Recently, I made a post on my personal blog about why I am advising filmmakers to reconsider their use of Facebook to connect with an audience. There are lots of changes going on and it is important to understand that Facebook is a public company with shareholders to appease and a very large user base to exploit. A Facebook page is increasingly pay to play, so if you aren’t budgeting money to spend on growing your page and reaching your fans on a regular basis, you should find another way to reach them.
It’s too crowded
You may not believe it, but only 4 years ago it was not commonplace for businesses to use Facebook. Studios didn’t really get the point (most still don’t) and large corporations thought the whole social media thing was a fad that would fade. Small business pages used them to constantly talk about themselves and their products, but at least they were in the under utilized position of reaching consumers for free via a channel few put much stock into.
Now there are more than 25 million small business pages on Facebook! It isn’t easy to stand out in that crowd and only those with the most creativity, time and money can hope to compete. Sure, it feels safe now to say you have a Facebook page and you can still open a new one for free for every new project you start. But are you really going to put in the time, effort and money on a regular basis to make the page work? If the answer is no, don’t even start one.
Overcoming the Facebook algorithm
Some have said that Facebook perpetrated the biggest practical joke of the internet age by convincing brands and advertising agencies to spend money building up a large following only to restrict the ability to reach that following unless further payment is made. Others have said without the restriction, a user’s newsfeed would be inundated with useless promotional crap from companies who have no other interest than to use Facebook as a free advertising tool, ruining the ability to connect meaningfully with things users care about. However you see it, it is no secret that Facebook does indeed throttle the reach of your posts through the use of their complex and ever changing algorithms. Assume a day will come when the organic (ie, free) reach is zero.
Be platform neutral
Realize that social media channels are only tools in the long game toward building a base of support. Sure, people peruse your Facebook and Twitter follower numbers and make quick decisions about how “successful” your work is, but ultimately it is how interested, engaged and loyal your audience is that will make the biggest difference to your sustainability. None of these tools will last forever. One will eventually be usurped in popularity and the users will move on. The central idea behind all of them is the connections, the trust and the loyalty you are building and to bring that audience to the channel you do control–your own site.
Choose a social channel that you actually enjoy using, one that allows you to express your creativity on a daily basis, and where you can find like minded individuals to truly connect with. If that channel is still Facebook, then just be prepared to pay to participate.
To start with, I’d like to say that filmmakers should focus on the word social and less on the word marketing. This type of promotion 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. Also, I take the position that all artists should be connecting directly with an audience not on a project-by-project basis, but on a personal one. Instead of starting over again for each project that is incredibly wasteful of time and money, you strive to keep building up the audience base for all of your work, really for you as an artist with a unique vision and a unique voice. No one else can tell the story the way you can. Even behind the scenes crew have a unique vision and unique talents. They should be sharing those with the world.
We all sell every day, we sell a concept of ourselves in how we speak to people, how we present ourselves and I think we inherently understand this. But before I want to do business with someone, I want to know I can trust them, and that I am not being used. I think many corporations still don’t get that about this medium yet. People don’t join your Facebook page to be your word of mouth sales force. Building up trust with your audience is paramount and you do that by giving first. You have to give something, and often for a long time, before you can ask. In fact, if you do this right, you won’t have to ask, they will ask you, they will offer to help.
Don’t attempt this begrudgingly or because everyone says it is something you are supposed to be doing. Start from the place that you are trying to find the people who would love what you do and you want to interact with them. Unless you are anthropophobic, this should be human nature, to connect with kindreds. There are people in the world who are like you and now you have this amazing tool to find them wherever they live in the world. Leave behind the notion that this is about numbers, this is only about sales, this is about buzz and think of it as a way to meet those who will love what you love. All of that other stuff is a by product of this. It will come, but it won’t come immediately and you need plenty of time to build up to that and it will take consistent effort daily.
I realize this is not the stance that most businesses take or understand. They want numbers, they want quantifiables. Utilization of social is no longer something that needs to be justifiable for business goals. Along with advertising, it is a business tool, increasingly a major one. Internet users expect to find you on social platforms whether or not you feel like that benefits the bottom line yet. It is and it will continue to do so.
Also note that this will not be your only tool when you are ready to start selling. Publicity, advertising, and email communication still very much have a place in your overall marketing efforts, but if you build a following consistently, your reliance on those more expensive tools will be minimized.
The key platforms for social network marketing:
I believe pretty much any site on the web is a social networking site. Any place where people can post links, comment, upload information, follow others has a social aspect to it. So those could be blogs, forums, publication websites (New York Times, WSJ), photo sites like Flickr or Instagram, video sites like Youtube and Vimeo, podcast sites like BlogTalk Radio, streaming sites like Ustream. I think people hear social networking and mostly think Facebook and Twitter, but really to be effective in reaching an audience, you have to know where they particularly hang out and it may be on Facebook and Twitter, but it also may be a LinkedIn group, or on Amazon, Meetup or certain blogs.
Any priority ranking to them?
It is hard to argue not being on Facebook since they have over 800 million users worldwide and 435 million are using Facebook from a mobile device. While 155 million of those users are from the US, 43 million are from India and the same from Indonesia. Other top countries are UK, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey.
Based on Alexa rankings, the top social networking sites for the US market are:
But there are surprising ones in the top 15 such as: Tagged, deviantArt, Orkut, Ning and CafeMom. Don’t underestimate the power of Pinterest too.
It really depends on who your audience is and what they respond to, where they spend their online social time. You will have a mixture of sites, not just one and you will need to test which ones are giving you the most interaction. Maybe your audience really loves watching videos or they really love deep discussions at the end of blog posts. You will need to test what posts are popular and elicit interaction, even from your own website, which I will say you also need. You should never be totally dependent on a third party site. Just ask those who had free Ning sites instead of websites. When the free option went away, they risked losing their communities and had to pay to upgrade or start from scratch again. The same with Facebook and their EdgeRank algorithm. If Facebook deems that one of your fans doesn’t interact with your page enough, they remove it from their newsfeed, often unbeknownst to that fan. Since you haven’t been able to message them directly, there really isn’t a way to bring them back into awareness of your page barring spending money to advertise.
A website you own is the only true online real estate you can control. It is the central hub of all of your activity, everything else is just a spoke on that central hub. Collecting email addresses is also extremely important, but that is for another post.
There is no magic formula for being successful at social, everything has to be tested and the results will vary with each project.
Does it depend on the nature of the film?
No. The decision to be social really isn’t up for debate anymore. Americans spend 22% of their online time each day visiting social networking sites, 65% of all adult internet users have a social network account of some sort. This is not a fad that is going away, the upcoming generation doesn’t even know a time that social networking didn’t exist. It will get bigger, not smaller. Deciding which sites to spend time on will be determined by the kind of audience with which you need to connect.
What are key tips for social network marketing?
Get a personal account going on the sites where you think your audience hangs out and start using it. I am astounded at agencies that sell social networking solutions and don’t have much of a presence themselves on social sites. How can you advise how to use them when you don’t personally do it for your own business? How can you handle someone else’s account when you don’t have one of your own? Every filmmaker hoping to connect with an audience needs an account.
Start by listening first. This is best accomplished when you don’t need to build an audience by tomorrow, you know what I’m saying? If you have this pressing need to start connecting, people can sense it right away and they won’t interact. It is like the insurance guy who walks around a networking event handing out cards in order to meet a sales quota, not actually speaking to anyone other than a sales pitch. No one likes it in real life and they don’t like it online either. This is not a one-way message medium like advertising. If you want to speak, but not interact, just buy an ad. Listen first, determine how best to interact and then dive in.
You are now a publisher. No way around this, it is just the way it is now. A new term for this is social business. A business that can collaborate, share insights and knowledge, and provide value to their audience is going to be way more profitable and sustainable than those who remain closed off from them. This means publishing content of some sort, either generated from your production or generated by your fans, but probably a mixture of both. It needs to be entertaining, insightful, worthy of discussion and sharing, and pulls the audience back for more again and again. We just entered an era of waaaay more work than we used to do. Not one piece of creative advertising, but hundreds of pieces in different mediums and across multiple channels that are meant to lead to discussion with the brand (yes, you are a brand) and with others also connected to that brand.
What are some key mistakes? Some “Don’ts”:
Waiting too late to start and using social only to self promote. Remember, self-promotion is about helping OTHER people. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you help others, THEY promote you. If they don’t, then you weren’t really helping (the help originated through clearly selfish motives) or you just haven’t connected with the right people.
A couple of examples of filmmakers who really get it right:
I hate to give the same examples as everyone else, but the best I’ve seen as far as sustainable interaction (meaning they aren’t clearly doing it just to promote their latest project and then drop out of sight again) are Kevin Smith and Edward Burns. They are consistent, they interact, they use multiple mediums, they don’t use social as a one-way shill mechanism and I don’t think they have an outside agency cultivating their communities.
I also really admire Tiffany Shlain, she has a great grasp of the power of social networking even though she advocates unplugging (gasp!) for a day each week. Her film, Connected, is about the power (and the curse) of the Internet to connect people, but Tiffany was doing this long before she made the film.
I know there are now more and more filmmakers building up their own audiences, but they may have only started in the last few years and they didn’t come out of the old machine so their followings aren’t as large as those examples. People like Gregory Bayne (Driven), Zak Forsman (Heart of Now), Kirby Ferguson (Everything’s a Remix), Jennifer Fox (My Reincarnation), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) are all building up their own followings, not just around their films, but around themselves as artists. Even people like Hal Hartley and Abel Ferrara are now starting to embrace social networking and crowdfunding. I really hope to be able to list tons more doing this every year.
It is completely perplexing to me that those who already do have a following from the traditional machine, do not reach out, really have no idea who watches their films and have no interest in knowing. This mentality is not going to serve them well with the consumers coming up in the world today who are used to interacting, who expect to have a dialog. The only thing I can think is, well, no one is popular forever, no one retains power forever. There will always be a new crop coming up behind and I think indie filmmakers who are embracing this concept now are well positioned to be the new crop.