I recently conducted an online seminar with my favorite online community, dedicated to discussions around documentary filmmaking, The D-Word on my Twitter workflow. After hacking at Twitter for six months, I have finally figured out a few successful strategies that grant me a couple dozen new followers a day with 15-20 minutes of work that has connected me with DP’s, producers and a host of mentees. I want to share my experiments and share tips on what works and what doesn’t to save you some time in coming up with your own strategies.
While every filmmaker will use Twitter differently, the overall key for a winning strategy is to make the best use of your time. The more efficient you can be with your time, the more exponential your traction on Twitter will be. I will outline from start to finish what I do and explain the reasoning behind each step. Every audience is different though, every film is different, every filmmaker is different: we all have different voices, and the only way to know what really works for you audience is to experiment and see how you can get the most traction the most quickly.
If you’re a total newbie, the first thing you need to do on Twitter is to get your account set up. And one of the most important things is having a professional picture. If you want people to follow you, you want to look real. You want to look like you are producing valuable content. Hiding behind a cartoon of Garfield or a picture of your dog communicates that you are probably just another fan. The second thing to think about when getting set up is your bio. Here again you want to communicate your expertise. List awards you have won, or anything that illustrates your credentials. List some projects you have worked on and perhaps most importantly, communicate the niche of what you are posting about.
Having a niche is key in order to get folks to follow you. People are going to follow you because you have valuable insight, which is why we post credentials and valuable content, which is why we specify a niche. If you are a huge celebrity, you can post personal comments on whatever comes to mind, but unless you are an established personality, people really don’t care about your innermost thoughts or what you had for breakfast. What is valuable is news, research and unique and expert opinions. If you do special effects, covering that world can be your niche. If you are a historical documentary filmmaker, focus on what you know best, content on history. If you are a fantasy writer, share your inspiration in that genre. Make it clear in your bio what your account is about.
The next thing to consider is how to schedule your Tweets. Sure you can use the Twitter app to post your Tweets, but you have to be on Twitter all day to get any real traction. If you don’t want to be glued to your phone you will need some software to schedule your Tweets. I use a program called Buffer. Some folks prefer Hootsuite. Personally, I find Hootsuite’s interface cluttered and confusing, but I know folks who manage several large social accounts at a time with it who swear by it. For my purposes, Buffer works better.
Sign up for Buffer and install the plugin for your web browser. This will install a button in your browser’s task bar, that when clicked will add the page to your Twitter queue. When you are doing your regular research on your niche from your favorite specialized news feed (Google News, Voat, Reddit, Facebook, etc.), one click on the button when you have the page loaded, click “add to queue,” and you have scheduled a Tweet. Additionally the Buffer plugin will create a Twitter icon on all Tweets from other people. One click, and you have scheduled a retweet. Check out this video on how to use Buffer.
Next, set up your schedule. Buffer’s research suggests that 4-5 tweets per day, 11-15 tweets, and at 21-30 are most optimal. Again this will depend on your audience, and your content. Experiment and see what works. What should you post? For me, images, and cartoons are the far most successful tweets. Any friends you may have who have large amounts of followers, tag them with an @ mention if you have content which is relevant to them. Non-profit organizations who are supportive of your film, film festivals you’ve screened at and people acting in your film are all great to tag. When someone who knows you sees an @ mention that references them, they may retweet your tweet to their large audience. Also, be sure to return the favor. Twitter works best within networks of mutual support. Support your friends by posting on their projects, promote your crew, and hopefully, they will do the same in return. The more you give, the more you get.
The friends you already have, however, are likely not enough to really get leverage on Twitter, unless you already possess large mainstream success. This is why I connect every day with new people by following them. I have selected a few popular accounts of folks who post content that are similar to my interests (documentary, subculture, fringe politics, the environment). I find a tweet with 100-150 retweets and that matches the kind of content that I post, and I will follow about 100. About a third of those people will follow me back.
While following folks you don’t really know may seem spammy, as long as you a legitimately interested in connecting with people who have similar interests as you, and you don’t unfollow them after they follow you back, I think ethically it is fine. This is how I meet new folks from all over the world who I want to connect with.
Twitter notes they do not allow “aggressive following” which they describe as “indiscriminately following hundreds of accounts just to garner attention. However, following a few users if their accounts seem interesting is normal and is not considered aggressive.” So as long as your following is focused, and is not done on hundreds and hundreds of accounts a day, you should be okay doing this.
The next problem though is that if you follow too many people without unfollowing those who do not follow back, you will hit a limit at 2,000 follows. The way around this limit is to unfollow those folks who have chosen not to follow you back, and a piece of software called Manageflitter makes this very easy. After you have waited a day for folks you followed to follow you back, log into Manageflitter, make sure “batch select” is off on the right, and you will quickly be able to click the unfollow button to unfollow everyone who does not follow you back. This will keep your followers to following ratio healthy and you will be able to follow more than 2,000 people. Here’s a video about how to unfollow with Manageflitter.
Another thing to note is that if you are using this technique you are going to end up following a lot of people. This is why you are going to want to use lists instead of you main feed to see what is happening on Twitter. Lists will allow you to create customized feeds however you like, so you can keep on top of news happening by topic. Here’s a video about how to use lists on Twitter.
So my workflow goes like this. Everyday when I am doing research and I find a link that lines up with my niche I click the Buffer icon in the toolbar of my web browser to share a relevant article. I’ll look online a few times a week for pictures and add them to my Buffer queue. If I have a shoot or a lecture I will add posts with pictures covering those events manually to Buffer, and tag others involved. I check my friends’ accounts to see if they are up to anything interesting, and share their project updates by clicking the Buffer icon that shows up in the tweet.
I will look at one of several accounts that cover my niche and see what tweet is popular that day. I will follow everyone who retweeted the popular tweet. I will check my direct messages and @ mentions to stay in touch with folks who are interested in connecting. The next morning I will unfollow everyone who is did not follow back, and repeat this process.
Once in a while you can look at the analytics in Buffer and see your post popular Tweets. Feel free to reschedule those tweets. Since most tweets are only briefly seen, after several days, it is appropriate to reschedule content.
Here are some questions I received during our seminar:
Q: What about film project accounts vs. personal accounts? Which should you use and when?
A: I use my personal account as much as possible. You need an account for your film because people will look for it, but once your project is over, in most cases, that account will be useless, while your personal account might last you for your entire career. I will post updates on my films on their accounts, but I will always @ mention my personal account and try to get by audience onto my personal account however I can.
Q: Can you overdue hashtags?
A: I think so. I don’t think they communicate well, often give a snarky feeling, and outside of events I haven’t found them a great way to connect with people. For events though, following and talking to people with an event specific hashtag can be very powerful.
Q: Can you follow back too much?
A: Not for me. I love connecting with people, but if you are an established filmmaker, and looking cool is important this might be an issue. Some people think it looks good to only follow key influencers who follow them back. If appearance is what you are after this might be something to consider, but for me, Twitter is all about connection.
Q: Is it better to add a comment to a retweet?
A: I think so. That way the person you are retweeting gets an @ mention and is more likely to see you. You also have the opportunity to add your own voice.
If you have any other questions, I am going to be doing another online seminar this summer open to the public. Feel free to shoot me anything you are working on or struggling with to @zookmann.
Jesse Zook Mann is an Emmy-Award winning television and film producer and director, specializing in subcultural storytelling. Jesse most recently released the film “Punk Jews.” Past clients include: NBC, MTV, VICE, Travel Channel, Discovery, Al Jazeera, Cafe Mom and Broadway.com. Jesse is currently in the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media Program. You can follow him @zookmann.
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