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How to Improve Your Online Engagement, According to ‘A Simple Favor’

The Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick thriller is also a triumphant tale about how one stay-at-home mom’s blog goes very viral

BRON Studios/Ringer illustration

It’s hard, at first, to figure out how exactly we should classify A Simple Favor. The new Paul Feig film, based on Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel, has been dubbed a “suburban noir”—part thriller, part mystery, and part dark comedy. It is also, quite obviously, an enjoyable excuse to dress Blake Lively as a stripper cosplaying as a mobster. But more than anything, it’s a triumphant tale about how one stay-at-home mom’s vlog goes super viral.

The film’s two main characters exist on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a lonely widow in cat-printed Target socks who can quote The Canterbury Tales on cue. To fill her free time, she pours her life into out-volunteering the other parents at her son’s school and filming YouTube tutorials on how to get kids to eat their vegetables. Emily (Lively) is a fashion PR executive whose main pastime is drinking martinis. She has a questionable wrist tattoo and a large portrait of her vagina hanging on a very public wall in her home. She’s bored by childcare and blames her hot but unproductive novelist husband (Henry Golding) for their financial troubles.

The two women form an unlikely friendship, the evolution of which is documented in Stephanie’s YouTube entries. At first, it’s small stuff: satisfied banter about all the gin they drink and just having a friend at all. But as their relationship becomes more … uh … complicated, it begins to influence the lessons, scripts, and cheery vibe of Stephanie’s tutorials. Her YouTube content morphs from quick-and-easy meal plans to hangover cures and DIY tombstone ideas, and the tone becomes more desperate, anxious, and aggressive. The messier it gets, the more her fan base—who we can only assume is composed of other well-meaning moms looking for a spark in their life—becomes enthralled. At first it seems Stephanie has unknowingly stumbled upon the “life is content” rule that has made many a temporarily famous internet star. But by the end of the film, she commits so fully to the mantra that she rises to the level of a Kardashian or a Paul.

It’s too bad Stephanie isn’t an actual influencer; she’d be the perfect candidate for a TED talk. But we can still borrow a few helpful tips and tricks for building a dedicated subscriber base from her approach. Below are some essential audience engagement strategies to glean from her success.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal

Have you met a femme fatale who has a thing for three-piece suits and casual threesomes with her husband’s TA? Tell your viewers about it! When your audience gets to know who you are, they’re more likely to tune in for updates. Offering details about your loved ones—especially those who, for some weird reason, won’t let you take their picture—between instructional moments allows you to connect with your viewers on a deeper level and encourages them to spend more time with your channel.

Encourage Real-Time Viewer Participation

Reminding viewers to “like and subscribe” and “sound off in the comments” is one of the best ways to drive engagement on YouTube. Even more effective, however, is engaging them in campaigns where they feel they can actually make a significant impact on your life. Say, for instance, your new best friend asks you to pick up her son from school and then suddenly disappears from the face of the earth. Crowdsourcing leads of her whereabouts from your audience will both save you and the police time and help form a bond with your fans.

Show Appreciation to Your Most Dedicated Fans

It’s easy to forget that sometimes your most dedicated watchers are also the most silent ones. Or maybe they’re close friends who have recently gone missing and might also be attempting to sabotage your new life from afar. Either way, let them know you know they’re still alive and appreciate their viewership by shouting out their names at the beginning of each episode. Name recognition is a great way to encourage more audience participation and to better connect with viewers.

Switch up Locations

Avoid falling into a rut and filming every vlog with the same boring backdrop. If your missing friend’s hot novelist husband invites you to move in, seize upon the opportunity and make the space your own. Varying your set locations will pique the interest of viewers and create the appearance of an exciting, must-watch life.

Livestream Life’s Most Compelling Moments

Once you’ve built a dedicated fan base that is invested in both your expertise and personality, build on that momentum by using your own personal milestones as opportunities for content. Livestreaming, in particular, is a great way to offer people a raw, uncut window into your life. A meeting in which you confront an absent friend about her destructive behavior can double as a way to draw large audiences and to clear your name of attempted murder charges. Consider investing in a small camera the size of a cardigan button and consult your local state wiretapping laws to better understand your right to record private conversations without consent.

Diversify Your Content

You may have started as a content creator who specialized in healthy cooking and arts and crafts. But that doesn’t mean you’re chained to those topics until the end of time. Don’t box yourself in! After all, life is content, content is life, and if you somehow end up solving a weirder, funnier version of Gone Girl, milk it for all it’s worth.