The Marvel Superhero You've Never Heard Of And His 1.3 Million Twitter Followers

A fictional personality built a huge following for Marvel. Here's how the man behind the Twitter mask did it.

Everyone knows Spider-Man and Iron Man, but do you know another Marvel Entertainment power player: Agent M?

Agent M is the twitter alias for Ryan Penagos, the executive editorial director of Marvel Entertainment’s Digital Media Group, who has been quietly building a massive personal Twitter following of 1.32 million sharing his insights on tacos, video games, pop culture (and yes quite a bit about comics as well).

Penagos was hired by Marvel in 2006 to kick-start the company’s online content back when social media was an emerging trend.

“In the beginning, we had two blogs and a variety of things that were very informal,” says Penagos. “They hired me to come in and go crazy. It was almost like the Wild West—I could do anything I wanted with some oversight.”

In 2007, Penagos read about this new thing called Twitter inWired . “I thought it would be a great platform and it would make sense for us,” he says. “We approached digital media as a way to bring fans further inside Marvel. We have a very social history with Stan Lee; it’s part and parcel of who we are.”

So Penagos invited Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey to visit Marvel’s offices when they were in New York. He set up an account using the Twitter ID Agent M from the persona he used for a blog on Marvel.com, and used his Twitter account to create live updates for fans at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2007. An early adopter, Penagos’s profile was included in Twitter’s suggested accounts to follow, along with Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton.

“Things started to steamroll,” Penagos says. Sitting at home, he says his email started “freaking out” with thousands of email alerts advising him he had new followers.

“We didn’t have a Marvel account at that time,” he says. “There weren’t many celebrities on Twitter. If Twitter said these people were doing cool stuff, you got followers.” Over a couple of years Penagos went from 10,000 followers to 600,000 followers and today he has more well over a million people reading his updates.

While getting the nod from the founders of Twitter certainly helped Penagos gain traction, it’s what he’s been doing since then that has kept followers.

Here are his secrets to building and maintaining a massive social media following.

Make it a part of every day and engage with your audience.

In addition to Agent M, Penagos manages 19 social media accounts for Marvel. He keeps Twitter open all day and uses Tweetdeck to monitor activity in a central location.

“It’s important for us as Marvel to make sure we’re involved,” he says. “It’s not a matter of how much time I spend; it’s just part of every day. I have a great time, but I don’t do it alone.”

A big part of monitoring the accounts is engaging with fans. Penagos works with social media manager Adri Cowen and two editors who also help out.

“You can’t put something out, expect retweets and favorites, and then move on,” he says. “Once you put something out, decide what’s the next step. How are you talking to those fans? The back and forth is why we’re so successful.”

Understand the platform.

Penagos likes Twitter because he’s able to directly connect with fans in a short, quick, and easy way. “You get great feedback right away,” he says. “Fans can ask me questions about anything, and if I can talk about it, I provide answers.”

He says part of his success is knowing the platform. “Using the same tactics and the same content across platforms doesn’t work,” he says. “Know your audience and know your brand voice.”

For Marvel, Penagos says the brand is excited and upbeat. “The Marvel universe is your universe and knowing this helps in the way we approach things,” he says. “We have to convey that consistently.”

Be yourself, and don't be afraid to get a little personal.

Penagos says Agent M is his account and the tweets he sends are personal.

“I’m a huge Marvel fan and I love what we do,” he says. “I also tweet about music, what I’m eating, and the fact that I want to see Godzilla. You have to be authentic.”

Penagos says if he doesn’t like something, he won’t pan it; he just won’t talk about it. “My channel isn’t the place to BS about stuff,” he says. “I don’t find that fair to fans. If something is good, I want to talk about it.”

Give the inside scoop.

Penagos admits that part of the reason he’s been successful at Twitter is because he has a cool job and posts pictures from inside the office.

“The way I approach people online is I simply treat others the way they want to be treated,” he says. “We’re doing cool stuff here and I try to be accessible. I like to find ways to bring people further inside.”

Keep a schedule.

Something you post today will always be someone’s first exposure to your brand, says Penagos, so make sure you keep track of what you’re posting. For example, if you’ve asked fans a trivia question on a post, be sure you have scheduled a follow-up post to answer it. Keep the content and conversation rolling. If you leave something open ended, know that someone may need closure to that.

Also, try to reply to everyone who tweets you. Penagos admits that you can’t do it all the time. “Because Marvel is so international, stuff comes in overnight,” he says. “If platforms don’t aggregate properly, I may not see it. But 95% of everything else—I give it a shot.”

[Image: Flickr user Zach Dischner]

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