The following post was contributed by guest writer by Jeffrey Appelbaum. Jeff is a managing director at Buzzpoint, a social media firm in Los Angeles that specializes in creative online strategies for entertainment and technology companies.

2009 was a record year for Hollywood at the box office. According to the Nielson Co., total box-office receipts from the U.S. and Canada tallied more than $10.6 billion, which is approximately an 8 percent increase over 2008’s record of $9.791 billion. Not too shabby for a down economy.

The year’s slate included not only the usual surplus of sequels and adaptations (Transformers, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, etc.), but some Cinderella stories that defied all financial expectations (The Hangover, Paranormal Activity). However, while 2009 will certainly be remembered as lucrative year at the box office, it’s also the year that social media emerged as a make or break factor for box office success. Below is a list of Hollywood’s 10 biggest social media triumphs of the year.

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10. Avatar

Given the movie’s estimated $500 million budget, the comprehensive marketing campaign behind Avatar came as little surprise. In September, Fox and Coca-Cola teamed up to launch AVTR.com, which aimed to be “your daily source of information about the Resource Development Administration’s AVTR program.” The site includes some very involved blog posts and curious “photo journals.” But more central to Avatar buzz are the slew of trailers, and more recently, an interactive Adobe Air app that pulls in Avatar’s Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube feeds.

On December 3rd, James Cameron, as well as actors Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington, live-streamed a conversation with fans on both MTV.com and the movie’s official Facebook page, which now tallies close to 650,000 fans.  And oh yeah, the movie has grossed more than $1 billion to date.

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9. ‘9’

With an incredibly creative twist on fan engagement, the team behind the Tim Burton-produced 9 released a series of posters with little QR codes on the bottom right-hand corners. When fans took pictures of the codes and sent them in to Focus Features, the movie’s distributor, they would then receive exclusive footage of director Shane Acker revealing some of the characters within the film. Also of note: the official Facebook page for the movie features a slick, interactive game called “AI Challenge” in which you move around pipes in order to optimize “power flow.”

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8. Iron Man 2

Even though Iron Man 2 doesn’t hit theaters until later this year, director Jon Favreau has already made a splash for the movie through his Twitter account. With over 600,000 followers, Favreau is using Twitter to communicate not only behind-the-scenes tidbits on the movie’s production, but provide a personal touch to the whole production process. He tweets everything from a first look picture of Scarlet Johansen as Black Widow to re-tweets on fan-submitted Iron Man tattoos.

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7. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

As the release date approached, there were over 80,000 tweets per day related to the movie, the vast majority of which contained positive sentiment. At a certain point, marketing a movie like Twilight is simply a matter of massaging the juggernaut of built-in buzz and shaping it whenever possible – which is precisely what the team behind Twilight did. They updated the official Twitter account with relevant content, formed a record breaking partnership between MySpace and Ustream that covered the premier, and stepped back to let YouTube make the trailer the most viral video of the year.

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6. Where the Wild Things Are

Just as the original children’s story was in capable hands with director Spike Jonze, so too was the movie’s marketing campaign. A skillfully crafted Facebook page currently tallies nearly 1.8 million fans and featured a consistent stream of updates and behind-the-scenes information leading up to the movie’s release. The page also includes links to the soundtrack, an assortment of video clips, and an application that lets users upload their picture to swap into Max’s face.

The iPhone application (warning: iTunes link), meanwhile, features an assortment of images and clips from the movie, as well as an option in which Carol the monster becomes interactive, eating up your contact photos when put to sleep at night.

Continue reading the Top 5 Social Media Success Stories of 2009

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5. Funny People

The team behind Funny People pulled out all the stops when creating viral video content to promote the movie. Although the first major installment, a Funny or Die collaboration that featured Adam Sandler’s face on a little baby, wasn’t chock full of laughs, it did get the Internet talking. It also led to a fake NBC sitcom called Yo Teach!, which NBC graciously hosted on their website, as well as the amusing LaughYourDickOff.com, which features stand-up from Aziz Asnari’s character in the movie .

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4. District 9

The heart of the viral marketing campaign for D9 were the billboards and bench ads seen around major cities that essentially promoted the segregation of humans and aliens. Slogans like “Bus bench for humans only” not only created real world buzz, but spurred a social media discussion that was supplemented by a robust collection of pictures on the movie’s official Flickr account.

Additionally, positive Twitter sentiment about the movie is credited for sustained results at the box office. It pulled in over $14 million on opening night, but then an impressive 12.6 million the next day. Bruno, by contrast, was a movie that was widely panned on Twitter, pulled in $14 million opening night, and then a measly $8.7 million the next day.

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3. Watchmen

The Zack Snyder-directed Watchmen came with a massive, built-in audience of comic book lovers. But the viral marketing behind the movie expanded that audience with a series of clever, faux-news YouTube videos that racked up millions of views. Take, for example, this clip from a 1970 edition of NBS Nightly News, anchored by Ted Phillips, that features an extensive report on Dr. Manhattan. The video accumulated over 200,000 views just two days after it was uploaded.

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2. Terminator Salvation

Christian Bale’s on set tirade was perhaps one of the biggest social media and celebrity stories of the year. While the tirade didn’t exactly make Bale look like a saint, the idea that it was a stunt to drum up buzz for the movie is not without merit. After all, just a short while after the video hit the Internet, Terminator Salvation was trending on Twitter, and every blogger and their college roommate were gossiping about Bale. The tirade aside, Paramount released a rather novel, interactive Twitter game wherein players deciphered coded messages to fend off robots and rise in the rank of the Resistance army. Of course, while rising in the army, players were disseminating free Terminator promotion to their network of followers.

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1. Paranormal Activity

Produced for less than $15,000, this camcorder horror flick has already raked in over $108 million and is hailed as the most profitable movie of all time. The marketers behind the movie hosted screenings at select college campuses, then progressed to midnight screenings around the country, encouraging fans to “tweet their screams” and join the movie’s Facebook page. They pieced together shots of audiences screaming to create a truly a viral trailer, and to tip the film into national distribution, set up an Eventful.com competition wherein one million “demands” eventually brought the movie to a theater near you.

What was your favorite Hollywood social media success story of 2009? Please let us know in the comments.

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