The Avengers, The X-Men, and even Deadpool’s X-Force. However, Ryan’s real-world X-Force team is safe, and will not suffer the same fate as the one in Deadpool 2!

Finding the right talent, perspectives, and individuals who have unique experiences to bring to the table is the name of the game. Over the years, Ryan has been able to bring to the table some incredible team members who are able to provide their expert advice, ideas, and perspectives on social media and strategic communications. Members who are part of his team now include Adrian Molina (Aviation Gin), Julian Gamboa (Maximum Effort), Dev Machette (Betty Buzz), and David Griner (The Creative Ladder)

Innovation happens when you work in the speed of culture

Social media comes in at lightning speed. There are times where an event, trend, or situation arises, and you think, “How do we get on board with this?” Listening measures come into play, but it’s also important to think about creative ways to interject yourself into the conversation without it appearing you are trying too hard.

Ryan and his team at Maximum Effort have a nice balance in that, and do it in a way that captures attention but also word of mouth from the audiences. In addition, Ryan captures the three important Rs in strategy: Relevance, Reach, and Resonance. The content that is shared online is relevant to the audience, it appears on channels that gain the most reach, but also makes a strong connection with the key audiences in an entertaining and fun manner.

Some recent case studies include:

Stories and relationships are the heart of social media strategy

Content creation is just part of the puzzle of a successful social media strategy–but at the end of the day, audiences want to be entertained, and to remember what they saw and be able to recall it effectively.

This is Marketing principles 101, but Ryan and his team have been able to do this effectively while also making ads fun and humorous. Ryan explains this in his keynote at Adobe Summit 2022 on this very aspect.

A great case study on how this has come about is what Ryan and his co-owner of the football team Wrexham FC have done. Along with creating content and showcasing the team with brand partners such as TikTok, Aviation Gin, and now Betty Buzz for the women’s team, Ryan and his team wanted to tell the full story of their journey as a documentary. While this is long form content for social media, it also shows the power of relationships, stories, and building community as a force.

Building community with the next generation

In order for the field to move forward, we have to build a community and be aware of the next round of professionals who are going to be entering the field. We have to think of ways to make an impact and difference in the field, and Ryan has done that with the launch of the nonprofit The Creative Ladder, which supports underrepresented professionals who want to get into the creative industry. This nonprofit was announced at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year, and has already sparked a lot of interest.

Ryan has also been generous with his time across the industry, but also with students. In this blog post I wrote a few months ago, I talk about the experience we had at the University of Louisville, and how we were honored to have Professor Reynolds stop by for a Masterclass in social media strategy.

Some major takeaways were:

  • Ryan gave the students confidence and reassurance that they were doing all of the right things. Being able to learn from what works in a campaign and project (and what happens when things do not go well) is a great teacher.
  • Ryan also discussed with the students how understanding the role in which you are faced with challenges and obstacles can give you a real-world view of the value of what marketing can do for you.
  • Another point Ryan shared was the importance of having balance for our work/life. Social media and strategic communications can be a very intense industry where you feel “on” 24/7, but Ryan shared some strategies that have worked for him over the years with the students.

These insights and the time spent were priceless, and I consider Ryan not only a fellow colleague in the industry, but a friend for what he did for my students.

Karen Freberg @karen.freberg
Professor of Strategic Communications at the University of Louisville. Award winning author. Consultant. Dr. K according to Ryan Reynolds.

Tell Us Below:

If you could ask Ryan Reynolds any marketing question, what would it be?

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Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person on #MarketingTwitter who hasn’t met Ryan Reynolds (YET!).

I’m endlessly fascinated by how all these brands have grown around one person’s sense of humor—one that clearly resonates with enough people to build several booming businesses around. The interesting thing is, I think many consumers think Ryan himself is writing all of it; he’s not, he’s just got smart teams around him who have a thorough understanding of the mutual brand voice, which is, after all, their primary product appeal.

I love how originally it was that the brands were built around his personal brand, and now it feels like it’s going the other way: the more the brand voice is out there (and, again, I feel like the brands under his umbrella have a common voice, or at least a common tone), the more people feel like they “know” Ryan and his own sense of humor, and the more it bolsters his reputation as a smart, funny guy (which, from what I hear, is an accurate impression).