Conan Ups His Social Game (and So Should You)

Published on Feb 26th, 2019


by Robert McEvily

So I’ve been poking around inside Shareablee’s PowerRankings, learning the ropes and getting my head around all its capabilities. Out of sheer curiosity, I compared the late night talk show hosts. Now, this is just the hosts themselves - their personal Instagram accounts, Twitter accounts, etc. This doesn’t include the social media accounts for their shows or any affiliates.

If I used the tool correctly, here are their total cross-platform actions for January of 2019:

1. Jimmy Fallon - 3.9M
2. Stephen Colbert - 1.1M
3. Conan O’Brien - 502K
4. Jimmy Kimmel - 499K

Back in January of 2010, Conan, an earlyish Gen Xer, made a pretty big mistake. He refused to remain host of The Tonight Show if the program were pushed back to a post-midnight slot. The move was proposed by NBC to make room for the return of Jay Leno - a baby boomer.

It all seems so misguided now from the digital perch of 2019. It was certainly an easy mistake to make. Gen Xers aren’t social media natives. Plus, Conan was a traditionalist. At the time, Twitter and Facebook were still fairly new; Instagram wouldn’t exist until October. None of the late night talk shows had branded YouTube channels back then either.

What Conan failed to see clearly was the shifting tide of viewing habits. What difference did a time slot make in the coming world of sharable content?

Conan left The Tonight Show and moved to TBS, where he remains today. Though now with a streamlined show and a modern plan of attack.

At the end of January, after a three month revamping hiatus (surely inspired by Fallon’s social media mastery), Conan returned to the airwaves with a new set, no band, hipper clothing, hype for a new podcast, and actual physical contact with the audience (à la Fallon). During the hiatus, Team Coco ramped up its YouTube and Instagram content, topping 6M and 1M fans respectively.

O’Brien has always had those fans, loyal fans; he appears driven to expand his fan base via digital domination. If he’d remained on a post-midnight version of The Tonight Show (with a savviness about its future), it’s likely he’d now be the King of NBC, racking up views, shares, follows, likes, memes and retweets. Instead, he created an opening for Fallon, so he’s forced to play catch-up.

And he’s determined to play catch-up right away, keeping his focus socially trendy, even in conversation. He asked Tom Hanks - his first guest of the revamp - about his apparent obsession with posting photos of lost gloves on Instagram. “It’s lost objects,” replied Hanks, “but it started with lost gloves. There’s a story behind them all. How did the other glove get lost? There’s a Romeo and Juliet quality to it. They’re all bittersweet city adventures.”

In the short term, things are going well. Conan leapfrogged Kimmel in January. So enjoy a handful of lessons from Conan’s resurgence (or “bittersweet reminders,” if you will):




  • Make mistakes. Learn from them. Repeat.

  • Authentic is cool. Relevancy is cooler. Entertaining is coolest.

  • Up your game. Imitate and improve upon the best players.

  • What works now won’t work forever. Study the trends and pounce.

  • Replace stale habits with ceaseless adaptability.

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