final research paper

For over ten years, “Project Runway” has fostered a unique and engaged fan base. Yes, the show is fun and drama-filled so basically everything that we look for in a reality television show. Of course, it also features really cool high-end fashion, celebrity judges, and designers with really unique perspectives. This is definitely entertaining and fun, but how has “Project Runway” continued to engage those avid fans, such as myself? How has “Project Runway” allowed viewers and fans to believe that their voices are heard? And how has “Project Runway” fostered really important conversations about the fashion industry?

Here is your answer: Social media focused marketing strategies. From the “tweetable” moments to the hashtags and tagged accounts on the bottom of the screen, the social media influences on “Project Runway” are everywhere.

“Project Runway” has become symbiotic with social media. Their social media engagement has positively impacted the fans, designers, and the television network as it has created an online forum that is helpful for implementing impactful discussion, reflection, and feedback on topics, that range from light-hearted topics to politically-charged topics, as well as increasing the fan base.

First, I’ll start off by explaining why this symbiotic connection between social media and “Project Runway” makes so much sense.

Inherently, as a reality television show, it is suitable for integration with elements of “Web 2.0. Scholars have explained that this connection makes a lot of sense since there’s a “likely relationship between behavior modeled on increasingly popular reality television (RTV) and user behavior modeled on social networking sites (SNNS)” (Stefanone, 1). They have also concluded that “actors regularly engage in ‘confessions’ where they ritualistically disclose their private thoughts and feelings to the audience” (Stefanone, 509). This is shown in “Project Runway”, when the designers are informally interviewed throughout the episodes, and they often disclose information, such as their feelings about being away from their significant other or how their culture has influenced their designs.

Similarly to the intimate nature of “Project Runway”, these scholars have also evaluated how websites commonly associated with “Web 2.0” allow for a “growing number of Internet users to publish their thoughts, photos, and videos on the Web” (Stefanone, 509). These social networking websites permit reality television viewers to “see themselves a protagonists of mediated narratives” (Stefanone, 509).

Through the implementation of social-media focused marketing campaigns, “Project Runway” fans have been able to virtually “publish” their own responses to the episodes, engage with content, and influence Project Runway’s future episodes.

One of the show’s first marketing campaigns was in 2012 for the tenth season. This campaign was titled #MakeitWork, as this is an “oft-delivered piece of advice from cast member Tim Gunn”. During this marketing campaign, “Project Runway” utilized well-known platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They also used less-known platforms such as Viddy and Piictu, which are no longer available on smart phone app stores.

These platforms were all used for different purposes in this campaign. In this particular campaign, Project Runway’s engagement with Twitter and Piictu allowed for the most user interaction with the show. Twitter was mainly utilized so that fans could “tweet images of their #MakeitWork moments for a cash prize”. Project Runway engaged with Piictu, in order to post the challenges, and they would ask the fans to “#MakeItWork based on the challenges of each episode”. Then, “users would respond with their own photos, which are displayed in a scrollable stream”.

Project Runway’s Piictu Feed from 2012.

These apps allowed viewers to feel included in the episode’s challenge, and it allowed them to explore their creative side. The hashtag was also useful, as it allowed fans, designers, and the television network to comprehend how fans are engaging with and responding to the show.

In this #MakeItWork campaign, Instagram was used to “post photos of existing designs from the upcoming season’s contestants to introduce their respective aesthetics”. What used to be described as the “Instagram for videos”, Viddy was used as a way to introduce the fashion designers to the viewers “through 15-second video clips ahead of the premiere”. Also, with Viddy, “fans could respond with how they do or would ‘make it work’ themselves”.

Project Runway’s Instagram Feed from 2012

Since “Project Runway” is a very visual show, these social media platforms proved to be useful for the intentions of the marketing campaign. Like when the viewer was able to view the designers’ previous designs and listen to each designer briefly describe their background during the premiere episode, these platforms allowed fans and viewers to get excited for the upcoming season as they were given an early “sneak-peek” into the designers’ perspectives. However, since these videos were short, similarly to the style of an upcoming episode preview clip, it is intended to leave the fans and viewers wanting to learn and see more about the designer’s perspectives in the upcoming season. Therefore, this is also helpful for increasing the fan and viewer base.

Silverman, the SVP of Digital Media at A+E Networks, explained that the #MakeItWork campaign was also displayed on “billboards, kiosks, and buses” in order to continue using visual platforms to market “Project Runway”. Although this type of advertising isn’t widely used anymore, due to the advancement of social media platforms, it proved to be effective since it was visual. It also featured the #MakeitWork hashtag, which allowed for consistency within the campaign and it prompted individuals to look up the hashtag on social media platforms to check out the hashtag.

Project Runway’s #MakeItWork campaign proved to be instrumental in increasing the fan base and encouraged greater engagement. For instance, Silverman explained that they have “9,000 followers on Viddy…having started from zero”. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts saw similar success rates. After the premiere of Season 10, Project Runway’s Twitter following has jumped 12% to 130,000+, and its Facebook fanbase has grown by 6% to more than 1.5 million fans”.

Image result for #makeitwork billboard

Since 2012, Project Runway has continued to engage with a few of the same social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. However, of course, over time, social media engagement, has inevitably evolved and changed over the years.

In the current season of “Project Runway”, which is the first season that it is being aired on Bravo in a long time, displays many influences of the symbiotic relationship between “Project Runway” and social media. Firstly, the cast of judges has changed and the individuals who now run the show are characterized as “progressive influencers”. Karlie Kloss and Christian Siriano, who serve as the new host and mentor of the show respectively, are labeled as “progressive influencers” since they have “younger fans and a great social media following that may have not watched the show previously”.

This truly demonstrates the power of one’s social media presence, as I explained earlier, since accounts often disclose “private thoughts” or present stances about certain politically-charged issues.

Shown in his Tweet below, Siriano makes inclusive fashion garments for “celebrities of all colors, shapes, sizes, and identifications for the red carpet”. As a social media influencer, who is also a mentor on “Project Runway”, he truly has the ability to create a “narrative”. He can drive wide-spread conversations on Twitter about “inclusive fashion” as well as inspire designers to push the boundaries and create garments that may be more fluid.

Sirano’s Tweet from February 2019

This type of work is quite valued and inspirational for “Project Runway” designers. Siriano, who was a former “Project Runway” designer himself, was able to receive 11.8 thousand comments and over 53,000 likes on one single Twitter post. This also reinforces to designers the importance of social media marketing, in order to build one’s brand and make money in the industry.

Therefore, in order to address the and that “many of the challenges tested the contestants’ artistic abilities but not their understanding of the moneymaking side of fashion”, they implemented the “flash sale component” to the episodes. This “flash sale” addition allows “viewers to purchase the top looks, as decided by them and the judges”.

This produces social media engagement among viewers, judges, and the designers. The viewers are able to purchase the items that they just love so much and feel compelled to purchase immediately and the judges are more incentivized to strategically critique the designers’ garments, as they are now aware that viewers are “able to purchase the top looks”. Mr. Maxwell also explained that this new flash sale component of “Project Runway” was “both a response to the new culture of consumerism-items are a click away-and a way to engage the audience in real time”.

In order to respond to other long-running criticisms about the show and transform the content of the show, Project Runway’s engagement with Twitter proved to be useful. Like other reality television shows, Twitter allowed the network “to get feedback before, during, and after launch”. It has also been proven that it is a “critical tool” for the network in order for them to “understand how our audience is responding the show”. Also, when the show incorporated the #ProjectRunway and tagged certain social media accounts, it prompted viewers to immediately tweet their responses to certain moments in the show. Therefore,  when all of the tweets included the hashtag, it was easier for the network to comprehend individuals’ responses to topics such as the lack of diversity on the show and the need for different sized models on the runway. The hashtag and tagged accounts resulted in a “direct and immediate increase in engagement on Twitter”. Additionally, since there is a “noticeable push to get stars interacting with their fans on Twitter”, it allows fans to believe that their voices are actually heard which results in a more dedicated fan base, when they receive a response from their favorite designer. It also allows the designers to boost their self-esteem (through viewing compliments from fans) or receive feedback on how they can improve their designs. Twitter engagement with Project Runway truly reinforces this symbiotic relationship between the platforms and “Project Runway”, as it displays how the designers, fans, and the network’s engagement with this platform has positively impacted all involved.

Here is an example of my engagement with Twitter, and how both designers and celebrity judges responded. The “push” to get stars engaging with fans is definitely apparent!

Also, because of this very vocal digital age,  Elaine Welteroth, who is the former Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue and current judge of “Project Runway” explained that “you cannot underestimate the power of digital revolution”. She said that this was so because “now, you hear the voices of the people you’re reaching instantly”, and as a result, the “consumer or the reader” has much more power. She also explained that one “can no longer ignore marginalized voices who are saying, ‘Hey, this doesn’t reflect me, this offends me, this doesn’t include me.

Therefore, when evaluating the differences between the first season in 2004 (when Facebook was first created) and the current season, it is quite striking to see how social media has created an outlet that has truly transformed the individuals involved and the content of “Project Runway” . The viewer can observe how Project Runway’s cast has evolved, and they have made a very conscious effort to “no longer ignore marginalized voices” in order to encourage and support inclusivity and positively represent the evolving fashion industry.

Host, Heidi Klum and models, in the first season.

Still image of models on the runway from season 17 of “Project Runway”.

As displayed in the second image, from this current season, they selected a diverse range of designers and models due to the belief that fashion is intended for everyone so it’s important to make it accessible. Also, all of the designers are not “rail thin”, as they were in the first season of “Project Runway”, in order to demonstrate how all sizes and shapes are beautiful and need to be presented on the runway.

Overall, I believe that Project Runway is quite symbiotic with social media platforms. Social media has created an accessible and instantaneous experience for feedback, engagement, and so much more. Without the engagement and influence of social media, these important conversations and transformations (as seen above) may never have happened.

Through the implementation of social media, viewers, designers, and the network, it is clear that Project Runway has always strived to ensure that everyone feels ‘involved’ in the show. Due to this participatory experience, it is evident that everyone’s voices really matter. I believe that this is experience is truly very special, and I am excited to see how Project Runway continues to transform and increase their fan base.

Works Cited

Indvik, Lauren. “How ‘Project Runway’ Uses Social Media to #MakeItWork.” Mashable. Mashable, 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 03 May 2019.

Nguyen, Hanh. “‘Project Runway’: 7 Ways the Rebooted Reality Show Is More Relevant Than Ever 15 Years Later.” IndieWire. IndieWire, 14 Mar. 2019. Web. 03 May 2019.

“Project Runway Make It Work Season Ten TV Billboard.” Daily Billboard. Daily Billboard, 5 June 2012. Web. 03 May 2019.

Safronova, Valeriya. “‘Project Runway’ Is Back on Bravo. Here’s What to Expect.” New York Times. New York Times, 9 Mar. 2019. Web. 03 May 2019.

Stefanone, Michael A., Derek Lackaff, and Devan Rosen. “The Relationship between Traditional Mass Media and “Social Media”: Reality Television as a Model for Social Network Site Behavior.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 54.3 (2010): 508-25. Taylor & Francis Online. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 25 Aug. 2010. Web. 03 May 2019.

Wolcott, Mike. “What Is Web 2.0?” CBS News. CBS News, 01 May 2008. Web. 03 May 2019.


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