Conan O'Brien's New Gig: Post-Mass Media Phenomenon

Last Updated Mar 11, 2010 1:46 PM EST

One thing you can say about that unemployed Conan O'Brien: he's a quick study. The gone-but-not-forgotten talk show host is rapidly turning himself into a post-mass media entertainment property.

What he's doing gets more interesting by the day:

  • It started, of course, with the Twitter feed he launched two weeks ago, and now has more than 625,000 followers. The feed features at least a daily dose of wonderful inanity: "If I had a show, I'd tweet about which Oscar winner is coming on tonight. Instead, here's my favorite frozen vegetable: Peas!"
  • Then came the weirdly inspired idea to randomly follow only one person on Twitter, 19-year-old Sarah Killen of Fowlerville, Michigan (aka @lovelybutton), who herself has gone from three followers to almost 25,000 followers in about a week. The Killen story has translated into press for both O'Brien and Killen, who has even had an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America." (She was bumped from CNN's "Larry King Live" last night by something called "breaking news.") Googling both names together returns almost 43,000 results.
  • Then O'Brien launched a Web site, teamcoco.com, to announce a 32-city tour in conjunction with American Express. Called the "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour," the title plays off his buyout agreement with former employer NBC, which stipulates that he can't appear on TV until next fall (or criticize the network -- a task he seems to have left to sidekick Andy Richter). It won't just feature O'Brien, but will also include Richter, and the former "Tonight Show" band, essentially recreating many elements from his show. In the first few hours since O'Brien announced the tour on Twitter, all indications are it's likely to be a runaway success. Teamcoco.com was having trouble handling the traffic this morning, and shows have already been added in New York, Chicago and Boston.
O'Brien has to wait another five and a half months to appear on TV. But he has to be asking himself: So what? Together, all of these steps are keeping him on the national radar screen. He is shrewdly tapping into the "Team Coco" movement that got started when it began to look like he would lose the "Tonight Show" gig. (The tour poster is a rework of the "I'm with Coco" poster created by a fan in the heat of that battle.)

O'Brien's savvy use of both social media and his fan base is enough to make one wonder if NBC really anticipated this, or if the network, in typical old-guard fashion, failed to realize how O'Brien could keep his profile and his fan base alive.

But that's really an aside. No Twitter pun intended, any media or advertising brand could learn a lot by following what O'Brien is doing: Find out who your fans are; cultivate them online; and use these new channels innovatively.

Previous coverage of Conan O'Brien at BNET Media: