How John Oliver Gets Social Media Right While the Rest of Traditional Media Fails

Lily Rugo ’18 and Courtney Accocella ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writers

While there seems to be a flight of satirical news giants recently, from Stephen Colbert to now Jon Stewart, you wont have a hard time finding a new favorite. He’s on your “What to Watch” page on Youtube. He’s behind tons of trending hashtags; he’s even sending Vines to the Speaker of the House. John Oliver is taking over the comedy news genre with his HBO series Last Week Tonight and he’s using every social media platform there is to do it.

Oliver 1

The series might just be returning to its Sunday night time slot on HBO, but it has been filling fans need for Oliver’s wit with exclusive clips posted to Youtube at least once a month during the shows break. Lampooning Turkey Pardoning and New Years have made for fun videos that kept fans happy. What really got them pumped for the shows return was a little video entitled Fifty Shades #NotMyChristian Apology.

Last year, Oliver created the joke hashtag #NotMyChristian to complain about the casting of Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey. It quickly became a continuous punch line on the show. It was mentioned in serious stories, or just causally in his segues. “Jamie Dornan is not my Christian. Hashtag not my Christian,” Oliver would say. Just like that a viral success was born, and by no means was it the show’s first.

Last Week Tonight is making a reputation for itself with its viral memes. From encouraging Facebook fans to put pictures of Pomeranians on Pom Wonderful drinks, to raising awareness of geckos that were lost in space, to even getting a politician from the FCC to state he is not in fact a dingo in the public forum. Oliver’s show is a continuous inside joke that you seem to keep hearing about were ever you go.

oliver geckos

Each week Oliver features a new online call to action in the show. Whether it be having viewers buy all the domains that Michael Bloomberg did not buy that insult him ending in “.nyc” or providing viewers with stock footage of dogs acting as Supreme Court judges and asking them to make videos with the court recordings of all major cases. Viewers love it and are sharing it and making the world wonder how they too can get in on the fun and the viral acts become major marketing for the show.

Outside HBO, Oliver uses social media to keep his audience clued in and up to date. His official YouTube channel, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, has over a million subscribers, his Facebook has over 700,000 likes, and his Instagram has more than 23,000 followers. To keep this massive audience plugged into his show, and current events—whether or not they had HBO subscriptions— Last Week Tonight creates web-exclusive content like photos, clips, or special graphics.

Jeff The Diseased Lung
Jeff The Diseased Lung

For the more photo-centric social media like Instagram and Facebook, Last Week Tonight creates bar or line graphs based on real life situations. On YouTube, Oliver uploads special online shorts separate from the show, like the ones that were uploaded during the hiatus between seasons one and two. These videos deal with the same satirical news topics that his show talks about, but in shorter, three or five minute clips. But most of the longer segments from Last Week Tonight are still available for Oliver’s social media fans on YouTube including some of his most famous bits.

More powerful than graphs and video clips, are Oliver’s vivacious hashtags that his viewers popularize each week. One of his most recent online campaigns, #JeffWeCan was a hashtag rallying against large tobacco companies and their sugarcoated packaging. The hashtag went viral on Twitter and Facebook. Oliver was taking over the Internet with the icon of the cute and harmless cancer filled lung, Jeff. Oliver has won over the Internet before with his hashtags like #BetterCIATweets, #ShowUsYourPeanuts, and of course #WeUnderstandThatAsCorporateEntitiesOurPresenceInCertainDiscussionsIsNotAlwaysRequiredSoWeWillStriveToLimitOurActivitiesToJustSellingYouShit.

That last one seems almost ironic. It was in regard to a story Oliver did on how corporations use social media and often miss the mark. Last Week Tonight it is doing the same thing; the difference is they are actually doing it well, because they are not really doing anything. It’s the viewers.

Few shows are capable of doing what Oliver has had his viewers do. We can see some viral success with other Late Night hosts, like Jimmy Fallen’s #Hashtags segment or Jimmy Kimmel’s video challenges. What makes these campaigns successful is their simple goal, to make something humorous. They have simple tasks that only need to be shared online and they promise fairly large return on views for any fan who participates. Of course the late night talk shows often features their viewers, something Oliver rarely does, which is why his campaigns are more successful. Oliver creates online campaigns not by leading them but rather inspiring them with a community who continues to actively participate.


As Oliver says in his piece on corporations on Twitter, what most corporations do not understand is that Twitter is a platform based on human conversation. His campaigns play off that. Oliver provides a topic on the show for the viewers to discuss or act. And that’s all he does. No further involvement in leading it until he proposes a new topic on the next show.

John Oliver and the Last Week Tonight crew know how to work an audience, be it a live studio audience or millions of viewers watching on their television or just the clips online. Other shows should take a lesson or two from Last Week Tonight on how to market themselves not just the traditional way, but with the power of their own viewers and the almighty Internet.

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  1. You misses the most important point about his show…. That being his championing for the regular guy or gal from a place of human decency and fundamental compassion…. That is what The People are responding to.

  2. Ditto! I couldn’t have said it better than that, Roger Pro. The People are responding to investigative journalism that’s telling the truth!!!

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