Social Media Lessons for “The Gilded Age”

Julian Fellowes, creator of the popular period drama “Downton Abbey,” which airs on PBS as part of the Masterpiece series in the United States, will develop a new show for NBC. “The Gilded Age” promises to reimagine the popular British show in an American context by following the lives of extraordinarily wealthy New Yorkers in the late 19th century.

Can Julian Fellowes repeat the runaway success of “Downton Abbey”? In order to recreate “Downton,” Fellowes needs to know the reasons and sources of fans’ devotion to the show.

Crimson Hexagon proposes that Julian Fellowes can learn what made his show such a success by analyzing fans’ (and detractors’) opinions on social media. We used the ForSight™ social listening platform to investigate which aspects of the show – plot, characters, setting, writing, and historical portrayal – audiences talk about on social media.

Analyzing 567,000 posts about “Downton Abbey” on Twitter since the show debuted in the United States almost two years ago, we find that tweets expressing enthusiasm for the show and anticipation of the next season represent the largest segment of conversation (28%). Of the specific facets of the shows, the characters represent the largest segment of conversation (23%). Another substantial share of the conversation regards the lush setting (13%), including the castle, the costumes, and the aesthetic design elements of the show.

In addition, we see that a sizable share of the conversation (12%) includes various creative interpretations of the show, including sharing fan fiction, spoofs, and mashups via Twitter. Even the spoofs, lightly making fun of the characters and the plot of the show, seemed to come from fans, rather than from detractors of the show. In fact, criticisms of the show rated very low overall, at a mere 3% of the conversation.

Why do fans watch and love Downton Abbey? Of course fans respond to a mix of variables, but it seems that the characters are a huge driver of fan devotion. The Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, is a fan favorite. The Dowager Countess’s witty and memorable quotes, captured in the writing category (5)%, are a major appeal of her character.

Mr. Bates, Lady Sybil, and, of course, Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, are all frequently mentioned as well. The moral compass and courage displayed by Mr. Bates is a major driver of connection to his character, and to other characters as well, including Sybil. Many fans express that they are very excited for Shirley MacLaine to join the cast as the maternal grandmother of Lady Mary and her sisters.

If we focus the analysis on January and February 2012, when the second season aired in the United States, we see weekly spikes in the conversation.

Even though many people time-shift television viewing, they are attracted to Downton as a weekly event. During the first airing of season two, the share of the conversation about characters represents the largest segment of conversation, at 38%.

The Sunday that the season finale aired shows the largest spike in volume, with 20,513 posts on Twitter captured by our analysis. Of the conversation during and immediately after the finale aired, 76% of the conversation discussed the characters.

Fans watching new episodes each week talk about standout individuals even more than the general time-shifting audience. At Downton Abbey, the castle is less important than its inhabitants in the show’s success.

Our analysis indicates that in order for Fellowes to recreate “Downton Abbey” with “The Gilded Age,” he must develop compelling, witty characters with strong moral convictions. And Fellowes must work to secure formidable actors of the caliber of Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine for the cast.

Which actors do you think would play great characters in “The Gilded Age”? Which seasoned actor might be the “Knickerbocker” equivalent to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess? Tweet us your thoughts @CrimsonHexagon or comment below.

If you want to learn more about how you can use Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight to analyze the nuance of the online conversation and discover actionable insights for your creative project or organization, sign up to receive a live online demo.