The winner of ‘The Circle’ unpacks Netflix’s social-media strategy for the reality show and how it propelled him to Instagram fame (NFLX)

  • Netflix has propelled young stars like Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo of “Stranger Things” to Instagram fame. 
  • Joey Sasso, a contestant on the Netflix reality series “The Circle,” told Business Insider what it was like to experience that propulsion firsthand.
  • After Sasso won the first season of the show — and its $100,000 prize — his Instagram following exploded to more than 550,000 followers from 900.
  • Now, he’s working to keep the momentum going and jump-start his acting career.
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Netflix prides itself on propelling young talent in its original programming to Instagram fame.

Joey Sasso, a contestant on the Netflix reality series “The Circle,” experienced the power of Netflix’s propulsion firsthand when he won the first season of the show and his Instagram following exploded to more than 550,000 from 900.

Sasso, dubbed by Esquire as “Netflix’s most lovable bro,” won over the other players on the game — and the show’s $100,000 prize — by staying true to his personality while some others attempted to win by catfishing.

Sasso, 25, told Business Insider how Netflix boosted his rise to social-media stardom and how he was leveraging the series to jump-start his acting career.

The show itself centers on a social-media network created by Netflix, called The Circle. Contestants were confined to separate apartments and could interact only through the platform. Through the screen, contestants talked to one another, competed in challenges, and voted to remove people from the game.

For Sasso, it started with a tweet

In December, a few weeks before “The Circle” premiered, Netflix’s social team reached out to Sasso to get permission to use a selfie he took at the gym on the company’s social accounts.

The photo was shared on Netflix’s main US Twitter account, with little explanation and a caption that made it appear as if the company’s account had been hacked.

“hey babe!” the tweet said. “new job is good but I miss u a lot u miss me???”

Sasso, a bartender and aspiring actor who auditioned for “The Circle” after seeing a sponsored Instagram post, wasn’t sure what to expect.

“They told me what they had in mind and I just said, you know, I’m a team player,” Sasso said. “Does any of this make sense to me for how you guys are saying this is going to work? No. But I know you guys know what you’re doing.”

Sasso estimated his Instagram account, which had about 900 followers before the premiere of “The Circle,” grew by a few thousand followers after that tweet.

“Then, once the show finally aired, man, the floodgates just opened and everything just changed,” Sasso said.

Sasso now has more than 554,000 followers on Instagram.

His approach to social media has changed since the show. Sasso said he used to check Facebook and Instagram most days to keep up with friends, family, and movie news but didn’t post much. He wasn’t on Twitter. And he didn’t know what TikTok was.

Now, he posts to Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and his other social accounts regularly. He still posts selfies but also had professional photos taken. And he spends a lot of time responding to people who reach out online.

“When the show first started, I was literally on my phone for, I would say, 17 hours a day, typing back to every single person who took the time to send me a message,” Sasso said. “I’ve always been the kid who was a fan my entire life, and I know what that’s like when you reach out to someone and you don’t ever hear back.”

Sasso said Netflix and the studio behind the show tried to prepare the contestants for how people might react to the show

Sasso said Netflix, and the studio that created “The Circle,” Studio Lambert, prepared him and the other contestants for how the show could change their lives.

“They did a great job with letting us know, look, when it comes to trolls or when it comes to audiences not liking you or people being mean,” Sasso said. “I mean every single thing you could think of, they really let us know everything.”

While the show was airing, the social team at Netflix also sent weekly emails with suggestions for social posts, including hashtag and caption ideas. He said he was asked to use his own words so would throw in a few “bros” and “dudes.”

Players were encouraged to use social media because, on top of the big cash prize that went to the player rated highest by other contestants in the finale, the player who received the most fan votes won $10,000. That prize went to Sammie Cimarelli.

Netflix helped Sasso and the other contestants on “The Circle” get verified on Instagram, too. Some of the contestants asked for it, Sasso said. He provided Netflix with a picture of his photo ID and his Instagram account information and was told it could take more than 30 days to get verified and might require additional details, like news clips. He was verified by the next morning.

“I still don’t know how they made that happen,” Sasso said. “It just shows the power of the show.”

Sasso is working to keep the momentum going

After putting half of his $100,000 winnings away in savings, Sasso is investing in his filmmaking career. He moved to Los Angeles from his native Rochester, New York, at the age of 18 to pursue acting.

He’s now finishing postproduction on a movie he made before “The Circle,” a passion project, called “The Young Lion of the West.” He’s scheduled to host the aftershow for the iHeartRadio Music Awards in March. And he’s starting to get sponsorship offers from brands, though he said he hadn’t found one that he thought fit his personality.

In the meantime, he’s still busy responding to fans who still seem to be discovering the show.

“It’s still going,” Sasso said. “I just get waves of days where it’s just nonstop that people are, for some reason, I don’t know what it is in the water, people are just watching more all over the world.”

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