Could Fringe be the first TV show saved by a hashtag?

Fringe stars (L- to R): Lance Reddick (Phillip Broyles), Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham), John Noble (Walter Bishop) and Joshua Jackson (Peter Bishop), Fans of the US science fiction show Fringe, which airs on Sky One in the UK, have launched a social media campaign to save the show from cancellation. The X-Files style Fox produced show in the US, which centres on an FBI unit investigating unexplained or “fringe” events, is currently in its fourth season, but faces the threat of cancellation.

This has spurred Texas Twitter user @birdandbear and other fans to come together at the Fringenuity blog and launch an innovative hashtag and GetGlue check-in campaign designed to get the show trending as it airs each week. And it seems to be working.

Fringe is one of those shows that delights its fans with its strong complex  plot lines, which centre on the discovery of a parallel earth, but also deters casual viewers who are unfamiliar with its long arc.

What’s interesting is how effective Fringe fans have been in using social media and taken the kind of strategic approach that you would normally expect to see in a professional campaign. For instance they haven’t just gone for a bland #fringe hasthtag, but are rather getting a new one each week to trend. The most recently one #BeABetterMan was tweeted more than 40,000 times.

And the fans haven’t just been sending out the tweets and hoping for the best, but measuring and pushing the results of the campaign so far, which has over a period of five weeks racked up more than 100,00 tweets:

“Fringe has been the beneficiary of some very unique circumstances; the show needed support at a time when social media was really coming into its own, and for the first time ever, fans without Nielsen boxes had quantifiable ways to show that we’re watching too. Faced with ratings that would have been a show’s death knell a few years ago, Fox chose to use Fringe as a testing ground for a boatload of new data: namely DVR and other alternative viewing habits, and the growing influence of social buzz.

“Choosing the right tag is a tricky business. Tweets containing more than one hashtag will not count towards trending, but retweets of a single hashtag will. Tweets from locked accounts are “invisible” and also don’t count. Because of the way the trending algorithm works, it needs to be a word or phrase that isn’t routinely discussed on Twitter. We can’t use #Fringe for example, because it’s used all the time, which severely hampers its chances at making the charts. Trends are identified through a combination of novelty, and number and location of participants: 1000 people in Texas sending 100 tweets an hour containing a tag that’s used all the time are less likely to trend than 1000 people all over the world sending 10 tweets an hour on a topic that’s never been seen before,” from the Fringenuity blog.

They’ve now gotten Fringe to trend in consecutive weeks, which is impressive stuff, which has been noticed by executives at Fox. Whether it is enough to save the show is another question, but it has certainly shown fan power take to the next social level:

We’re still working on a learning curve, but the success of these campaigns is staggering in its implications, for fans and for networks. Advertisers spend thousands of dollars on promoted trends, hoping to catch the eyes of the masses through social buzz. We’re doing it for free on a weekly basis. It’s an elegant illustration of the possibilities inherent in harnessing the passion of a fanbase for advertisement through social networking. We know the networks are paying attention – they’d be foolish not to. We’ve been very fortunate to catch the perfect storm of technology, timing, and enthusiasm to see just how far these new avenues can take us, and we sincerely hope we’re given the chance to explore them to their full potential. Come on Fox; we’re right here. Give us season five and let’s explore together to see how far we can go.

Trending tweets achieved by the campaign so far:

#EnemyofMyEnemy 01-20-12
Tweets: 21,421
Contributors: 2,259
Reach: 633,967
Exposure: 4,793,479

#ObserveItLive 01-27-12
Tweets: 16,606
Contributors: 1,479
Reach: 498,506
Exposure: 4,074,704

#TakeTheLead 02-03-12
Tweets: 20,740
Contributors: 2,066
Reach: 846,255
Exposure: 4,974,553

#BreakingOut 02-10-12
Tweets: 18,454
Contributors: 1,846
Reach: 765,141
Exposure: 4,405,489

#BeABetterMan 02-17-12
Tweets: 44,930
Contributors: 19,890
Reach: 8,225,509
Exposure: 23,427,945