This is Part 3 of our extended retrospective about the #SaveTheExpanse movement. If you missed the beginning, please start from Part 1. A shorter, more concise overview of the campaign is also available here.
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5
Before we continue, we want to be very clear: The Expanse was saved because thousands of creative and passionate fans came together — joined by the wonderful cast & crew — and made their voices heard. Although there were some notable contributions, this effort was only successful because ours is a truly incredible, worldwide fandom, and no one group or individual can claim credit for the campaign’s success. We did this together.
This article is simply our best attempt to recount all the events of this phenomenal effort from our perspective as a team, and share our story along the way.
Although the campaign had been a resounding success so far, nobody could tell how long it was going to take, or how real of a chance we actually had. Everyone wanted to know what we could do next to maintain pressure, and we needed a way to plan, organize, and distribute information quickly across all platforms.
As a result, several members of the community decided to come together and form a sort of “base of operations” from which the the logistics of the fan effort could be coordinated. We weren’t sure if it would work, but it seemed like the logical next step. So we gave it a shot.
The team was initially started on the Discord messaging platform by community members Hanne Paine (@ItReachesOut), a well-known superfan and moderator of /r/TheExpanse, and Ed Akselrud (@edaxmedia), who had created the popular #SaveTheExpanse fan trailer. Among the first to join were Vincent Buyssens (@Fadawah), the author of the Change.org petition; Murilo Silva (@sfcl33t), who managed the airplane banner fundraiser; Alex Liu (@alexanderxliu), the owner of SaveTheExpanse.org; and Liam Slater (@chaoaretasty), who had claimed the @SaveTheExpanse handle on Twitter.
From there, in just a couple of days, we put together a global team of graphic designers, public relations & marketing experts, social media gurus, web developers, media strategists, and everything in between.
In addition to those above, the team included:
- Luis Levy (@AtmanRising), a PR expert from Santa Monica
- Kyle LaBarre (@BisforBlood), an IT specialist and media strategist from Minnesota
- Kiddle (@kiddle), our resident Twitter expert
- Mikhail Thomas (@seckela), a back-end web developer and systems administrator
- Nathan Ray (@katagatame_), the administrator of the community Discord server
- Kasia Chrzan (@CassAnnYel), a social media manager from Poland
Our graphic designers:
- Knut Gerber (@sverebom) from Germany,
- Tomislav Pocedulic (@potzo90) from Croatia, and
- Odin Babajic (@FungusSalsa) from Bosnia
And our copywriting and informatics team:
- R. D. Giordano, a comms specialist from Virginia;
- Joe Hunstone (@DestinyPigeon), a film & TV student from the UK;
- Matthew Carey (@RealTsavo), an English teacher living in Nanjing, China; and
- Paul van der Pluijm (@ns6400), a shipyard mechanical engineer from Belgium.
Our advertising & research consultants included Christina Brady & Michael Bryant of Chow-Bryant, and Thomas Fontanari (@Fundraiser_AT) provided fundraising advice.
Other community volunteers who worked closely with us included:
- Orion Reed (@OrionReedOne), a game developer from the UK
- Rachel Ferrell (/u/Tagerine), an LA-based video editor
- Maria Björkman (@Marrenera), a student from Sweden
- Derek Zhao (@dslashk1301), a data science & AI research student from Houston, Texas
- Shawn Watkins (@TheHerme5), a nurse from Ohio
Phew, that’s a lot of names. These fans brought an invaluable amount of expertise and professional skills to our group and the campaign.
Many of these talented folks came from the Unofficial Expanse Discord server. Discord is a robust, server-based chat application. Any community or group of people can start a server as a place to come together. Though originally designed for gaming communities, it turns out to be an exceptional tool for organizing an effort due to its intuitive, sophisticated design, so it was invaluable during the campaign.
The Expanse Discord server has a couple of thousand members. Many of them were active during the campaign, so the place was always in a flurry of activity. Although our team also operated out of a separate, internal server, this community was instrumental to helping us coordinate and execute our activities. If you aren’t a part of it yet, join us!
The next couple of days were spent setting up everything we needed to function: Our social media profiles, the website, graphics & designs, press releases & documentation, role distribution, and even a new video to go along with the announcement that we now had a dedicated volunteer campaign team.
It was an anxious time. Many fans, especially our friends in the Discord server, were itching to know what was next, but we kept our cool. Once we finally issued our announcement on Reddit and the petition on May 19, it was time to get to the real work. But first, let’s get back to the rest of the world for a moment.
The day before on May 18, a mind-blowing video titled “The Expanse is All Around Us” was released by Bora Kutlu, using 3D tracking to imagine what a multi-million dollar advertising campaign for The Expanse would look like on the streets of LA. The instantly beloved video struck a chord with the community, and especially the cast & crew. So much so, in fact, that the production office later watched it on the big screen along with Steven Strait, as they gathered to see the seventh episode on set in Toronto.
“The scarcity of the marketing for the show led me to that idea,” Bora explains. “I wanted to create a world where The Expanse was a huge thing.”
He most certainly succeeded. Bora had no contact with the community prior to his video, but is now a well known creator with fans of his own as he continues producing more artwork.
Also on the same day, an article about the movement was published in Newsweek and drew real attention to the fans as a collective. It was the first article in the mainstream media to take a deeper dive into the campaign, describing the fan efforts up to that point in detail and even interviewing several of the fans behind the first few initiatives.
Meanwhile, the petition had broken 100,000 signatures and rumors were flying that the set strike — which had begun earlier that week — had been halted. We quickly contacted the production office to find out if these reports were true, and were told that, unfortunately, this was not the case. However, just hours later, Murray returned to Facebook to confirm that, in a surprising turn of events, the set strike had indeed been halted for a week.
Although extremely positive news, we needed to be careful with rumors like this. There had been a lot of discussion about the set strikes and what they really meant. Keeping the sets in storage was costing Alcon thousands of dollars per day. The set for the Secretary General’s office, for instance, had come down earlier in the week, causing many fans to panic. This was far from the end though, as it was an easily constructed set and could be remade for little cost.
Sets such as the Rocinante or the Razorback, however, would be much harder to rebuild. Earlier in the week, Jim Murray clarified that these sets would likely be sold off to other productions such as Star Trek: Discovery. If this were to happen, they would need to be remade from scratch, something that would be a serious cost for any company looking to buy the rights and could be a deal-breaker for them.
A pause or stop to the set strike was therefore huge news that many people wanted to believe as it likely meant that someone — probably Amazon — had entered into negotiations to save the show.
One of the first things we did as a team was use the leftover funds from the plane banner GoFundMe to initiate a Facebook ad campaign. We will publish a detailed report of our social media engagement & other campaign statistics in the near future, but the long story short is that our numbers were through the roof.
The SaveTheExpanse Facebook page gained over 10,000 likes and reached individuals 680,000 times between May 17 and May 26. Our posts received more than 20,000 reactions and 2,100 shares combined, with over 114,000 video views (a total of 800 hours watched). The total engagement we calculated using the Graph API for all major Expanse-related articles shared by us and others on the platform was 183,326 reactions/shares, and we estimate a combined reach of at least 3.9 million.
Alongside Facebook, our Twitter page grew quickly as well, breaching 2,000 followers by the end of the campaign. This allowed us to easily spread calls to action, kick off new hashtags, and generally keep people informed and involved as we worked alongside cast & crew and other #ScreamingFirehawks. Our tweets during this period received a total of 6,100 retweets and 18,400 likes, generating over 2 million impressions.
The 71,000 total tweets sent across the platform with the top 8 Expanse-related hashtags earned over 182,000 retweets and 513,000 likes between May 10 and May 25. 48,000 of these bore the #SaveTheExpanse tag, totaling more than 116,000 retweets and 288,000 likes. The two big spikes shown on the chart above are May 16 and May 23 — the days when new episodes aired.
People were very, very interested in saving The Expanse.
Our first big social media push was the #BingeTheExpanse campaign, which urged fans to rewatch the show and bring their friends along for the ride. New fans meant new live viewers, and since the bingeing often took place on Amazon, this was a great way to hit all of our bases at once. Unfortunately, streaming services do not publish their numbers, but we have no doubt that they (particularly Amazon) saw a notable uptick in viewership of The Expanse on their platforms that weekend.
This was helped by yet another video released on May 20, this time from well known video editor Zurik23M. His brilliant fan trailer chronicled the dishonest and confusing nature of the war in the show, and highlighted the complicated, realpolitik tension between the world’s factions — revealing the mature and gritty writing style of the series. It helped push the movement forward by reminding fans that the struggles humanity faces in the show are just as real as the ones we face today. Watch it below (beware of spoilers, though):
There have been a lot of fantastic videos coming out of the campaign, but it would be unfair to forget all the fan artwork that was being posted as well. Twitter was being flooded with artist illustrations constantly, so there are far too many to mention. Some notable examples included BewBewDingo’s Bobbie portrait on May 11, XeniDraws’s Rocinante pixel art on May 14, Tabbystardust’s photorealistic Naomi portrait on May 19 and Frecuenciankn’s anime-style Drummer on May 23. Suffice to say, we have many talented artists in this community! And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
That same Sunday evening, May 20, another major event was taking place: Naren Shankar, Cas Anvar, and Wes Chatham were to appear live on the web talk show AfterBuzz TV to discuss the latest episode. Thousands of fans eagerly tuned in, hoping for an update on the show’s status or at least a mention of the campaign. At the end of the stream, in an extremely heartwarming acknowledgement of the movement by the trio and an official statement from Alcon to the fans read out by Cas Anvar, we got exactly that.
It’s worth noting that although we didn’t know exactly what was happening behind the scenes, Alcon clearly cared about the series as much as the rest of us. Their “commitment to try everything” was incredibly meaningful, and their tireless efforts deserve just as much recognition — especially those of Laura Lancaster, President of the company. No matter what the fans did, it was still up to Alcon to make this a reality. In a show of solidarity, they even added a link to our SaveTheExpanse.org website on their homepage!
After we finished wiping our tears of joy back at our “headquarters”, it was time to get back to work. A lot of our operations so far had involved promoting events such as the AfterBuzz show, community content, and hashtags. After the first few days, we even began to coordinate with the writer’s room as well as Cas Anvar and his social media team, who continued to engage closely with the fanbase throughout the campaign. We also did our best to keep fans informed by publishing continuous updates on our social media platforms, the petition, GoFundMe page, and the website, and so on.
Additionally, we had to keep an eye out for and discourage any attempts at illegal or questionable means of promoting the campaign, such as the use of social media bots, illegal downloading, proxy usage, or the spreading of unconfirmed rumors. One idea we had to investigate, for example, was the enabling of multiple TV sets in a single facility (such as a school, hospital or a Best Buy) to bump ratings. As it turns out, TV units in such facilities often share the same cable signal, so efforts such as these could not simulate more live viewers. Another decision we had to make right away was that we would not be producing (or encouraging the production of) Expanse-related merchandise, as that carried the risk of copyright infringement.
Some of the promotional banners our graphics team produced during the campaign.
Instead, we hoped to encourage new and creative ideas for projects we could work on to help promote the show and campaign further. Unfortunately, due to the fast and unpredictable pace of the campaign, not all ideas could be realized.
One such project was the Belter Stories. Inspired by something a certain member of the Rocinante did in one of the later books, the idea was to encourage people to record video clips of themselves talking about why they love The Expanse and what it means to them using the #LoveTheExpanse hashtag. Unfortunately, because of some unforeseen events in the following couple of days, the project never got a chance to take off.
However, we did produce a compilation video of some initial submissions, including a few from our team. Since we don’t want this to get lost in history forever, we’re publishing it now as a special throwback! Check out the touching clip, edited by /u/Tagerine:
Another fun project we did not get a chance to publish were @FungusSalsa‘s character cards. These are a set of RPG-style graphics made for each of the major characters in The Expanse with a list of fun facts about each.
In Part 4, we explore the second week of the campaign – including the fundraiser for the Rocinante Balloon Launch and the airing of the next episode.
Go to Part 4
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5