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.
Sheri Candler March 26th, 2014
In our final guest post highlighting crowdfunding, Radio Free Albemuth producer Elizabeth Karr explains why success all comes down to preparation. We hope you have enjoyed our month devoted to crowdfunding advice and we plan to release a white paper roundup of the best crowdfunding tips in this series in a few weeks.
People donate to Crowdfunding campaigns for three reasons:
1. The People.
2. The Project.
3. The Premiums.
But maximizing your chance of success depends on the fourth P – Preparation. This is crucial and will be the focus of this article.
It’s incumbent on any of us doing a Crowdfunding campaign to make it an enticing, exciting, and well-thought out project that will attract backers. That’s a given. But having a terrific project isn’t a guarantee of success. You need to get the word out and get your campaign in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Particularly if you are trying to raise a substantial sum like writer/director/producer John Alan Simon and I did with Radio Free Albemuth Theatrical Release Kickstarter.
I’ve seen great projects fail because of a lack of organization and so-so projects succeed because there was a targeted effort to reach out beyond family and friends to people who have an interest in their subject matter. Like Blanche DuBois, crowd-funders depend on the kindness – and interest – of strangers.
So when do you start to prepare? Right now. If you are even thinking about crowdfunding in the future, take the time to do the following steps NOW. You’ll be too busy during your campaign to tackle these tasks. Get a jump on them with the added bonus that up-to-date contact lists put you in good standing for marketing and promoting, in general.
1. Clean up your personal email lists. Make sure contacts are up to date. Organize them by category: Family, Close Friend, Acquaintance, Business, Cast, Crew, Science Fiction, Philip K. Dick, etc. Choose categories that make sense to you and your project. During your campaign, this allows you to tailor pitch emails to the recipient.
2. Use Bulk Email Programs. Sign up for and/or build your subscription list on one of the many mass mail programs. We use Constant Contact. There are a lot of bells and whistles to this and other programs. Take the time to familiarize yourself with them now. Create templates for future use. Organize the contacts by category as above. Add a sign-up button to your website for new subscribers. These contacts are invaluable as they are people who have chosen to be kept abreast of what you are doing.
3. Research bloggers and news outlets that cover your subject. Create a contact list (Email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest) so you are ready to go pre-launch and on Day One when you announce your campaign. And don’t wait for the campaign to contact them. Engage with them now. Become part of their community by commenting and sharing information. Presumably, you are already interested in the topics they are writing about, so you’ll increase your knowledge. Plus you are expanding your circle of friends and acquaintances, and possible backers. Crowdfunding is all about community building.
4. Contribute to other’s campaigns. It’s good karma and you get to see how campaigns work from the donor’s side. It also gives you an idea of how much to charge for premiums and you can pick up tips watching others’ pitch videos. Before launching our Kickstarter for Radio Free Albemuth distribution, John Alan Simon and I contributed to over 100 campaigns. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m more likely to donate to a campaign when I see the person has backed others. What goes around comes around…
5. Write a press release. The old-fashioned 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, When, Why – that you will send out to bloggers and media outlets two weeks before launch, and again on Day One. Be sure the contact person (probably you) is someone who responds quickly to each and every request for photos, interviews, additional information, etc. News outlets move fast. You need to be ready when they are.
6. Build your team and designate ambassadors. Crowd-funding is a full-time job and you will need help. Enlist members of your outreach effort now. Make it easy for them to help you by giving them clear assignments. For example, we engaged the Philip K. Dick community to share with their friends and followers. Our friend Franceska Lynne, researched sites that were interested in Alanis Morissette, Shea Whigham, Kathryn Winnick and Ashley Greene, who are actors in Radio Free Albemuth. Create a list of tasks to do during the campaign that you can delegate amongst your team and ambassadors. Your cast and crew are likely candidates to help you. Don’t assume they will be there. Chat them up. Get them involved.
7. Create email templates that friends, and family, – and people you meet through social media – will send out to their contacts about your project. Again, make it easy for people to help you. Give them the template and they can tailor it/personalize it.
8. Prepare videos, clips and articles for Updates in advance. In the whirlwind of a campaign, you don’t want to be editing clips from your movie. Have them ready to go. The more prep work you can do ahead of time, the more time you have to focus on building concentric circles of connectivity when your campaign is up and running.
9. Build your social media presence. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re not, do so immediately –- both for you and your project. Be social. Engage. Comment. Share. Retweet. Don’t just jump on the scene with a megaphone for your campaign. Your message is more likely to get across if you’ve proven to be a good listener.
10. Face to Face and telephone conversations are still very valuable. There’s nothing like IRL (In Real Life) interaction. Tell people in advance what you are thinking of doing. Not everyone is on social media or makes decisions by email. Friends and relatives who already believe in you are your most likely early supporters and contributors. For many of us, crowdfunding is not a natural fit, and we have to get used to asking people to support with us with donations and/or time. The more comfortable you get with your role as a Crowdfunder, the more effective you will be as an advocate for your project.
11. Ask for Day One support. Now that you’ve organized your contacts by categories, target 50 that you will send a pre-launch email and ensure their support on day one. Follow that up with an email when your campaign goes live. That way, when you announce your campaign to the world, those clicking on your link will see that you already have backers. It’s a reassuring sign to potential backers that others support the project.
12. Never lose sight that Crowdfunding is as much about building community as raising money. Equally important to the funds raised on our successful Kickstarter is the community of 827 supporters, who are now part of Team RFA. Many of them are actively taking part in the film’s journey beyond their financial contribution. John Alan Simon and I agree that this is the best part of the Crowdfunding experience – the people.
Is this Crowdfunding Prep list exhaustive? No, but it’s a good start. Did John Alan Simon and I do each and every one of these to perfection before we launched? No. Will we next time? Yes.
A few parting words. We continued to get queries from people who wanted to back our project after Kickstarter ended, so we created a Slacker Backer site on our website powered by PayPal that will be live for the next few months. Donations and sharers welcome! All rewards will be delivered the same time as the Kickstarter rewards. All funds go towards Radio Free Albemuth’s theatrical release. To reiterate what I said about Crowdfunding being an important builder of community and resources; this site was created by Kickstarter backer Victor Grippi, who we are proud to have as a new Associate Producer.
Follow Elizabeth Karr on Twitter @elizabethkarr and Radio Free Albemuth @rfamovie. Visit the film’s website for more information http://www.radiofreealbemuth.com
Sheri Candler December 2nd, 2013
Posted In: crowdfunding
In the last post, I talked about the mindset change that artists have to go through in order to successfully use social networking. In this post, I want to dispel some myths that people have about how social networking works so that you won’t fall into unrealistic expectations. Other posts include Mindset Change, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube
Myth #1 Social networking is FREE
While it is possible to set up accounts on social channels for free, the expense of time and money to maintain them is not. To accomplish goals on social channels takes planning, creating compelling content, optimizing it for search engines, and publishing it on a consistent basis. If you plan to have a person dedicated to handling all of this for you, they should be paid. If you plan to have Facebook as your main channel for audience engagement, you’ll need a budget just for promoted posts and advertising to help build up the page and keep in contact with the fans you attract (more on EdgeRank when I cover the Facebook platform). Running social media “campaigns” of any kind will take money as they are essentially an advertising function (Campaigns are short term efforts meant to have maximum impact. More on this below.)
Myth #2 It works FAST
As anyone who has been active on social channels will tell you, building up a significant following takes time. Lots of time. Everyone starts with zero. If you were planning to use social channels as your main tool for gathering attention for your work, I hope you have already started giving to a community well before you will ask favors of them like spreading the word on your work, attending screenings, buying merchandise, etc. This isn’t a 10 minutes a day kind of activity (contrary to what some social media authors would have you believe), it is an activity that should be ingrained into your creative life starting now.
Myth #3 You won’t need a website, just use Facebook
It is extremely unwise to be completely dependent on a 3rd party site to keep you in touch with an audience. What if that site gets shut down? What if they close your account? What if they change the rules about what you can do with your page/take away functionality? That direct connection to an audience is in jeopardy when you allow a 3rd party to have control over your account. Your website is YOUR online real estate on which you are building your creative empire and you must have control over it. You will want to control how it looks and how it functions as well as collecting data on your online efforts and on your supporters (email, location, interests etc). While you will use certain social tools, first and foremost you must have a site that is under your control and from which you can make money.
Myth #4 An intern is fine to handle it
Would you let an intern speak for your production on Entertainment Tonight or in the New York Times? Social media channels have a global reach and are cataloged in search engines to be found at any time in the future. Anything published from your social accounts represents YOU and your work. Letting just anyone speak for your brand is not a good idea. The best person to let loose with that kind of responsibility is not your 23 year old intern just because she is “good at Facebooking.” That isn’t a knock on 23 year old marketing professionals because, if they have business training and marketing skills, they are definitely a great member for your team. Social media is really many things wrapped into one: marketing, customer relations, media relations, crisis management, and branding. It will probably take a small team of professional people working from inside of the production (as opposed to hiring an outside firm) to find long term success using these tools. If you entrust a member of the production, intern or otherwise, with this responsibility, make sure your social accounts use your company’s email and everyone has access to the passwords. Otherwise, you could wind up with no access to these accounts if and when that person leaves.
Myth #5 Social media works like advertising
Unknowingly, you may be using your social channels like advertising. Advertising puts out one way messages designed to interrupt the widest audience as possible usually to sell something. It is a paid tactic where the receiver has little choice but to be interrupted from what they are trying to do (watch a TV show, listen to music, read an article, drive in traffic etc). Advertising is about pushing a message with little regard for those who hear it.
Social media is a pull tactic. Rather than interrupting people with messages they don’t want to receive, social channels enable people to give their permission to speak to them by following your page or your account. They expect not only to hear from you, but to speak back to you and they expect you will listen and respond. A dialog, not a monologue. Also, they follow you based on things you share that are valuable to THEM, not just to you. Advertising doesn’t listen, or require any dialog. It is a one marketing tactic of several you can use, but don’t confuse it with what people expect on social channels.
You may use the term “campaign” to speak about using social channels to advertise your work, but social networking is not a campaign. Social networking is a long term, ingrained activity that professionals now have to incorporate into their lives. A campaign is a short term effort meant to drive toward one specific goal and definitely involves spending money to make sure that campaign is heard.
In actuality, any place online where information can be published, commented upon or shared is considered social media. That pretty much encompasses the internet. Now that I have outlined over the last 2 posts how to approach your efforts on social channels, the next few posts will dig into the main 3 sites commonly referred to as social media being used by most people; Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
Sheri Candler June 5th, 2013
This piece by Jeffrey Winter originally ran on the Sundance Artist Services blog on March 22, 2012
We all know that the vast majority of folks make their film-viewing choices based on what they are hearing about a film — be it from friends, traditional media, the blogosphere, or social media. They’re not likely to go out of their way to proactively research a film, and if they haven’t heard anything about a film, they aren’t likely to see it. Whatever you want to call that…be it “buzz,” “word-of-mouth,” “going viral,” etc…it is the name of the game in contemporary grassroots marketing.
But how much can a filmmaker actually control that? We all know the ways they can try – by playing film festivals, hiring publicists, engaging their community via social media, reaching out to organizations, etc. Of course it helps if a film is actually good…really good, in fact….as the last thing today’s marketplace needs is another mediocre film. And the values of passion and hard work can’t be overlooked here either, as creating buzz and engagement for a film is often arduous and time-consuming…and for many filmmakers nearly as daunting as making the movie itself.
Often it feels like independent films are at the whim of the zeitgeist, and the most important aspect is timing, and the receptivity of the marketplace to the ideas in the film. Consider the cycle of elections, and the way political/environmental/social issue docs can explode into national consciousness around certain hot issues. Given the time it takes to make a film, it’s hard to know whether anyone can actually craft a film to hit at just the right time to capture a “trending” topic.
In the case of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize winner AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, all the factors mentioned above came together in the final months of post-production to land the film this January at Sundance as an unlikely “buzz” film of the Festival. On the surface, it’s a straightforward documentary by a first-time filmmaker about a Chinese artist/ political dissident completely unknown to the majority of U.S. filmgoers. Hardly a guaranteed formula for indie marketing success.
But just below the obvious, the twitterverse was ablaze promoting the film; the Kickstarter campaign was raising funds and attracting attention; art magazines were giving the film covers; and filmmaker Alison Klayman had already done numerous appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and The Colbert Report as well as print features in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, The Economist and The Hollywood Reporter. A few weeks later (by mid February), the trade publications were filled with the announcement of its purchase by Sundance Selects, and the New York Times was running a feature article about the film’s upcoming Summer 2012 release.
How does something like that happen for a debut filmmaker with no special access to funding, shortly after finishing a film about a Chinese artist?
Well, of course this wasn’t just any artist — Ai Weiwei is an internationally renowned art star and political provocateur whose unyielding criticism of the Chinese government has earned him legions of friends, enemies, and fans alike. And Weiwei isn’t just an average political dissent, he is a dissident for the digital age, who because of the rigors of Chinese censorship has taken his activism specifically to twitter through linked computers to the West, and therefore has mastered the art of social media all on his own.
This is the study of a modern documentary subject, who is just as likely to be able to spread his/her own message through the media on their own, through the accessibility of social media, even in free speech-challenged China. In this case, it becomes the story of the filmmaker that becomes the mouthpiece of the subject…which many might argue is the way that it should be.
Filmmaker Alison Klayman began her work with Weiwei in 2008, as a recent Brown University graduate living abroad in Bejing and working as a freelance journalist. Her housemate was curating a show of Weiwei’s photography, and Klayman was asked to make a video for the show. Klayman and Weiwei hit it off creatively, and Klayman began to follow Weiwei as his documentarian — capturing his daily life, his frequent battles with the Chinese authorities, and his travels abroad for major international art shows.
Weiwei’s daily use of blogs and videos to spread his artwork — especially his videos criticizing the government’s response to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province – became a driving narrative in the film, as well as a grassroots vehicle for spreading Weiwei’s fame and fan base. When the Chinese government finally cut off his locally-sourced blog, Weiwei was able to migrate his work to an ungovernable network of twitter-linked computers, untraceable to China. As such, his network was able to dramatically expand globally, while remaining accessible to tens of thousands of Chinese willing to access these quasi-legal networks.
From 2008 thorugh 2010, Klayman’s documentary follows Weiwei through major international art shows, startlingly intimate private moments, and incredible courage in the face of political adversity. And whenever Weiwei had a run in with the Chinese authorities, the encounter went instantly viral, through a devoted staff who filmed his every move and posted it immediately to twitter.
In late 2010, Klayman returned to the States to begin editing, without the financial means to complete the project. As such, in addition to applying for grants, Sundance labs, and bringing well-connected executive producers onto the projects (largely through Weiwei’s connections in the art world), Klayman strategized and launched a Kickstarter campaign, scheduled to go live on March 29th, 2011. And that’s when the film caught a kind of lighting in a bottle.
Only four days after the Kickstarter launched, Ai Weiwei suddenly disappeared on April 3rd…apparently arrested by the Chinese Government, but without any official announcement or confirmation of his whereabouts. A global outcry went up throughout his social networks, the art world, and then the international press caught on to the story as well.
As a journalist and Ai Weiwei’s documentarian of record, filmmaker Klayman quickly emerged as the “journalist of record” on the Weiwei story, and the international press began flocking in her direction. Suddenly, it was the twitter feeds that Weiwei’s staff and Klayman had been maintaining throughout the documentary filming periods that became the main source of worldwide news for Ai Weiwei updates. Klayman and her social media teams ramped up their efforts in the U.S. and China, and started working on a rotating schedule to provide 24 hour updates on the story for several months. For all of 81 days, as Weiwei’s secret detention continued without any official response from the Chinese government, the international press continued to feature Klayman’s twitter updates on the story, and interviewed her about the story for numerous high-profile news programs.
Of course, Klayman was careful not to try to turn the story into a shameless plug for her movie…after all, her friend and colleague was “disappeared” and detained, and concern for his well-being was the first priority. But inexorably, in today’s hyper-media culture, Klayman’s sudden thrust into the mainstream became completely entangled with the finishing of the film…and catapulted the project into a far larger spotlight.
The film’s Kickstarter soared above the original asking goal of $20,000 to a final tally of $52,175 from 793 backers…even though it was only originally expected to bring in money from friends and family. The film attracted additional producers and lab invitations that Klayman freely admits it probably wouldn’t have. All in all, the film became a “cause célèbre” for an issue in the news, a fact which filmmaker Klayman could hardly have counted on while making the film.
When Weiwei was finally released, with a dubious charge of more than 1 million dollars in tax evasion, support from the community-at-large continued to pour in, with donations to the cause far exceeding the amount of the government fine. And filmmaker Klayman was finally free to turn the enormous pouring of goodwill towards deliberate promotion of the film, helped in large part by the incredible networks built during the crisis on twitter, and to a lesser extent, on Kickstarter and Tumblr. It is also worth noting here: because the Kickstarter campaign included a number of incentives/prizes towards donation, the film now had a wonderful amount of merchandise it could also now leverage towards wider buzz about the film.
Given this backstory, we can demystify the process of how a small film sometimes gains “buzz” beyond expectations…as was clearly the case with AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY and its incredible fortune of timing combined with passion, hard work, technical savvy, and community networks. Sometimes a film that seems the most difficult to market actually has the most subtle niche communities that can be reached…whether they be political activists, art-world enthusiasts, devotees of Asian culture, social media junkies etc.
However, according to filmmaker Klayman, perhaps the greatest takeway is this…. in today’s hyperlinked/hashtagged environment, it is ciritical to remember that today’s documentary subjects no longer solely rely on their documentarian to spread their message, and social media makes potential distributors and activists of us all. Sometimes, today’s filmmakers just need to choose their subjects wisely, and hold on tight for the ride.
Here is Klayman’s interview for Sundance’s Meet the Filmmaker promo videos
Orly Ravid April 9th, 2012
It is no longer enough to just make a film, you have to create community and anticipation for your film as well. And social media and viral outreach takes a long time to reach critical mass, so build your social media presence into your production schedule.
Just this week a filmmaker asked us…”I’m in post-production, should I wait for a distributor or start thinking about marketing now?” The answer? — do not wait for anyone! By the time you exhibit your film at a film festival you should already have built a community so that you can make the most of your public exhibition and be best positioned to distribute your film effectively and as directly as possible… And it also so happens that distributors these days are looking at your number of facebook friends and your twitter followers to help them make acquisition decisions….as it helps them gauge interest in your film.
But even more pointedly, one’s ability to get onto Cable VOD will be impacted by perception of marketing and audience interest and that’s still the lions share of revenue stream in digital and very competitive, and for when your film is available on DVD and digitally, you’ll have a community to distributed to. Think of your film as a cross-platform story, and allow your community to access it from whatever medium they choose…that way when the film is finally finished they’ll be primed to see it. So don’t procrastinate….start letting people know about your film NOW.
Orly Ravid July 26th, 2010