Last year it was “content marketing”, now the newest buzzword in online marketing seems to be “authenticity”. What does this mean for filmmakers? The good
news is that no one is as in-tune with your audience as you are, so you should know best what kind of content your audience would like to see. The bad news
is, professional marketers are all vying for your audience and trying to be as authentic as possible to steal their online attention away from your films
The annual Stream Market by Brunico leads straight into the wildness known as RealScreen/KidScreen and while small in
comparison, really gives a chance to meet with some top minds in the online media space. The VidCon conference in Anaheim is a massive event focusing
mainly on YouTube, but many of the creators extolled the importance of developing a robust “off-YouTube” strategy. This two-part article focusing on
authentic online marketing for film will be drawing on personal experience as well as insight from some of the various experts I had a chance to interact
with at these recent events.
[Bing Chen-Moderator, Youtubers – Meg DeAngelis, Tyler Ward, Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart]
Which are the best Social Networks to use? How do you choose which social networks to focus on, when there’s only so many hours in a day? The YouTube
Creators Panel at Stream were nearly unanimous that Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook were their platforms of choice for building and communicating with
their audience. Other possibilities include Google+, Vine, Snapchat, Flickr, Pinterest, and many, many more, but the aforementioned networks are a good
place to start. It’s important to remember that YouTube is itself a social network and to utilize it effectively a creator should keep this in mind – it’s
more than just a video hosting service, it’s a community.
I recommend focusing initially on just two of these networks and working hard to understand their particular idiosyncrasies by spending as much time using
them as you can. Really focus on a goal for each and every post you make; whether it be to grow your “likes” and “fans” or drive existing fans to either
another social network, or to a direct-to-consumer facing site. (These days my company focuses on Facebook (162,000+likes) and YouTube (70,000+
subscribers) as our two “main” social networks. We have begun working more with Twitter, but it’s not as robust for us yet as these two.)
Practical tip: It can’t be understated enough that each and every social post must have a goal; that specific “call-to-action” that literally tells your
audience what you want them to do. “Visit xyz website to see exclusive content!” “Download the full movie today at yourwebsite.com!” “Please subscribe and
leave a comment below!” are good examples of clear calls to action.
In his inspiring opening remarks for Stream, Jesse Cleverly of Wildseed Studios recommended “Speaking to [your
audience] in their language”.
In regards to his approach to financing projects he says, “Wildseed are not interested in years of paper development. We do not bend people’s creative
vision to fit the tastes of a commissioner somewhere else. We pilot ideas in conversation with their intended audience. You won’t get a script commission
from us – you’ll get cash to go out and make something, and then you will enter into a dialogue with an audience about what worked and what did not.”
Cleverly extolls the importance of the dialogue between creator and audience and as filmmakers this should be second nature since we’re always making a
film for a specific group of people. The importance of making indie films with a niche audience in mind applies to online marketing most of all. Doc makers
can use interviews, outside press, and video evidence as engaging online bits to excite potential viewers and create an authentic ongoing dialogue.
“Story will save you.” Elan Lee, Chief Design Officer, Microsoft Studios.
The main gist of Elan Lee’s keynote, “The Next Era of Disruptive Technology…” could be boiled down to the wonderfully simple statement. Known for his
creative use of the ‘Net in marketing campaigns, Lee notably made his name by spearheading the wonderful and intricate online universe surrounding the film
A.I. Along with the original online marketing triumph of
“Blair Witch Project”
, this campaign was a watershed moment in film marketing. By way of example, Lee described how his team created an entire backstory around all the
characters in A.I. and brought enthusiastic and curious fans into that world by creating websites and personal accounts for characters and places in the
film. Even without creating such an immersive (and well-budgeted) online universe, filmmakers need to use their online presence to provide a community
experience for their potential fans and followers.
Brands are always coming up against the problem that they need to show consumers that their product is worth something in their lives versus other
competing products and as filmmakers we have an immediate advantage because our films are created to appeal to an audience on an emotional level as art and
entertainment. We’re naturally authentic when we are engaging with our audience about our films. Holding contests and giveaways to encourage dissemination
of content and creation of user-generated content (UGC) are tried and true ways of getting your film’s message to a wider audience.
It’s relatively easy to get free product from companies for giveaways; just Google “brand-manager company xyz” and write the person a note on LinkedIn. (In
addition to the social networks mentioned above, I’m a huge proponent of LinkedIn as an additional social network for business outreach and connections
like this.) Explain in one or two sentences how your film or project aligns well with the brand’s demographic and it’s very likely some free product will
flow your way.
During the shooting of our first film Choppertown: the Sinners I called up the brand manager for Dickies clothing
and tried to get her to finance the film, she laughed and said no way, but sent me a huge box of clothes to pass around to the subjects and crewmembers.
This “currency” went a long way in gaining us credibility. Four years later Dickies financed two films and a European theatrical tour for us which never
would have happened without the first relationship we created early on.
In the “Jump Into Bed With An MCN” panel, Chris Williams, Chief Development Officer, Maker Studios exhorted attendees to “expand the ecosystem” by
embracing technology and the new media landscape in their outreach efforts.
If your film is the nucleus, what are the circulating “particles” of content that will draw passersby into your world? Is there an app or other emerging
piece of technology that you can partner with the help get your message out? (During the shooting of our online live ghost hunting show for Yahoo! we partnered with Spudpickles Studios to align with their Ghost Radar app and
cross-promoted each other leading into and during the show.)
Start early and confidently when reaching out to your audience. Don’t be afraid of the “homey” approach, speak openly and honestly about your film and why
you hope they will enjoy it. Begin reaching out at the earliest stages of production and rally your audience around your concept. Use all the amazing tools
that social media have to offer and aggregate your audience to as few platforms as possible. Speak to your audience authentically.
Even without a huge budget or staff commitment, indie filmmakers can delve deep into their own stories for wonderful content to engage their audiences.
Remember, you are master storytellers. Let your stories save you.
Written by Zack Coffman, Head of Content, Distribution, & Strategy at One World Studios Ltd. Zack is an award-winning film producer specializing inonline strategy and monetization, live streaming, and YouTube channel development. Connect with Zack onLinkedIn, Google+, and @choppertown.