Last week, I was interviewed on the BlogTalk Radio show The Art of Film Funding with Carole Dean. I usually prepare for such interviews by taking notes on what we will cover and I tend to over prepare. Often, most of what I want to say will not be covered due to time constraints. While you may listen to the full 45 minute interview here
I have also pulled out a few notes for emphasis that I think weren’t included or that I wasn’t able to go into detail as much as I would have liked.
What do you think are the best uses of social media for marketing? Example, how best can you use Facebook to help fund your film?
Sheri: “To me, social media is a non negotiable part of every professional person’s work. You don’t just jump on it because you have something to promote, you are creating and perpetuating your identity and your work EVERY DAY. You are forming relationships, expanding your professional network, learning new information to help you do your work and sharing that information with others EVERY DAY. It is a marketing tool, but it is really a life tool now. Stop viewing it as a time suck or procrastination because those are cop outs. It is essential to be able to navigate social channels as a professional, at any level. The same with being able to network in the physical world.
I don’t see social media as a campaign and I want that statement to soak in for a moment. A campaign is a short term effort to push people to do something. We very much live in a world where consumers, all of us, are resisting anything that is trying to push us to fit into someone else’s timeline. We want to do what we want, when we want, wherever we want, on whatever device we want. We are all selfish people. So companies and individuals that are still in that corral –the- people- to- do- what- the- company- wants mentality are going to lose in this new world. Think of these channels as a way to storytell what you are about, what your company is about, what your product is about, how consumers may accomplish something for their own lives whether is it physical accomplishment or gaining knowledge or well being. It isn’t about YOU, it is about THEM. Pull them to you rather than push messages out. And you have to commit to storytelling on an infinite timeframe, not for a short period.
What other social networks do you consider to be worth the time?
Sheri: “Choose a social channel you can learn and be comfortable using. If you don’t, it will be a drudge for you and you won’t have success there. If you are hiring someone to handle your social channels for your projects, choose places where the audience (again, you have to know who they are) hangs out the most and where that person has the most experience. In my case, I don’t use Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat or Youtube because I have my own blog and I don’t take regular photos or edit together video and I don’t create short term offers. So while I may set up an account just to get a better look at it, I don’t spend my personal time there. But if I find that the audience for a certain project dictates that I use those sites, I would find someone to help me create content for them.
Storytelling on each platform is different so if you think you can use automated programs to blast out one piece of content on multiple sites, you are doing it wrong. Each site has a different format (Twitter 140 characters, Instagram photos, Pinterest photos) and a different reason people use it. For instance, Pinterest is a place people go to show what they intend to buy, what they aspire to buy, what shows off their personalities. But Instagram, also an image based social channel, is more about the immediate. What the lunch I am eating looks like, what my travel is like, what I saw on the way to work, what my friends and I are doing right now. Putting out one image to all the sites is a mistake because you won’t be tapping into the reason people are on those sites.
Don’t get too used to a particular social channel. They change often and not always for the better, they fall out of fashion, they get absorbed into other companies that are not always interested in seeing them grow. Plan your strategy around reaching the audience wherever they are and build your email list instead. That is where you truly have communication control because you own the contact details.”
Do you suggest filmmakers trade hours of social networking time for credits or other things? Or what do you think is an average hourly wage to offer someone to post and tweet for you?
Sheri: “I think we need to get away from this mentality that marketing is just posting online and tweeting. This is the voice of your company and your work presented to the global public. If you wouldn’t trust someone to speak for you at a press conference or go on TV as your representative speaking about your work, you shouldn’t let them be in charge of your Twitter account. And you should never allow someone to post or tweet as you personally, you are basically allowing them to BE you and I don’t think you should be comfortable with that. If you have a team of people using your social channels according to your business strategy and goals, then let the public know it is a team effort, put a face on it.
Again, marketing is way more than an ad or a poster or a tweet or a status update. There should be strategic thinking behind what you are doing and professional people help figure out how to achieve goals. Generally, they aren’t paid an hourly wage, they are paid a salary or a retainer fee and they had better be doing more than updating your Twitter feed every day.
Personally, I charge a monthly retainer fee with a minimum time frame or I charge an hourly fee for consultation and guidance. But with the retainer, I had better have a marketing plan and budget in place to work with. That fee is just for my time and experience, a labor cost. My work includes influencer outreach, blogger outreach, community management, advertising placement, content creation and curation, and measurement analysis. I also charge to research and write a marketing and distribution plan if that isn’t already in place or those plans may be implemented by others, so if you already have people in place to implement the plan, but you are unsure of how to start, I can help figure that out and work to train those people. I wouldn’t advise skipping over the marketing strategy and just let people post on your behalf.”
Have you seen films with good marketing plans be successful especially because of the marketing plan?
Sheri: ”Define success. Did they make all of their money back? No, usually independent films don’t. Did the filmmakers go on to get other work or have a much more significant release because they were prepared and able to give their film the release they wanted? Yes, and that was a success for them. Remember, not everyone’s goal is money. In fact, let’s be very upfront and say that money is rarely going to be made by the original investors of an independent film. If that is the main reason for making a film, stop now. Find another avenue for your talent. Invest in some other industry.
But if you are interested in expressing your storytelling talent, showcasing the talent of others (because films are made in collaboration with others), putting your voice into the world that only a film could help you do, investing in something that can last and may even change minds, hearts, bring people closer together or create a cultural dialog, then filmmaking is a great medium for that. Humans invest in things all the time that do not financially recoup. We put our names on buildings, we buy yachts, we take vacations. None of those things will have financial rewards, but they do reward emotionally and that is valid.
It isn’t ultimately the marketing plan that makes a film successful. It is the film! Failure is less often on the execution of the marketing plan and more often on the failure of the film. It isn’t hard to get word of mouth to spread on a stellar film; people love to talk about stellar. It is sooo hard to make a mediocre or bad film succeed. What constitutes good and bad is debatable of course, but if the people you have identified as the ones who should be the most excited by your story aren’t talking about it, then you are going to be in big trouble. They HAVE to like it or your story failed. And that happens in studio films as well as indies and TV shows.
I am not going to say that a good film will just naturally be found. I’ve heard many filmmakers say such nonsense. A great film in your hard drive isn’t going to be found. Someone has to see it and you have to get it in front of them, and that’s marketing (to get their initial attention) and distribution (getting it onto a screen for the public). But once you get that attention and an audience does see it, and their reaction is MEH, uh…you can’t just throw more marketing at it and make it successful. And that is why you see distributors pull the plug early on films. They know the return on the film won’t justify more expense and they can take that money and throw it behind the next film in the slate.
Now, it is possible to have poorly identified who the audience was and tried to attract the wrong audience and the film didn’t take off, but if you do the proper nurturing ahead of time and you really feel like you nailed the story based on early feedback from the right core audience, you may give more time and more expense to letting the word of mouth spread and slowly build. Unfortunately, this is not done enough in the industry, everyone wants a quick hit. There are very few entities that have the patience to let a film sink in with an audience once it has been released. It is much better to deeply cultivate the audience for a film early so that when it is released, it will flower sooner. That cultivation is only going to happen if the production does it. Distribution entities have far too many films to release. They can’t give a lot of time to each one in advance of a release.
No one that I know of is posting their marketing plan and budget online and even if they did, it wouldn’t help your film unless you are making one exactly like it. Plans are unique to the film, they are organic in that they do shift and change according to what is learned in the field and new tools cropping up that weren’t there when the plan was written or tools that changed or fell away. Some event may happen in the news that is unforeseen and you have to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.
It is not wise to copy, but it is useful to read a lot of material of what others are doing and see if you might incorporate something similar. That information might even come from another industry like gaming, or software, or apps, not just film. If you don’t want or like to keep up with the trends, you should hire someone who does! I don’t keep up with happenings in editing software or cameras or audio recording because I don’t make films. I keep up with marketing trends and tools and tactics, that’s my professional work and that is why you hire someone like me for that job. I am not merely your tweeter or your facebooker, so if you think that is all there is to marketing, you are seriously mistaken and all the tweeting and facebooking in the world isn’t going to help you.
There are many blogs and industry publications and videos from panels at film fests where the filmmakers all talk about how they marketed and distributed their films. If you want to spend lots of time studying this, Google is your friend and get used to using a search engine regularly. There is absolutely no excuse not to know how to do something if you really want to handle it on your own. But if you don’t, then you need a budget to pay someone who has expertise in the field and has handled releasing films or may just be starting out doing that (as you probably have in making films) and you need to get that person on your team. Simple as that.”
My latest post for MovieMaker Magazine covers social media basics for the top 5 social channels. I have written posts regarding social media basics before, but this piece will include Pinterest and Instagram which I did not cover last time. As you may know, I do not view social media as a campaign oriented endeavor. Campaigns are only conducted for a set amount of time (usually for a sales promotion), but I think it is important to understand that social channels are an every day effort; they should be integrated into your creative life indefinitely. The sooner you start using them professionally, the easier it will be to gain benefit from them, especially if you are thinking of self distributing or crowdfunding.
I am not going to republish my article here in its entirety and only the first installment has been published on the MovieMaker site, but here are some highlights:
#1 Facebook 750 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to start and maintain an ongoing relationship with your audience. Ask for feedback, start a discussion, or post your views on a current event. Try to remember, if you only talk about yourself and your work, it’s a boring conversation for everyone else unless you are a celebrity that they are truly interested in. Champion your followers and other artists. As opposed to the fleeting nature of Twitter, Facebook pages are meant for deeper discussions and closer relationships with your supporters.
#2 Youtube 450 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Build a video subscriber base. View counts on videos are great and definitely have a use in securing optimal placement in Youtube search and publicity attention (though it will take many millions of views for it to have an impact on press coverage), but your subscribers are the ones who will see your new videos in their homepage newsfeed and receive an email when you post something new. Also, encourage Likes, comments and shares of your videos as that impacts how Youtube ranks your channel in its search results. If you aren’t prepared to fill this channel with regular content that is HIGHLY compelling, don’t use this social tool.
#3 Twitter 250 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to post short (less than 140 character) messages that are funny, informative, or reflect your outlook on life. Not only will you be connecting with the audience of your work, you will also find Twitter a great industry networking tool (for jobs!) and a place to connect with journalists (for media coverage). Make sure that your Twitter handle is posted on all of your communication including email signature and newsletters, website, other social channels, business cards and any About You section where your name is included.
#4 Pinterest 85 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos found or created online. Pinterest runs on well made and captivating images. People who use this social channel are looking for visual masterpieces or images that speak to their lives and emotions. Filmmakers may use Pinterest to tell a visual story about how they became the artists they are; influences, professional tools, and the tastes, style and personality behind the work. For individual projects, Pinterest can be used to tell a backstory on characters (individual boards set up to further explain a character), information on the setting of the story, and mood boards that give the audience a sense of what the film is, apart from just a trailer or poster.
#5 Instagram 50 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos taken with a mobile device as your visual representation of every day life rather than a place to post high quality images. Instagram is being used to post on-the-fly photos and short videos taken on the set and making 15 second short trailers and character teaser clips specifically for mobile viewing. Feedback is instantaneous so you will know very quickly if your project is capturing attention and gaining followers.
The full article details how to set up accounts on each social channel and some examples of independent filmmakers to emulate because they excel at building an audience on these channels. The first part (covering Facebook and Youtube) is now live. The second part will be live on November 25.
This is a summarization of a White Paper from Hubspot entitled Crash Course on the Facebook News Feed. If you aren’t receiving info from both Hubspot and Mari Smith on changes to Facebook (because they happen All. The. Time!), you should sign up for their newsletters. Social media is an ever evolving tool and you or someone on your team must be aware of the changes.
The average Facebook user’s news feed filters through about 1,500 posts a day. After the Facebook algorithm is factored in, only 20% of the stories posted by every page and every person a user follows will ever be seen organically. You know that devoted following you are working hard to build on your film’s Facebook page? You are regularly only reaching about 20% of them in an organic way with your status updates, links, photos, videos etc. Facebook reasoning for this is they want to “curate” what a person sees so that their experience on Facebook doesn’t become an overwhelming barrage of information. In order to be seen in the News Feed (without paying to be there!), we have to share or create such compelling information that resonates with our followers so that they will react in some way that signals the Facebook algorithm that they want to continue to see information from us. If they don’t, EdgeRank (the algorithm) will start filtering it out (without their realization) and we’ve lost them (or we can pay to get our news back in front of them through Promoted Posts).
How close someone is perceived to be to your page based on their interaction with the posts on it+Value of the post based on how many Likes, comments, shares+Amount of time that passes since the content was posted=How often they will see your news.
Facebook serves up about 300 stories it believes are interesting to each user based on this algorithm. The algorithm looks at the last 50 people/pages each user has interacted with and takes that to mean those are the people/pages the user wants to hear from most. It serves up those posts in chronological order as they were posted. If a particular post receives a lot of interaction (many likes, comments or shares), especially by a user’s friends, it will now bump that post to top of the news feed so a user won’t miss seeing that story.
Facebook also tracks what kind of content a user tends to interact with. If users like many photos, it will start showing more photos in their news feed. MANY people like photos, so start thinking about providing more images on your page post haste! In the new Facebook Insights, you will be able to see which posts have gathered the most Likes, comments or shares. Use that as your guide on what to post. Maybe video is better for your fans. Maybe status updates or links are better. You can read all the studies from test groups that suggest things, but ultimately, your audience is unique and you can see what they like from your own Insights chart.
Optimizing for the News Feed
Since many posts that involve an image receive greater feedback, one of the practices that is recommended is using a photo whenever possible. Rather than posting a link, which pulls in a thumbnail image, try posting an image, and pair it with a link.
As posts are now curated, in part, by what your friends and fans like, it is wise to encourage commenting and allow for sharing your content on your fan’s pages. Also, focus primarily on those who comment and share the most on your page because they are your page’s biggest assets. They are helping to insure that your posts are going to be seen in a wider way on Facebook. As a side note: I use a plug in called Booshaka on the pages I manage so that I can see who my top 50 most active evangelists are. Get to know these people! Lavish them with personal attention!
Of course, sharing and commenting only happen if your page has awesome content. It has to have value and be interesting to those fans or it won’t elicit a response. If you are posting regularly, but you aren’t getting many Likes, comments or shares, you need to re-evaluate what you are posting. It shouldn’t only be information about your film. The people you attract have other interests too, you need to find out what those interests are and create/curate material that speaks to what they love. Hopefully that also speaks to the overall identity of your film. Branding isn’t all about a logo or a “message,” it is also about an emotion, a lifestyle, an interest base. Show your fans you understand them, you are part of them, and you are bringing them together under a creative work. You will see more interaction when you walk outside of the bubble of your own work.
Few weeks go by that I am not invited to join a filmmaker acquaintance’s NEW Facebook page for their latest project. I like to be supportive, but I am pretty judicious about joining pages and besides, isn’t this turning into a maintenance problem for most filmmakers?
Open a page, keep it up for a while until the film does the festival circuit and goes into digital distribution, then open a new page for the next project. How about instead of opening up new pages, project by project, you just open ONE page for your professional work or for your production company? I frequently talk about ending the disposable audience mentality, so let’s stop abandoning the fans of one Facebook page in the hope that they will join your new one.
Did you know that you can change the name of an already existing Facebook fan page? If you have over 200 Likes, it isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible. The old rules were that you could NEVER change the name of your Facebook fan page or the vanity URL after reaching 25 fans, but with the new updates, Facebook has relaxed that NEVER a little bit. Mainly, they are worried about spammers opening pages, filling the page with millions of “fans” and then selling the page to the highest bidder (you know it would happen!). Plus, who wants to join one page and have it turn into something else? People would be more pissed at Facebook than they normally are.
Be aware: Pages with Non US based administrators do not currently have the option of requesting a name change.
There are 2 ways to change a Fan Page name. If you have less than 200 fans:
Go to Edit Page >Edit Settings>Basic Information
If you have less than 200 likes, you can change your page name under the Name field. If you have over that number, the Name field will not be editable.
Most filmmakers have worked pretty hard to get over 200 Likes, so here is how you request a name change:
From the top of your Page, click Edit Page>Edit settings>Basic Information>Request Change next to the Name field and fill out the form that pops up with the required information and click Send. On the form, you will need to provide some kind of proof that you legally own the page and that you are changing it for rebranding purposes only.
The Request Change option sometimes doesn’t appear even if you haven’t changed your Page name at some point in the past (it didn’t appear on my page settings, but it did on The Film Collaborative’s page).
If your Page has more than 200 likes, you can only change your Page name ONCE. If your request has been approved, you won’t be able to submit another request for that Page. Changing your Page’s name does not affect its username or Page URL address, but you can change those yourself, as long as the new names are available on Facebook.
Now, about that Form you have to send in…
Hopefully your production company is a LLC and has some kind of mail coming with a name and address in the US. Facebook is particular about how you prove that you are the page owner. You’ll have to scan it and attach the document. As with anything concerning Facebook, you are at the mercy of Facebook’s customer service people whether they will approve and change it for you.
Remember, if you are successful at changing your Facebook page name, you will need to change the URL and name on every communication you have that features your Facebook URL. Also change the URL in any buttons you have on your website.
For anyone who hasn’t started a page yet, just set it up under a business name to begin with because this is rather a pain to do. But if you have a page you want to change, at least you will be able to keep the audience base that you already built.
This annual, invitation only event was held last Friday in New York City. Unfortunately, I did not attend and I am quite disappointed because I would much rather spend my time listening to people like this than the ones invited to speak at most film industry forums. It was just pointed out to me that videos from some of the speakers were loaded up to Youtube and I encourage you to check them out.
For anyone interested in understanding the way storytelling is evolving; from fan participation to using digital tools for promotion and distribution to understanding that there may be no more stopping points in a story; watch this series of videos from some of today’s big thinkers.
Brian Seth Hurst explains that audience and storyteller can achieve levels of engagement with each other that were never possible in the pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter era. This fact is fundamentally changing the way stories and storyworlds are conceived, disseminated, and branded.
Ian Shafer explains the way stories take root in the individual and collective consciousness nowadays. Narratives are delivered in smaller and smaller bits, the most successful and influential stories—whether an advertising spot or a Facebook post—are designed less for digestion than for quick and easy sharing: vibrant, picture-driven packets of information that invite surprise and make you want to type, “Hey, check this out.”
David Weinberger explains now knowledge lives on the hyperlinked Net, and links offer a never-ending invitation to go further, to know more. The cardinal challenge of the storyteller in the age of networked knowledge is to expose us to points of view other than our own, to free us from the “echo chamber” of narratives that merely reinforce what we already know or believe. The best stories should honor a simple yet stubbornly elusive truth: that different people start from different places, and that what happens to them matters just as much to them as what happens to us matters to us.
You can see all of these short videos on the Future of Storytelling Youtube channel.
This post was originally published on The Film Collaborative blog on August 29, 2012
It is a question I was thinking deeply about because I encounter filmmakers and industry players all the time who say that they put up a Facebook page, opened a Twitter account, started a Youtube channel, but the people didn’t come, views didn’t go up and the sales didn’t happen. So what’s the point? It doesn’t work, clearly. I know they opened those accounts because it is “the thing to do” and besides it was free which is totally budget friendly, but just opening up accounts with no time, commitment, team, strategy, budget to maintain and grow them and truly utilize what they are best at is not going to work and I recommend to go ahead and close them. Seriously!
Yes, social media is the newest communication tool (really it isn’t that new, but some still think it is) and Americans in particular spend almost 80% of their time on the internet (30% are online globally), with 22% of their time on social networking sites and 21% of their time in internet searches (there are over a billion search queries on Google every day!). I’m sure you can find another way to communicate with these people though, perhaps visiting door to door or cold calling or throwing obscene amounts of money into advertising all over the place and crossing your fingers (works for Hollywood). You’ve got that kind of time and money, yes? Honestly, start now thinking about what tools you will be using instead.
Once I look at what is being done with these sites, I am hardly surprised that it isn’t working. Most artists do not have a commitment to building up strong ties with an audience, they do not use social tools for “listening” and researching what audiences respond to, they do not post regularly except for “please make it happen for us on Indiegogo,” “Vote for my film on (name some film contest site),” or “my film is now available on iTunes.” Basically the chatter is all “do something for me” which is really tedious to read (I would say every day, but they don’t usually post regularly). For many publicists, this is how the channels are used as well; here’s a press kit, write about my client except that instead of only reaching writers, they are broadcasting to everyone and rarely listening at all.
I wrote some time back about how Facebook wasn’t a good sales medium and I still stand by that post though there have been changes at Facebook that affect showing up in a newsfeed and the use of landing pages. Facebook, of course, would have you believe that it is a good sales tool, after all they have the most to gain from perpetuating that idea in the business community.
If all you are using social media for is sales, STOP. I release you from feeling the burden of using auto tweeting and sending that same message through all of your profiles. No longer should you hire outside companies to do it for you either and pretending to be you. If you have done this, you already know it doesn’t work. Stop paying companies to send 5 prewritten tweets a day about your film to their 60K+ followers. You will not find that it makes much difference if that is the only effort you are making. Stop making inquiries for “some of that social media stuff” so your trailer will “go viral.”
Here is what the tool is very best used for; name/brand recognition, trust and loyalty building, sustained interest, long term sales and that most indescribable feeling of connection that begins to permeate. This is really an emotional space and it is something I would think independent artists would understand, you express ideas and emotions in your own work, right? And you hope to convey that to other people and elicit some kind of emotion from them. I know you don’t usually start from “I’m making a product that’s going to sell” point of view so why do you use social sites that way?
I say indescribable because you can’t point to that one “campaign” that brought your work to someone’s attention, it is an ongoing process that sinks deeper than “a message” or tagline and begins to spread and lasts far longer because little pieces of your thoughts, your connections and projects leave footprints behind online; not just on Twitter and Facebook, but everywhere on the internet globally. Someone who stumbles across your efforts, even years later, can find you and evidence of your work. No ad campaign or newspaper clipping is going to allow for that. Many people point to Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds as being fleeting and they are, but you can make more, endlessly. Can you do that for little money with an ad in the Times (pick a city) or a magazine cover story? While you may feel like you reach more people in a short amount of time, there’s a new cover story tomorrow or next month about someone else. There are only so many covers to fill, only so many talk shows to be on, only so much space in the newspaper or magazine for ads. Should you ever use traditional media? Should you ever use advertising? Yes, of course, but now you can have one more tool to use that is available to anyone, anywhere. You can choose to use it or not, but make sure you understand how to use it correctly and commit to doing it, every day. Also come to terms with the fact that if you are choosing not to use it, you are totally dependent on having third parties promote your work. New artists emerge every day and very few companies [and consumers!] are truly committed to anyone.
Without a commitment to developing a community of supporters by using social media, save your time and possibly money and find another tool. You won’t be successful here.
As you may know, I recently gave the keynote address to the Federation of European Directors General Assembly in Copenhagen. The Assembly’s event was chronicled in the Danish Film Directors’ quarterly magazine Take 58 in July. Below is an excerpt from a longer article about my participation there. Thanks to all who attended the event.
8 questions for Sheri Candler
“These answers are being written from the perspective that all directors should be dedicated to building up a long term base of supporters for all of their work.” -Sheri Candler
TAKE: Should I keep my Facebook identity as a director seperate from my identity as a private person? Meaning should I have two separate pages?
SHERI: Yes, I would advise having a separate professional Facebook page for all of your professional work and leaving those privacy settings as open as possible. Your private profile should be for your actual friends, family and colleagues and the place where you put your personal thoughts and interests and that will have privacy settings optimized to only be shown to those people. While your family and friends may also want to keep up with your professional endeavors, not all of them will and having a professional page allows you to have a place to connect with your fanbase and industry people regarding your work.
TAKE:At what stage should you know the title of your film? Can you change title later on? How do you avoid misleading people, if the film changes radically after the title has been set?
SHERI: Some film titles change as soon as a distributor takes hold of it, so I wouldn’t be too worried about changing a title because your true fans, your community that you have been building for your work over time, will be the first to know the reasons for the change. Remember, you are building up a relationship with these people, they aren’t being gathered for the one film. If the title changes (and I highly recommend doing a thorough title search before you set one so that it doesn’t need to be changed later), only those who have not been with you all during the production of the project will come to know the new title.
Same thing for branding on the film. In fact, this is a way to include the supporters, take a poll onwhich title they like or on which key art they like. American director Edward Burns held a poster contest for his film Newlyweds. He asked his fans to contribute their designs and they voted on the most popular one. It became the poster for the film. American director Tiffany Shlain did the same for her documentary Connected. Don’t treat your supporters as strangers, keep them informed of what is happening with the project and why.
TAKE: What sites should a director have as a minimum? (FB, twitter, website, blog?)
SHERI: First, you must have a website, that is imperative. It is the only true piece of internet real estate you own and control. Every other platform belongs to a third party that may change the rules, go out of business or lock you out whenever they like and that would completely cut you off from your supporters if you depended solely on those for communication. I think directors should choose the social channels they feel most comfortable using and where those which would be most interested in their work frequent. For now, that is probably Facebook (with 900 million users, of course!) and maybe Twitter. But it could also be Pinterest, MySpace, Tumblr etc.
TAKE: How and where do I use my time best online if I want to engage with my audience? It seems that one can use a lot of time on many different things, but where does it have the most impact?
SHERI: The answer to this would be as unique as the audience members. The thing to realize is there are no set rules, there is no magic formula. This is all going to be an experiment and trying out services to gauge a fit. Online tools are just that, tools. It is all in how you use them and you only get out of them what you put in. The more time you spend connecting with others, the more you will get out of the process.
I would say you need an outlet to speak from, which typically means a blog on your website. That blog should be updated weekly, ideally, so that you keep the site higher in search results and it feeds your social channels. Blog pieces do not have to be long, only 500-700 words, and they should primarily be devoted to sharing valuable information and insights, not self promotion.
TAKE How do you see the relationship between engaging your audience in a dialogue and the ability to earn money on having the dialogue? Does one exclude the other?
SHERI: I want all not to start this process with the eye for making money as their foremost thought. It is like saying you are making friends with people only to see how much money you can get out of the relationship. A relationship that starts that way is doomed to fail because people can feel it, feel the insincerity.
The mindset you must start with is ”I am going to find my ’people,’ the ones who would care the most for my art.” And you truly have to believe that. The Latin saying “Do ut des” (I give so that
you will give) is extremely valid in the virtual world, in fact it is expected. The online world rewards generosity, not selfishness. Directors who already have fans or a reputation would actually find this process easier because their fans are eager to connect. But oddly, those directors are the least likely to do this right now. I think we will either see a change in that mindset or a loss of relevance for those directors because people are very fickle and they are getting very used to having personal contact with creators. Those who continue to ignore their fans will find themselves ignored in favor of artists who understand this new mindset. Money and fame are by products of relationship building, so concentrate less on those things and
more on the relationship.
TAKE: How private or personal do you feel that one should be? Many of us directors are shy people and only used to talking to journalists about our films before a release.
SHERI: One would think it will be easier to speak to real people than to journalists! I don’t think you need to share intimate details about your personal life, but I do think we should see some sort of personality behind the communication efforts. All directors are creative people with lots to say to the world. If you aren’t, then perhaps you should rethink your occupation. Writing a blog isn’t journalistic writing, it is personal writing about your inspirations, helpful suggestions, recommendations, personal commentary on events happening in the world. Something that lets the supporters know who you are as an artist. Like attracts like and ideally you will attract those who love the way you tell a story no matter what the story is. We want to see the essence of the real artist, not some sound bite ”message” of the synopsis of the film.
TAKE: Can you give us inspiring examples of feature film directors that use social media to engage their audiences?
SHERI: YES! -American director Kevin Smith connects with his fans every day via Twitter and through his own channels at smodcast.com He is really an example of a director who tells stories in lots of mediums, not just film. A true storyteller.
British actor/screenwriter/director Stephen Fry is also very accomplished at using social channels as well as his own website to connect to his fans.
-Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris also has his own website and social channels www.errolmorris.com
-David Lynch uses Twitter, his tweets totally correspond to who he is as a storyteller.
I would say though that Morris and Lynch do not do a great job at having conversations with their audience, their sites and social channels seem very one sided to me.
-British director Duncan Jones uses Twitter to the extreme (several times a day!) and actually does talk with his followers.
TAKE: What do you mean when you say that a director should be a tribe leader? Does that go for all directors?
SHERI: The tribe idea originates with Seth Godin who wrote a book in 2009 called Tribes-We Need You to Lead Us. It is this idea of finding and connecting with like minded people and leading them to a place they want to go.
The means to do this are universally available to everyone now with the internet, so it isn’t based on geographical location or on having large financial resources to advertise your way into an audience. Advertising has been the default way of building an audience for films for a long time, it is costly and wasteful as you have to start again with each film. The tribe building idea is a totally different way of doing this and it is meant to be more cost efficient and longer lasting for the artist. You don’t need to sell people on the fact that they want to connect (to art, to other people, to a movement) because that is inherent human nature, we want to connect to like minded people. So as a film director, or a storyteller, your job is to connect those like minded people through a platform that you create (your website, blog, or whatever tool you choose) and eliminate the need for them to find each other on their own. They connect through you as the artist and through your work. You are the leader of the tribe and you make your work only for them. They, in turn, bring in their friends, also like minded people, and that widens the reach of your work. Your job is only to make work and nurture those people, delight those people. They will bring the others aboard.
This is a very radical idea though. When the artist is in charge of her tribe, where does that leave the chain of middlemen that once were so important to reach the mass? Mass reach is becoming less and less important because it isn’t sustainable. Audiences for entertainment are becoming fractured and very focused about how they spend their time given the multitude of options for entertainment. Advertising is becoming much less important, but social connections, trust building are becoming more important. People are trusting recommendations from their personal connections much more than advertising blasts. If you have no personal relationship with your audience, your work will be lost in the multitude of other viewing options.
My thanks to Birgitte Staermose for conducting this interview and the the FERA organization for having me in Copenhagen.