By Sara Kiener
Perhaps it’s poor salesmanship or just good ol’ fashion manners, but I frequently tell filmmakers and producers that they shouldn’t be paying me to explain to them how twitter works. Recently on a call with a very kind and well intentioned producer, I found myself completely baffled that I was charging someone money to answer a seemingly obvious questions like, “so…what is a hashtag?” Now, before you gasp and exclaim to your co-worker “That person must be living in a hole! Everyone knows what a hashtag is.” I must correct you, because you are mistaken.
I have taken calls from world-renowned film marketing “gurus”, who, at a moment’s notice, need me to explain how to write on someone’s Facebook wall; sometimes filmmakers can’t even find their own film’s Facebook page! These phone calls are akin to explaining to my grandmother how email works. As social media technologies evolve and become ever more integral to the marketing and distribution landscape, it’s critical that we all take a collective step back and de-mystify these tools by acknowledging them for what they are: utensils. Like a calculator or a hammer, all you need to do is look at these mediums and take a deep breath. You can figure it out filmmakers, I know you can! As for my grandma and emails, that’s another story.
At numerous labs, panels and consultations, I hear the same question over and over: “when should I start Facebooking?” My answer is always the same: you should start RIGHT NOW. I don’t say this because, as many social media consultants will tell you, it takes excessive time and energy to create an online community. I say it because, frankly, what are you waiting for? There isn’t a secret magical moment that only one group of elite filmmakers are privy to. They simply, just like anyone else, finally had some free time. Additionally, you start right now because the sooner you start the process, the more comfortable you’ll be when your campaign begins to really take off.
First, you need to conquer Facebook and Twitter, then move on to the various social media management sites like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Twilert and Twiangulate, which you’ll be surprised to find can actually be more efficient and easier to use. Once you have these under your belt, you’ll be ready to take on the next “must do” platform (there’s something new every month!). However, if you postpone tackling these platforms, they can bury you with anxiety. Just take a look at the hammer, try it out and think to yourself, “How does this work?” I promise you, eventually, you will figure it out. Here are three quick and painless pointers to get started:
- Google your question! You don’t need a “social media guru” to explain to you what a hashtag is. Look, twitter.com can tell you.
- Most filmmakers I encounter “don’t have anything to say.” I don’t believe you! To ease your anxiety about not sounding cool or smart enough, look up the Twitter feeds of your favorite films from the last year. See what you like and what you don’t like. Then do what humans do best: copy it!
- Make sure at least one person on your team or crew genuinely loves social media (or at least “gets” it). This person can get the ball rolling and then once you’re cozy, you, your intern or outreach coordinator can take over once you’ve been accepted to a festival or are preparing for distribution. If NO ONE on your crew likes social media (Really? Come on now!) then find some interns and get a consultant to train them on basic marketing technique.
But all this leads me to an even larger and more distressing issue: what is the point of all of this?! Let me preface my answer by saying that I MARKET FILMS FOR A LIVING, I love spreading the word, I love engaging audiences, I spend at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week doing it and I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not drinking the social media Kool-Aid! I do not believe that social media is the sole key to a successful marketing campaign. I repeat: I do not believe that social media is the sole key to a successful marketing campaign. In fact, I might go so far as to say that social media can be a distraction from the task at hand.
My job is to connect a film with the target audience, and depending on your project’s financial situation, this might be your job, too. But how can you do this if you only have 62 followers on Facebook? How can you convince a film festival that you have people invested in your film if you haven’t run a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign? How can you convince that prospective acquisition head that your film is different from that other film that came out four years ago on the same topic, if you don’t even have a Twitter account? I’ll tell you: The key is partners. I believe that if your film only has 60 followers, but your partner organization has 30,000 – because they’ve existed long before you even began to conceive of your film and probably have a full-time staff member devoted to online marketing – then you’re in very good shape. Not only that, you can harness their pre-existing “following” and those members will become your allies for as long as you partner with that organization, which, if you play your cards right, can be years.
Additionally, a true partner will not only tweet about your film, they will blast about it, post it on their calendar, put out postcards, even moderate Q&A’s and help you set up panels. More importantly they will connect you with niche marketing and link you up with regional partners, who can then send emails on your behalf, set up fundraiser screenings in different cities, announce your film festival launch, theatrical premiere, DVD launch, VOD and broadcast premiere. Don’t you think that creating this relationship that could span for years is more valuable than having 1,000 followers on Facebook? Well, I can tell you from experience that, yes, it is.
Having a good hammer is one thing. A good toolbox is quite another.