NEW YORK — She knew they were waiting to hear from her — Channing Tatum's millions of fans.
It had been more than an hour since LaQuishe Wright had posted a photo of the actor on his Twitter account, dressed in a suit "Headed to the Zeigfield." Now she and Tatum had arrived at the "White House Down" premiere, and Wright needed to give his followers another update.
So as he began walking down the red carpet, posing for photographs and greeting reporters, she stayed close by. Glued to her iPhone, she was barely noticeable among the melee, a diminutive 38-year-old in an airy halter dress flanked by hulking bodyguards, publicists, studio handlers. But Wright was one of the most important members of Tatum's entourage that evening: His social media manager, paid to make sure his fans (8.2 million on Facebook, 5.3 million on Twitter and 2.6 million on Instagram) are aware of what he's up to on a near-hourly basis.
As studio executives and casting directors increasingly factor in a celebrity's digital fan base, maintaining a healthy online presence has become vital for Hollywood stars. That's where Wright and a generation of her tech-savvy peers come in, helping to amplify and control the reputations of public figures via social media.
For social media buffs, it sounds like a dream job: Tweeting for a living. But Wright — whose client roster includes Zac Efron, Paul Walker, Nicholas Sparks and movie studios like Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox — is constantly on-guard, making sure her clients sustain an appropriate tone and share the right content. She strategizes the best times to post so as to attract the most eyeballs and uses search engine optimization tricks to further maximize views. And, much to the dismay of her husband and two sons, she is always within reach of a mobile device in the event important news breaks.
"A lot of celebrities have an aversion to Twitter, and I get it — they're scheduled every four minutes of their life, and they don't want to have to worry about it," said Wright, who goes by "Q." "But if you have a great social presence, that is a 100% benefit. Fans are more prone to go see Channing Tatum's movie if he's telling them about it — not a studio. And Hollywood is paying attention to that now."
That's partly because any tool that tracks online sentiment about a movie is important to studios. In recent months, traditional pre-release audience surveys intended to help predict a film's box office opening have often proven to be unreliable. When one of Wright's client's projects is generating a lot of buzz online — as was the case for Tatum's "Dear John" and "Magic Mike," she clues studios in.
"As a studio, if we see a fan base tweeting about our movies leading up to a release, we get excited — and often that's the result of someone like Q helping to engage people online by giving them an inside view," said Liz Jones, senior vice president of digital marketing at Relativity Media, which hired Wright to run the social media campaign for its February release "Safe Haven."
Many studios have their own in-house digital teams but will hire consultants like Wright to work on specific projects. The messages she sends out are conversational in tone — encouraging fans to check out a behind-the-scenes photo or sending out good wishes on certain holidays.
Even if there's an anodyne way to approach social media, there are plenty of Twitter holdouts — mostly high-profile stars like George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Jennifer Lawrence who for reasons of privacy or mystery have chosen to stay out of the digital limelight. That can prove frustrating to executives like Jones, who says "it'd be a dream for all of our actors to have a big social media following."
"Honestly, though, I do think it's really hard for a celebrity to run all of their accounts by themselves," she added. "The smart ones understand they need someone to help."
That was the realization that Tatum had early on after his mother, Kay, stumbled across "Channing Tatum Unwrapped," a fan site Wright had created.
It was 2006, and Wright was dealing with personal struggles. Her son had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and one day, after months of stressful doctor's appointments, she decided to take an afternoon for herself.
She headed to a local multiplex near her home in Katy, Texas, and bought a ticket to "Step Up," Tatum's lighthearted dance flick. At the time, she had never heard of the then-fledgling actor. But she was taken with his performance and rushed home to scour the Internet to learn more about him.
"He had a really great spirit, and I thought, 'What other movies is this going to be in?'" she said.
Wright had never followed Hollywood closely. After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in computer science, she worked for an airline's information technology department, running her own Web consultant agency on the side.