The nerd Internet is trembling with anticipation about Friday’s release of Watchmen, the film based on the revered graphic novel. And curious fans aren’t just turning to the official Warner Bros. movie page to learn more but to “social media” sites like YouTube and Blogspot, according to new data from Compete’s Eleanor Baird.

Looking at traffic referred from search engines, Baird argues, “So movie marketers take note: Social media matters even before the movie is released.” So what does that actually mean? Are campaigns like The Picture Production Company’s Watchmen effort based in FriendFeed, YouTube, Twitter, and Flickr the future? Well, maybe. The most popular search result for “Watchmen” is still the official site, followed by Wikipedia.

On the other hand, three sites that fall under the broad umbrella of “social media” are in the top 10 — video site YouTube, blogging platform Blogspot, and social networking site MySpace, followed by Facebook at number 12 and Twitter at number 21. The most popular videos on YouTube are the official trailers (some of which have several million views), but the fake newscast created for The PPC’s social media campaign isn’t doing too badly either, with more than 400,000 views. And I’m happy to see that bloggers are creating popular content around the movie as well.

As with similar movies, the other question is whether the Internet buzz will translate into movie ticket sales (it’s already boosted graphic novel sales). One disadvantage: The movie may not be very good.

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