The Social Media Strategy Behind YouTube Movie 'A Trip to Unicorn Island'

Lilly Singh - S 2015
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The documentary about Lilly Singh has generated 3 billion social impressions.

Documentary A Trip to Unicorn Island was released on YouTube Red in February, but the social media campaign for the film began nearly a year earlier. 

The work to engage with fans online paid off earlier this month when the film reached more than 3 billion impressions since April last year. 

The campaign began before the movie was even made, when Canadian vlogger Lilly Singh decided to go on a world tour. Her subsequent A Trip to Unicorn Island Tour was filmed with an eye toward turning her experiences into a documentary. 

Megan Westerby, vp social and transmedia for AT2UI producer Astronauts Wanted, says the idea was to keep fans up to date on every phase of the making of the movie. "We wanted to have a social relationship with the super fandom around her as early as possible," she explains, adding that the goal was to "create excitement and build expectations." 

More than 795 million social impressions were generated about AT2UI during the tour, but after it ended there was a several-month lull before AW could begin promoting the film's release. "We had to rely on the trust that the audience had in us not to string them along," Westerby says. 

A week before the film was released on YouTube's subscription service, Red, the trailer was released, ushering in a new phase of social promotion for the film. And because AT2UI had built a fan base during the tour, AW was able to quickly jump start the conversation.

But the premiere of the doc at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and the subsequent release of the project is when the buzz around the project took off. The premiere, which featured a number of YouTube stars and included an audience full of fans, had nearly 600 million social impressions, making it the moment of the AT2UI campaign with the largest reach.

To encourage social media conversation even after the movie's launch, a handful of Easter eggs were left in the film for fans to find. Those who spotted the secret Twitter accounts that flashed onscreen were encouraged to visit them for exclusive content. Says Westerby: "We wanted to reward the people who cared passionately." That helped drive 482 million impressions following the release on YouTube Red. 

Westerby notes that the campaign showcased how important it can be to start the marketing of a movie several months early. She adds that leveraging existing fan bases for conversations can be key, as can offering exclusive content to those fans.

Even though the film has been available for more than a month, new fans are still interacting with the social media content. "People are still discovering the film," Westerby says. "So we can still make them feel like they're welcome at the party."