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.
It is quickly becoming my biggest pet peeve, filmmakers (and distributors) who want to start their social media accounts and “campaigns” a short time (like a week!) from when they are launching something. While I have spoken at length about creating community and how long it takes, I am still being contacted in hopes of being able to provide a large number of instant followers/fans who will buy the DVD/order VOD/go see it in a theater/festival next week! This is an unrealistic expectation and a fool’s errand to undertake. Please don’t try to do this. I know this thought is a result of not being educated on what social media is, except that it is cheap, so I want to address that here. If you expect social media sites to provide you with instant results, you are using the wrong tool.
What social media is good at:
-Conversation-this is a two way communication medium, not a one way message mechanism for free. You can’t develop strong relationships and meaningful conversations in a week, or a month. Before you can influence active behavior using social media, you have to have a relationship.
-Community-whether you are building your own or participating in others, you should not use a community just to shill. It is an intrusion, an irritation, and no good results will come of it. To become part of an online community, you have to spend time there just as you would in offline life. You won’t have time to do it if you leave it too late.
-Contribution-social media relationship building means contributing meaningfully to the relationship, just as in real life. You will get out of it what you put into it. Provide value (information, answer questions, be helpful) consistently and you will get the attention you need to convert people. Again, this happens over time.
What you need to implement social media strategies:
-Research-You have to mine the space for data to see which tools to use for your audience. It might be Facebook, but it might be a forum dedicated to the topic of your film. It is probably several sites, each with their own way of communicating effectively. Data mining takes time, patience, energy. You’ll also want to find influencers to help. It takes research to find and evaluate those people.
-Content, and plenty of it-yes, production stills, videos, director blogs are all content, but they are really boring if that is all you are talking about. You need a content calendar to plan out what the sites you own (your own pages) will run and at what frequency and what kind of material you will be commenting on at other sites. This is where your Google alerts and your social mention programs come in. What other kind of information can you share or comment on?
-More tools than just social platforms-distributors know this, in fact social media is often left too late because more focus is given to other tools like advertising and publicity. There is more work to maintaining a community than there is to buying ads and pitching media, so they often just treat it as a free way to advertise. The filmmaking team needs to be doing this community maintenance (they are the closest to the community), but the success of social media initiatives are tied together with an integrated plan using many different tools, not just social platforms.
-ROI or VOI-probably the most contentious issue in social media marketing, how to measure Return on Investment (ROI)? A recent eMarketer report cites that social media strategists’ biggest goal for 2011 is better measurement of this. Since social media is a conversation medium, it is difficult to measure the effect particular conversations have on sales or awareness. You can measure how much/far your message traveled, how many people potentially saw it or how many directly participated in a conversation and correlate that to sales. I think it is better to measure on the Value on Investment (VOI), how valuable is it to speak to your community? Is your community growing and active because people learn from you and enjoy being there? Are you considered a source of information and a brand that is connected and listening to their followers? By using social media as a listening device, are you better able to learn what messages resonate and how you might make effective changes? These are all valid goals so don’t just measure in sales and revenue.
I don’t even agree that you social media efforts should be viewed as campaigns. A campaign is an aggressive activity conducted for the short term. Social media marketing is more of a way of doing business. The mindset you have to have is your activities are geared toward the on going conversation and steady growth of a community around your brand, not the quick collection of numbers on your Facebook page or Twitter account. Plan for the long haul when using social tools.
I got really steamed today on Twitter because of a message sent to one of my tweeps calling him out for not following her back. I have seen this happening a lot lately and I want to address it here. The best way to turn people off on Twitter is to call them out in public. I might add that to all social networking platforms actually. If you have a flame to throw, you had better consider what you are doing before you press update because it will be out in the universe following you forever.
For the record, I NEVER AUTOFOLLOW. I hate any automated programs for Twitter. I don’t hook my Facebook to Twitter or vice versa. I don’t hook my blog to Twitter, but it does auto post to Facebook and many other networking platforms just to keep those sites updated with content. I do not feel compelled to follow every person who follows me. If I did, I would have an endless stream of junk and spam bots who now can send me DMs too. I think automated programs defeat the whole purpose of social networking which is to ACTIVELY engage on the platform. An automated program sending out scheduled tweets and following everyone who follows you is not actively engaging anyone, it is mechanical and inauthentic. Two huge no nos in social networking. You want automatic, one way communication? Buy an ad.
There are many schools of thought regarding how best to use Twitter. Chris Brogan highly recommends using autofollowing programs like Socialtoo because he gets so many followers a day that he can’t keep up with following them all (very telling about how much he actually engages with his followers). I say, why should he try to keep up with them all? Here are a few reasons I think autofollowing is a bad idea:
-You become a target for spammers-While using automated programs seems like a time saving idea, manually going through and clearing out spam bots from your stream is even more time consuming.
-Unfocused followers-I know many of you use autofollow programs in order to boost your numbers on Twitter. Do you really want to follow the stream of every person who happens to click follow on your profile? There is no way you can follow any conversations taking place there when thousands of tweets are going by, mostly unrelated to anything you are interested in. Numbers only count if there are engaged people behind them. If you want to build a quality following, actively use Twitter! Yes, it will take time so be patient.
-Everyone knows it is a cheat-I can always spot someone using autofollow programs. Their follower to following ratio is very close. When I decide whether I want to follow someone, I look both at the quality of their tweets and at their ratio. If it is close, I pass because their following is most likely full of crap. Following these accounts means the likelihood that they will even see the tweets you post is low. Their level of influence is low because there is no engagement going on when they follow thousands of people. You will get nothing out of clogging up your stream with these accounts.
So when should you follow someone back? I never follow people who don’t 1)talk to me directly on Twitter 2)offer me value in their tweet stream. For me, you are on a trial basis always. I occasionally use Twerpscan to find abandoned accounts to unfollow. I give you 30 days between Tweets. If you haven’t used Twitter in 30 days, I unfollow because you are taking up room in my stream for someone far more interesting and valuable to me. I am pretty militant about it. You might want to give them 90 days, up to you.
-Follow people who offer good information-For me it takes time to evaluate this. First I look at their stream and if it seems they actively engage in conversations and post some solid links with a reasonable amount of RT, then I give them a try. So far, there have been very few people I have had to unfollow if I evaluate them first.
-Follow festivals, distributors, production resources, journalists as well as individuals-again you will want to evaluate the quality of their tweets before hitting Follow. Some are administered by bots or people who do not use the platform as intended (one way tweets, no conversation etc) but it can be a good way to strike up a friendship well before you want to ask for something.
-Look at your friends Follow Friday recommendations- usually denoted by #FF, this happens every Friday and these are personal recommendations from your following and follower list. The recommendation serves as a good guide of who is worthy of your attention.
Twitter and Facebook aren’t popularity contests. It is all about the quality, not the quantity. Calling people out because they don’t autofollow to pump up your numbers is NOT a good idea. If the real reason you follow someone is just so you can get your numbers up, you don’t really understand how to use the platform and probably shouldn’t use it. It won’t work for you anyway.
In strategy, you first have to determine what is the goal. Is it to build up a solid base of supporters? Is it to activate them to do something (buy a DVD, go to a screening, donate to a crowdfunding effort, tell others about your film)? Usually that is a goal. But if you begin with a campaign where you launch into selling and goading without first building up the base, you will never accomplish that goal. To build up, you have to allow time to do that.
A social networking strategy will take many months to a year to implement and it will be an ongoing effort. First, you will determine whom you are trying to attract into your community and what you have to offer them of interest. Then, you will start to put those assets out there. You will build your engagement pages and populate them with interesting and valuable content. You will not be asking them for ANYTHING. Ideally, you will not need to ask them at all because when you become a valuable resource, they will want to help you in any way they can. You may call on your group for help in achieving a goal every so often and if they can truly see how helping you will help the community in general, they will be happy to do it. You should never do anything that will make them feel that you have formed the community in order to use it for your own purposes. Companies and filmmakers who do this stand to ruin the very thing they have spent so much time developing, a genuine and authentic community that is very loyal and connected to you. That kind of loyalty is extremely difficult to accomplish with advertising and it is really the ultimate goal of all brands.
Too often, filmmakers and companies wait to start considering social networking until they need to achieve set goals and they need them now (usually when selling something). The problem with that is they don’t have a base of support in place from which they can achieve anything. In order to use the tools of social networking effectively, you really must commit the time to grow your base, feed and cultivate it. If you cannot commit to that, social networking tools will not work for you and you should turn to more short term tools like mass advertising.
This week I attended an edition of the roving conference put on by WBP, filmmaker Lance Weiler’s outfit. It followed on nicely from seminars and conversations that were going on AFM the week before. I covered AFM for Microfilmmaker Magazine and the article will be out on December 1, but I wanted to share my notes from this event first.
The first speaker of the night was Weiler and his topic was Social Media for Storytellers. “There is more opportunity now than there ever has been to reach the audience,” Weiler proclaimed. He cited examples of his own work with his film HEAD TRAUMA where he used multiple media to engage the audience with comic books, ARG, mobile phone components and live interaction during screenings. He also cited the work that the Mad Men TV show did to target different audience segments during their seasons to broaden the reach of the show. Their campaigns grew from building a buzz in the ad agency niche, then moved out to the entertainment media, early adopters WOM and then wide audience promotions.
He cautioned before you get a conversation going you need to decide what kind of voice you want to use. Should you engage from the characters’ perspective, a location- centric perspective, the voice of your staff or your own voice? There is no right or wrong to this, it just has to be determined and stay consistent.
He also advised to be realistic about time and resources. Choose outlets and accounts to use that will reach your audience best and these will change over time as new platforms come into fashion. Interaction will take up a measurable part of the day and there needs to be a routine. He utilizes interns or a full time community manager to handle this work. This has to be a conversation, no one likes to be talked to without any way to talk back or feel that no one is listening. Give them the tools to talk to you and to each other.
Weiler insists that building trust with your audience is key. You can’t just jump into conversation with them, you must slowly cultivate a relationship and it will take time to gather your audience. You must reward your audience by giving them access to content or access to you not widely available. You must respect them by not overusing your email list or making your content only self serving. This is important because you can’t control them and what they say. They can make or break you.
He closed by listing a few of the platforms he recommends for filmmaker audience building. WordPress, Flikr, Twitter, Feedburner and Delicious. He cautioned that you should mirror your audience list details from your online platforms because you do not own that information, the platform does. If you should ever lose privileges on a platform or want to change platforms, you want to have that information in your personal files for future access.
In part II, I will talk about Jon Reiss’ talk on theatrical releases and why the term needs to encompass more than cinemas. He has a new book out now called Think Outside the Box Office, the ultimate guide to film distribution and marketing in the digital era. I have read it and highly recommend it. He talks about his new philosophy in it in detail but highlighted it in this talk.
This is a repost with some adaptation of a post on digiday:DAILY by B.L. Ochman. I thought it was important to emphasize the points she made here because I talk a lot about the wonders of social media marketing for the independent filmmaker and how it gives the power to reach niche audiences like never before. But it isn’t the end all, be all of your marketing strategy. The use of social media is just one tool in the marketing mix and should not be the only tool relied upon for spreading the word about your project.
Social media can’t:
Substitute for marketing strategy
A Twitter campaign, or a Facebook page that announces your latest activities is not a marketing strategy. Marketing strategy encompasses the type of film you have, the audience you are targeting, where you find that audience and how you connect with them. Campaigns only use the tactics (like Twitter and Facebook), but they don’t define what you are trying to accomplish. A complete strategy must be defined.
Succeed without top management buy-in
Social media requires a way of thinking that includes willingness to listen to customers (that would be your audience), make changes based on feedback (changes to your script, your trailer, your rough cut etc.), and trust employees to talk to customers (this would be your cast and crew or other members of your production team). Using social media is meant to be collaborative and engaging, so if you aren’t going to put in that kind of time or trust someone else to do it, do not use social media.
Be viewed as a short-term project
Social media is not a one-shot deal. It’s a long-term commitment to openness, experimentation, and change that requires time to bear fruit. This is why I advise to set up your platforms as soon as possible, even during script stage but for sure during production. It will take a long time to gather attention and a core following. It also must be fostered on a regular basis or it will not gather an audience.
Produce meaningful, measurable results quickly
One of the complaints about social media is that it can’t be measured. But in fact there are many things that can be measured: including engagement, sentiment, and whether increased traffic leads to sales. Those results can’t be produced or measured in the short term. Like PR, social media marketing often produces its best results over a long period of time, like a year or two.
Be done in-house by the vast majority of companies
A successful social media campaign integrates social media into the many elements of marketing, including advertising, digital, and PR. Opinion and theory are no match for experience, and the best social media marketers have experience incorporating interactivity, blogs, forums, user-generated content, and contests into online marketing. You need strategy, contacts, tools, and experience–a combination not generally found in-house, so you are forced to reinvent the wheel or choose the wrong tools.
Provide a quick fix to the bottom line or a tarnished reputation
Social media can sometimes provide quick results for a company (or filmmaker) that is already a star. That’s why you see well known celebrities and directors gather large followings for their projects, seemingly overnight. However, there’s a lot of desperation these days and many seem been convinced that a social media campaign can provide a quick fix to sagging sales or reputation issues. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.
Be done without a realistic budget
Building a site that incorporates interactivity, allows user-generated content, and perhaps also includes e-commerce doesn’t come cheap from anyone who knows what they are doing. Even taking free software like WordPress and making it function as an effective interactive site, incorporating e-commerce, creating style sheets that integrate with the company’s branding, takes more than time. That takes skill, experience, and money.
Guarantee sales or influence
Unless your effort can pass the “who cares” test – and most simply can’t – your social media efforts will fall flat. Unless you know how to drive traffic to your contest, video, blog, event, etc. you’ll have little more than an expensive field of dreams.
Be done by “kids” who “understand social innately”
You can climb Mt Kilaminjaro without a sherpa guide, but why would you? Experience and perspective can make the trip easier, or even save your life. Companies (or filmmakers) trying to run social media without experienced consultants waste time, money, and reputation on their efforts. And then, sadly, many decide that this new-fangled approach doesn’t work.
No matter how great your website, video contest, blog, Twitter strategy, etc. you still need publicity. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.