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.
I was recently interviewed for a blog and was asked about using social media for marketing a film. It really got me thinking about that question. Is that all most filmmakers see social media being used for? One big promotional effort only to be used when they are looking to sell something? I think within 10 years this will be a non issue as everyone will be adapted to social media. Those who have refused to start will be so left out it will be like the people who held out on rotary phones and terrestrial TV signals.
The world has changed with this remarkable tool that enables you to reach others on a personal level no matter where they live. We have the ability to hold this tool in our hands and it is used for more than just speaking into. Filmmakers should focus on the word social and less on the word marketing. Using social media is about relationship building and it is really difficult to build a relationship that starts from the premise that you are only there to sell something. Everyone always says “in this business, it is not what you know but who you know” and if that is true, then why are you only using Facebook and Twitter to send out one way messages?
There is a really great talk by Thomas Power from the TEDx conference about the digital mindset. It was pointed out to me by my friend Obhi Chatterjee who is a film sector specialist and case handler at the European Commission. I met him on Twitter and I have actually met him in real life. He lives in Belgium. I think this is an important idea to consider because many artists I encounter are reluctant to enter this digital world and they aren’t really sure why they need to. They create art, films, books, music and normally that is conceived in a bubble and only a set crew of people are enlisted to help in its creation. After that, other people, business type people, figure out how to tell others about it and sell it. The artists of the past were not involved much in how that worked because they went back into the bubble to conceive more art. For musicians, they did and still do tour and maybe that is why they are a little better at dealing with an audience.
Privacy is dead, so says Zuckerberg and if we follow that line of thinking, then audiences will expect information sharing to take place and not just sharing of a promo code. They will also expect to share with you and not receive a canned reply and sharing with others who are like them united by a connection to you. How will you cope with this going forward? How will you connect with this audience of openness if you only see these platforms as a way to sell? ”We have to rewire,” says Power because we didn’t grow up in a world of “connectedness” and those a little younger won’t have this problem. They only know a world with the internet and social media in it. The amount of information coming into your life is already much greater than it ever was. It comes by the second, not by the day. Power says it will increase by a THOUSAND times by 2020.
An excuse I hear and even use myself is “I haven’t got the time to do this work” or “I just don’t understand what the big deal is with social media.” If you think the information load is too much now, what will a thousand times more of it be like for you?
Open, Random and Supportive is what Power advocates for all of us and how he sees this new digital landscape. This mindset change means that we have get away from something that studios, distributors, publicists, managers and agents all adhere to which is a Closed, Selective and Controlling mindset. The longer you hold onto this way of thinking, the harder it will be to grasp the digital reality.
Be Open in accepting that this change in how people communicate has already happened, no matter how much you wish it hadn’t or how much you think it is just a phase.
Accept Random information. There is an endless supply of information streaming at us everyday and the answer is not to cut it off, lest you cut yourself off from society. Part of your learning process is filtering this massive amount of data, curating and sharing that information with your connections and they will do the same for you.
Being Supportive is the new black. Rather than operating from greed and competition, think about how much faster you could grow by helping others instead of only taking from them. All of us have to do this and truly mean it. I think we’ve all had enough of faceless governments, institutions and corporations who hide behind closed doors and figure out how to wring out everything good from the world for their own benefit. If there is anything that Wikileaks has taught the world it’s that there are no secrets on the internet. Look at Arab Spring, or SOPA or the Susan G. Komen crisis’ and you will see that people are using the internet to mobilize in large numbers at short notice to stand up against something that isn’t beneficial to society.
When I am asked about whether using social media is beneficial for a film, my answer is knowing how to use social media is beneficial period. It isn’t just a marketing tool for your film, it now should be part of your life as an artist.
Here is the whole talk from Thomas Power about having a digital mindset
I think those 2 words are starting to lose their meaning when talking about using social media to reach audiences. I am not offering another word because at the end of the day a word should only describe an idea of what you are truly doing and maybe THAT is the thing that is becoming lost in all of this talk. What are we truly saying when we use those words?
Engagement isn’t a measurement from your Facebook or Youtube Insights, it isn’t how many retweets you receive on Twitter. Connections aren’t simply a number of followers and likes. In thinking about the traditional use of this word, your “connection” was someone who was willing to help you, someone who knew you, trusted you and vice versa.
Audiences are now delighted by communicating not with a “brand,” but with a “face” or a person. This mindset shift in corporate America is very hard to make when they really never thought about the audiences actually being people…with faces beyond eyeballs. If they did think this way, would they really keep hitting that face with ads over and over again? Would the conversation be constantly one sided, “buy my stuff” ” buy my stuff” “click here, and buy my stuff.” That is the extent of the brand relationship with customers that the typical movie studio or distributor has now.
When I talk to you about creating a relationship with your audience that is long term, not just for one project, I really want you to think about what this means. The investment of time and creativity and energy this is going to take, not to boost “likes” on Facebook and follower numbers on Twitter, but to really draw people to what you are doing and hold them there willingly. Using these great new tools is just a newer way of communicating, but the communication itself isn’t new. We as humans have always communicated with each other and naturally gravitated to those with similar interests and it is the same now.
That is also an important distinction. Audiences may not only want to communicate with you, but also with like minded people AROUND you and your work. In this way, brands can benefit from heavily using social tools. They don’t have to be the sole source of communication, they can provide a place and content that enables “fans” to speak to each other about the brand. Be careful when you are using these tools only to speak about yourself, but also don’t become so enamored of people “buzzing” about you and your work that you never step into the conversation. I see this a lot with brands that happily RT positive tweets but almost never get into conversations.
Main thing to takeaway here is not the fact that you are trying to pump up “scores” or numbers on your channels. You are trying to touch people using electronic means and this will take time, effort, energy and a lot of patience. There’s no quick fix, no magic solutions, no one ”engagement tool” that is going to make these relationships last. For those who don’t have these attributes (time, energy etc), this isn’t going to work and you will have an increasingly difficult time gaining an audience in the future.
I know this is a cop out post, but I’m feeling totally guilty (and totally overwhelmed at the moment with the upcoming world premiere of Joffrey Mavericks of American Dance in a few weeks) that I haven’t posted anything new in a while. So, I started looking back over the posts from this year that received the most response, the ones that I hope were helpful to you, and thought I would recap them.
How do I know they received a good response? I use PostRank to help me gauge what kind of interest the posts received. These posts all have a score of 7 or higher (scale of 1-10). The number to me doesn’t matter so much as knowing what you respond to so I can speak more about it. I also view blogging as an experiment, trying out new topics. Some work, some don’t and that is ok. If I waited until I knew the perfect topic and made the perfect post to address it…well, the blog would probably only have 12 posts a year. Without further adieu..
10) The importance of a good trailer-This is part one of my interview with trailer editor Bill Woolery on creating a good trailer, working with a trailer editor, and the types of trailers there are. Frankly, I am surprised it ranks so low as a trailer is probably the MOST important element in the promotional efforts for your film. Hopefully if you didn’t catch this 2 part interview, you can read it now.
9)Crowdsourcing as exploitation-This one got a few responses from other sites such as DocumentaryTech and The Chutry Experiment. Basically, I gave my take on the film Life in a Day and how they were using the crowd throughout the filmmaking process into the distribution process, but offering very little in return for the free labor.
8) The ugly truth about social media- A post about feeling overwhelmed with all of the startups devoted to “social media” and how they purport to make life easier, but really there is no easy work around for building up relationships. It is slow, painstaking and never ending work if you use the tool correctly.
7)Readying a crowdfunding campaign-This year saw the donation numbers for independent film projects on crowdfunding site really soar. Whereas a year ago, $10K was the norm, this year it became $20K, $50K, $100K. That’s a significant jump in just a year! But those successes didn’t come from throwing up a page on Kickstarter and watching the money roll in. This post talks about being prepared long before you actually go live with your campaign.
6)The internet expanded consumption but destroyed the industry- A Seth Godin inspired post (of course!) which talks about the redefinition of what it means to be a distributor of content. Bureaucratic and scarcity driven business models that once dominated the industry are being diminished and what will take its place is being capable of grabbing (and keeping!) attention and building an ongoing fanbase.
5)Marketing a documentary with a limited budget-The title pretty much says it all really. I took you through the starting stages of my promotional work for the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance; tools I’m using, finding the audience and getting their interest, how we will be distributing it. If you have a documentary project, you might find it interesting. If you have a narrative project with clearly defined audience, you will get something from it too.
4)Building your brand with no budget-As I say many times in interviews and in workshops, the key to building a sustainable fanbase is having an artist brand that people identify with. In this way, you won’t be starting from the ground every time you have a new project to build an audience for, you will simply transition the one you already have. This is work you can start doing right now, before you have another project going and this post is full of tips on how to start.
3)Actors don’t need social media…excuse me?- A post inspired by a Twitter discussion I was having with Paul Osborne (@PaulMakesMovies), Nathan Cole (@WaterholeMovie) and Paul Barrett (@producerpaul) about not only hiring actors with talent, but also ones with a strong social following. They largely disagreed because they see the on screen talent as superseding the need for promotion, but I’m telling you when it comes time to building up an audience with a limited budget, you are going to need all of the help you can get. If there are 2 equally talented actors, pick the one who has a fanbase (duh) and I don’t mean Brad Pitt. There are plenty of actors who are active in social media and can activate a crowd for you. And listen up actors, if you haven’t been doing this, you aren’t an asset, so become one. Even TV casting agents are looking up social footprints of potential hires so stop burying your head. Get a profile up and start interacting.
2)Humanizing your audience-A post inspired by Brian Solis that talks about the shift in communication that the internet, and more specifically social media, has brought to all aspects of our lives. Are there those not communicating online? Sure, its just that they are far from being movers and shakers and they will either come kicking and screaming or they will be completely out of touch with the modern century. But we must never forget that at the heart of social networking is a person, not a pair of eyeballs. Views, likes, and votes are all nice but very fleeting. Don’t boil your online activities just down to boosting these things, not only to the bottom line. Humans are starting to get back to wanting that connection with another human (especially now that the corporate and government trust factor has been disintegrating for the last several years and only gets worse as more transparency is coming to the fore online. Wikileaks anyone?), to feel they matter to you. The bottom line takes care of itself when trust and relationships are built and respected.
1)Facebook is not a good sales platform- This post received a 10! Wow! What more can I say about this subject, huh? I still maintain that people don’t come to social sites to buy, no matter how much those social sites are trying to reconfigure to suit the corporate bottom line. Research has suggested that many people “like” brand pages in order to get coupons though, which makes sense if you think that most corporate brands don’t give a hoot about you so in turn you will go with whichever brand offers the best deal, no loyalty and trust there. I don’t think this mentality is going to work out well for the indie artist so let’s just use Facebook to share interesting content, hold dialog and champion fans as much as we want them to champion us, OK? Let the sales happen on your own site (where you can keep the details, not give over the data to a third party) and offer the best items to your most ardent fans. Let the distributors deal with finding the strangers and giving them the non exclusive stuff. That method is expensive and transitory. Not worth spending your time chasing fickle strangers.
There you have it, the top 10 for this year. I wish all of you the happiest and most productive New Year 2012!
Continuing on from the last two posts, this final one looks at understanding how journalists find stories and decide to write about them. The 2010 PRWeek/PRNewswire survey of both traditional and non traditional journalists found that PR pitches through social media resulted in coverage more than 70% of the time. Wow! In contrast, the usual way PR executives pitch journalists via email resulted in less than 20% coverage success. Are you doing your best to identify and relationship build with journalists and bloggers through social media channels like Twitter and Linkedin? You should be doing this first, before you need to pitch them on stories.
Journalists are now being asked to write for their publications’ online editions and blogs and to maintain a personal Twitter account. That’s a lot of need for informative and entertaining stories! It is also putting more demands on their time. Pitch a story where you have already gathered together information links, have talent or interview subjects on notice and their contact details easily at hand, have your photos placed online where they can be easily used for a story, basically do everything you can to make it an easy story to write. Your chances of coverage are exponentially increased if you do this.
91% of bloggers and 68% online journalists say they use blogs for research, but only 35%-38% of traditional journalists (newspaper/magazine) do. Since you will want stories from both, you should be maintaining some sort of blog presence and looking for coverage on blogs that reach your target audience. Twitter is used as a source for stories mainly by bloggers and online publications and not as often by traditional journalists. I expect its use will only increase as time goes on.
I have long held the suspicion that coverage is easier to get if you are willing to buy advertising on the media platform. While journalists deny this is the case, the study cites that PR practitioners see the correlation between coverage and advertising. 40% say they have received coverage as a result of “pay-for-play” (you buy advertising, they write editorial pieces). Take from this what you will. I can say that I receive coverage when my story is closely aligned with the goals of the journalist and I haven’t bought advertising to get that, but I when I have been in advertising negotiations, blog owners have told me that they will give me editorial as well.
A few ways journalists find stories or decide on what to write
-Assigned by an editor. They are given names of sources to interview which may have been pulled from an in-house database of trusted and reliable sources. These sources are often long term relationships with experts and PR professionals. Sometimes the journalist does comb the internet looking for new sources. This is how I was approached by USA Today to give a quote on a story the journalist was writing. He used Google. Will your name be found on Google as an expert or a good source of information on a topic?
-Write stories based around recent news events. If you can be a credible source for a journalist or if your film’s subject matter speaks in some way to that event, there’s a good opportunity to pitch an idea. If you can somehow put a fresh or unique spin on that event, you are likely to get coverage.
-They look for original story ideas to develop. This is where knowing about the style of writing or the type of audience the writer attracts is beneficial. If you can help them with valuable research links or help them uncover stories that haven’t been told, you are providing a much needed service to the journalist. You’ll be rewarded with either coverage this time, or remembered for coverage at a later date. Or maybe both!
-They expand on stories written by others. If a well read story by another publication can be localized or serve as a counterpoint, this provides a great story angle. Again, be of service and pitch an angle with supporting documents where your story can tie in to a widely read story or news event.
-They talk to people. Obviously journalists always are looking for good stories. In addition to coming up with their own ideas, they call contacts to chat and get a feel for the vibes in the area they report on. They also go to live events, conferences, film festivals to meet people and talk; sometimes to people they already know and sometimes to people they meet on site. They don’t go so you can run up to them with your press kit and pressure them to write about it. At film festivals, I make note of press badges and either strike up a conversation by asking what they are experiencing, what they are there to cover or what they normally write about (note, this conversation is all about THEM). If my story is relevant to their needs (not just my own), I will work it in. If it isn’t, I never push it. Being face to face is a very intimate experience and it is easy to tune someone out who is being pushy or simply excuse yourself and leave. You don’t want either of those things to happen. Be respectful and always think about how you can be of service to the journalist, not how they can be of service to you.
Hopefully this series of posts is helpful to you in figuring out the most effective ways to approach journalists and bloggers. Put yourself in their place and look at your pitch from the perspective of how your story will be informative or entertaining for their readers. If it isn’t apparent in your pitch, the likelihood of successful coverage is low.
I covered this in a past entry, but more of this opinion was voiced on today’s Social Times blog. I’ve seen many new services like FlickLaunch and Dynamo Player configuring their platforms to sell on a film’s Facebook page and Warner Bros has started implementing their own Facebook movie rentals for US residents including Dark Knight, Inception, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Yogi Bear and Life as We Know It paid for with Facebook credit or $3. I’d love to see their sales figures, but remember that a huge advertising and marketing budget was spent on these titles and they have all gone well into the DVD window and beyond. Most indie movies will not have the same kind of demand because similar marketing efforts haven’t been made .
Facebook sales will not be your biggest money maker because people do not come to Facebook to buy.
Facebook is a social platform. People come to Facebook to chat with friends, see what everyone is up to, post news about themselves. While you may have amassed a large following on Facebook, unless you are posting content of interest to your audience on your page regularly, chances are your “fans” have not been back to your page since they joined. They won’t see your fancy Welcome page or your newly constructed BUY NOW page. Most people are only reminded of you if they see your news in their news feed. The news feed is the first page everyone lands on when they go to Facebook. Sometimes they only see the Top News view, even though it is possible to change that to Most Recent, most people do not. If they haven’t visited your page in a while or commented on any of your news, your page has stopped appearing in their feed. NOTE: I am not suggesting you spend all your time shilling for your film on your Facebook page in order to stay in the news feed. A conversation with a shill is boring and a turn off.
Even though you can buy ads to drive more traffic directly to your page, it will take a significant spend to generate the number of impressions someone needs to have before they click on it. On average, an ad will be seen 5-7 times before any action is taken. Facebook is more about attracting and keeping attention that can influenced into a sale later on than it is about making a sale right now.
As the Social Times article contends, social media platforms like Facebook are the top of your sales funnel, the place where relationships and trust are built. After you have accomplished this, and it will take a while, then you can transition your audience to your own website where the sales can take place (here’s where something like Dynamo Player will work). Yet another reason to start your social media efforts and audience building WELL in advance of your finished film. This isn’t a campaign for 3 months, this is commitment for the full life cycle of your film and continues into the length of your career.
So, should you never try and sell streams on your Facebook page?
Undoubtedly there are hundreds of millions of people on Facebook and it is entirely possible that someone will try your film out if they see it’s available. If the cost to set up Facebook streaming is right (ie, low to free), you aren’t losing anything to try, but do not invest a lot in this. As DVD’s popularity continues to plummet, more and more people will be turning to online streaming rentals. Invest in having a good player on your site and spending upfront to access iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and game consoles. Spend the majority of your time and effort on your content marketing to pull you audience in, earn their trust, make them feel connected and give them viewing options.
If anyone here has implemented a Facebook sales platform for film and it has resulted in great success, let’s here about it.
I’m about to head off to my first SXSW and I am currently being bombarded with press releases and news about films, panels, and all things interactive. I am most excited about hearing the interactive speakers as I think they have more to offer about the future than the same people talking the same stuff about the film industry. But I am also overwhelmed at how many start ups are launching in the social media space, especially companies promising to take care of it all for you. Beware of this, social doesn’t work like hands off advertising. If you are going to use it, you have to be there in person.
Last night, I found this post on the Sysomos blog. I think I’m in love with Mark Evans now because he presents everything I have been saying too. Social media work is not free and not easy to maintain and it certainly isn’t just a Facebook page. Here are his five main points:
-”Social media is a game of inches, not miles.” As much as people like to call their social media efforts “campaigns,” it isn’t a campaign. It is long term sustained effort. Calling it a campaign connotes that it will have an end; that it will not be ongoing. If you are building an audience, you are always going to be building and cultivating.
-”Social media is grunt work.” Along the same vein of this work being ongoing, it takes absolute dedication by a person or group of people who are close to the work. This why I can’t see outside agencies doing this work for you. I can see them training you to do it, but they can’t speak with the depth and authenticity that you who are the most passionate can. And it can’ t be automated completely either.
-”There is a never ending need for fresh content.”-This is the part people forget. Keeping attention means you have to feed it every day. Someone on your team, close to you and the production, has to be in charge of doing this. When there is a blog pause or lack of some kind of update, people wander off to find other interests. Then whatever audience base you have built falls away.
-”Social media can be an expensive proposition.” Yes, the tools are free. The cost is in the labor. You can either commit to doing the work yourself or budgeting for someone on your team to take the job, just like any other job you fill on your crew. The thing to remember is this isn’t a short term gig. You can’t just bolt it on for a few weeks or months and expect great results. Number churning is not the main thing you are after.
-”ROI can be challenging to measure” because you shouldn’t only be relying on social to gain attention. If you have been consistently building and maintaining it for a long period, your reliance on media buys and earned media will be less. Most filmmakers I know have NOT been doing this for a while (Kevin Smith excluded and even he uses earned media) and will need to use additional methods for gaining attention and sales. It will be exceedingly difficult to point at a certain content post and say “that led to an uptick in box office or streaming sales,” just as you can’t do that for an ad buy, but your overall efforts, including your day to day interactions with fans, will lead to greater return.
Be very realistic about how long this will take and how much work it will be when you are budgeting for time and money.