The myth of the magical social media intern

April 11, 2012
posted by sheric

It is probably the most sought after person on an indie film production team today. The “magical social media intern” everyone laments they didn’t have when it came time to distribute the film. Boy, if that inexperienced and unpaid person had been on the team all along things would really have been different. ¬†Apparently, this person has professional knowledge and multiple connections to audience and media to make large contributions to the success of your film, yet works for FREE! And can do this work with no budget. Someone who can make your film the next Hunger Games of the online space! You do realize that was accomplished with a budget of $45 million and a team of 21 people.

To be fair, it isn’t just indie filmmakers who seek these people, film distribution companies regularly advertise for marketing interns with social media experience to help them do the online tasks their staff apparently hasn’t learned to master themselves or doesn’t really want to devote the time to do. Why train professional staff or hire someone when you can have a free intern figure it out? This misconception needs to be addressed. There is no magic tool that will make marketing and distributing your film effortless and for no money! You won’t find it at workshops, in books, in articles or in automated software because it doesn’t exist.

Intern: A student or a recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training.

Especially in the indie film production space, most filmmakers are not trained in marketing and/or online/social media/community management work. So, who is supervising and training these interns? Do you really expect someone with strategy experience, industry and organizational connections, knowledge of online etiquette and measurement tools that could make a huge difference to the success of your film to really work for free? And if you are one of these people, why in the world would you do it? Everyone knows deferred pay is a myth, most distribution deals aren’t even covering half of the production cost and back end payments could take years to receive. Will you still be around to collect? Will the production company?

But the social sites are FREE

It is true that Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google Plus, Pinterest etc. do not charge for accounts. It is completely untrue that working those accounts effectively can be done with no budget. You will need long term, consistent effort devoted to them to see a pay off. I hear it from filmmakers all the time, how can I do this when I am trying to raise money/make my film? You’re right, how can you, especially if you don’t really use them personally and understand what works? You can try and share the effort among your team, but that often means heaping more responsibilities on them that they aren’t prepared to handle and could result in a less than stellar on screen production. Plus some resentment at taking on even more tasks. Ultimately, it just doesn’t get done.

Some social media effort involves listening and jumping into relevant discussions when they occur, coupled with constant monitoring and the ability to speak intelligently about a subject. Most people who aren’t intimately knowledgeable about your project and about the topic being discussed will be ignored or worse on these sites. Remember, no one likes the “look at me” or the “buy my xx” person who jumps into an online discussion. Don’t let someone be the voice of your production to an audience if they can’t speak intelligently and with consideration of the other people speaking.

Content development is what drives social efforts. If you aren’t making anything sharable, it won’t be shared. Word of mouth can’t spread if there is nothing notable to talk about. It isn’t all about your behind the scenes photos unless Angelina Jolie is in them. The more creative you can be, the more likely you will be talked about, written about, invited to industry events to speak about. Executing creativity takes time, effort and sometimes skills of many talented people (coders, writers, photographers, editors) with one central person overseeing it all. Every. Day. Talented people don’t need to work for free.

Please don’t let the most inexperienced member of your team figure out the marketing and distribution strategy of your film. ¬†Younger people may spend more time personally with social media, but they generally don’t know much about business strategy. If you are ignorant of the ways films can be distributed in today’s marketplace (and I am not talking about the way your film was handled in 2007!), you need to educate yourself with the myriad of free online information (this will take lots of time to study, decipher, put together into something you can apply to your filmmaking goals) or you need to hire someone who is already educated. Again, people with that knowledge do not work for free. Just as lawyers and accountants do not work for free. (somehow I expect they really aren’t asked to like other people involved in indie film, but let me know if I am wrong). This means budget is needed. It is not a luxury expense, it is a mandatory expense. You cannot realistically think that much is going to happen with your film when it is completed if you haven’t budgeted for this effort and if you can’t find it in your budget, you really need to rethink whether you can afford to make a film.

Social media is not a passing fad or only something that geeky kids do. It is a fundamental shift in the way personal and business communication is conducted now and it isn’t going to stop. I like to think most filmmakers have gone beyond the mindset of whether they should be doing this activity to asking how they should. For the budget challenged, the information is online for free and it changes constantly. For experienced help, you need a budget to pay for it.

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