How Marvel battles social media spoilers

Open letters, star-studded videos, even turning the comments off. Marvel goes to great lengths to keep the plot a secret.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photo: gizmo/Getty

· 6 min read

We’re all just living in Marvel’s world…err, cinematic universe: 28 movies over the last 14 years racked up $25 billion, making the MCU the most-profitable movie franchise by a long shot. Surprise, surprise, that also means they’re the most talked-about movie franchise ever. Avengers: Endgame still holds the record: 50 million tweets make it the most tweeted-about movie of all time.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s never clear when we’re allowed to talk about the movies online.

Opening-weekend crowds badly need a space to talk about their new favorite movie, but most social networks just don’t have the functionality to do so without releasing spoilers to millions. Your tweets go out to everybody. Your Instagram and TikTok comments could be seen by anyone. It was quite the issue when Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness dropped this May, with its surprise plot, surprise villain, and surprise celeb casting. So much happened! And we wanna talk about it online!

That’s about to be a problem all over again when Thor: Love and Thunder releases in a few weeks. Natalie Portman’s returned as Dr. Jane Foster for the first time since the original 2013 Thor movie, and she’s somehow become Thor. As in, swings Mjolnir, wears the armor, the whole bit. How she became Thor will be the summer plot secret for most, and one that simply can’t hit Twitter…ever.

That’s the Twitter issue. The platform wants to be the home of all conversation, yet we can’t talk about a film when it’s most relevant. It boils down to two major challenges:

  • Entertainment companies need a way to prevent spoilers on social media.
  • Fans need a social place to talk about the movie without spoiling it for others.

Marvel ran a brave new tactic for Doctor Strange that’d make most brand managers freak, and I’ve got an idea on a new home for movie talks.

Marvel’s spoiler-prevention tactics to date

Most of Marvel’s spoiler-prevention efforts are really just asking us nicely to keep quiet.

Avengers: Endgame presented the longest-building spoiler threat in the history of cinema. Usually a trilogy ender’s spoilers are the worst case—this was a 22-film run. That’s why 10 days before Endgame released, directors Anthony and Joe Russo published an open letter asking fans to honor the creators and fans who wanted to learn plot details on their own in theaters. The plea felt especially authentic due to the format: a photograph of an actual letter, signed by the pair, tweeted from @Marvel with only a hashtag: #DontSpoilTheEndgame.

The Anti-Spoiler Production Budget ramped up for Spider-Man: No Way Home. This time, Marvel tweeted a fully produced video starring the cast, who directly asked the fans to not spoil the movie (alongside a well-placed Jamie Foxx cameo, a spoiler itself).

Did these attempts work? It’s impossible to tell, to be honest.

A bold new move: turning off the comments altogether

For Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel made a choice that would freak out any social media manager: They turned off the comments entirely for opening weekend.

Last July, Twitter rolled out a new feature called “Who Can Reply.” The functionality is mostly for your everyday user to control their own online personal space, allowing you to decide if everyone, people you follow, or only people you mention in a specific tweet can reply.

A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby

Marvel’s invested in controlling its online personal space for the sake of fans. If there’s one place fans especially don’t want to see spoilers, it’s in the replies to Marvel’s official social media…which is also the most common place for people to drop spoiler-filled tweets. So, Marvel utilized the “Only People You Mention” feature during opening weekend to ensure that anyone who followed Marvel wouldn’t get exposed to a surprise reveal.

Real social media strategy isn’t about earning likes and comments—it’s about what’s right for the brand, the product, and, most importantly, the community. Marvel gave up what would likely have been hundreds of thousands of owned community data for the sake of fans. It takes a special media brand that prioritizes fans above some slideshow with a bunch of successful social metrics to pull a stunt like that.

They deserve all the praise.

What if spoiler prevention is the wrong strategy?

Silencing tactics aside…what if Marvel is still coming at this the wrong way?

It’s not that rabid users are frothing at the mouth to ruin movies for people. They’re fans themselves; they just want to talk about the movie. The solution shouldn’t be to quiet them down! Other than being crucial consumers, they’re some of the best advocates for your brand.

Instead, let’s give them a proper place to talk, far from those who haven’t seen the movie.

A new Twitter home for movie discussion

That brings me to an idea.

Twitter launched Communities last September. Per Twitter comms, it’s “a dedicated place to connect, share, and get closer to the discussions people care most about,” which is a fancy way of saying they work the same as subreddits.

What’s most important here: Communities are open, opt-in groups. When you tweet within a community, it doesn’t go to everyone, just the people in said Community.

The concept: Marvel could create a Twitter Community for each individual Marvel film, TV show, or other property for a fully open discussion within a safe haven where anything goes. Once you’ve seen the movie, you’d enter the Community and tweet to your heart’s desire, no fear of spoiling the plot for others. Opening-weekend crowds would have a place to talk freely, and fans who hadn’t yet caught the entertainment could feel safe roaming the space without fear of running into massive plot reveals.

I mocked one up since anyone can make a Community.

As you can see, they’re entirely customizable. The name, community info, and rules can all be tweaked for your liking. Again, when you tweet in a Community, it only goes to those who’ve opted-in to the Community. That means every single chatter has already seen the movie and you’ve got no risk for spoiling.

Thor: Love and Thunder is about three weeks away—I’ll keep my eyes peeled to see how Marvel’s addressing spoilers this time around.

A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby