The myth of the magical social media intern

April 11, 2012
posted by sheric

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

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

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

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

But the social sites are FREE

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

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

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

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

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

The Myth of Instant Social Media Results

January 14, 2011
posted by sheric

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.