The Art (and Importance) of Building Your Audience
Tackling another panel from Sundance 2014 this week, this one about building your audience, a topic that should be the main concern of all storymaker/creative/filmmaker planning to produce work and share it until they die (boom. drama.) and wishing to cut through the noise to reach straight to their public.
Before I move forward though, a note to anyone, *anyone*, organizing Q&A, masterclasses, panels or workshops in this global world, and tackling subjects that have anything to do with technology and creativity: consider embracing this crazy platforms named Youtube and Vimeo and using them to share and archive the events you’ve put so much energy organizing, to build your audience and gain karma points. And please, *please*, stop butchering long formats into under 3min videos. Nobody cares.
Now that that’s behind us, let’s talk about the below panel, which had an interesting line-up: Dani Faith Leonard (Producer and Co-Founder of Big Vision Empty Wallet), Alex Cirillo (Producer and Co-Founder of Big Vision Empty Wallet), Jason Ward (Producer and Distributor, Candy Factory Productions), Ryan Koo (Filmmaker and Entrepreneur, Founder of No Film School & Co-Founder of Exit Strategy), Zack Lieberman (Filmmaker and Co-Founder of Exit Strategy)& Brian Parsons (Tugg)
I would recommend to listen to the full panel below, if only to discover the crazy marketing campaign Big Vision Empty Wallet pulled off during Sundance to build their audience and give their name visibility. And here is a sum-up of some of the ideas I thought were relevant and worth sharing:
1 – Understand What Lies Behind the Concept of Building an Audience:
If you are here for the Long Game, and if what you want is build a career, you need to think differently than if you just want to promote one particular film. Building an audience is a long term relationship that develops overtime. Maybe people will come to you because they were first interested about the topic you tackled in your film, but ultimately you want to try keep them because they want to know what you will be doing next.
2 – Social Media Are Nice, but Emails Are Better
Social Media tools can be really rewarding, and help you create buzz and awareness when you run a campaign or are organizing screenings, but for the long term, you want to build your relationship with your audience by collecting emails. Emails allow you to reach directly your audience, and even though everybody won’t open your email, the probability that people will come across your message via email is much higher than by betting on them looking at their twitter feed or facebook wall at the right time. (or pestering them via Social Media)
3 – Find an Incentive that Will Motivate People to Give You Their Email
People receive ton of emails everyday, and most of them, they trash straight away. The easiest way to usually convince someone to give you their email is to give them something first, aka an incentive. A widely used incentive is the free ebook: writing an ebook with content that will help your audience in exchange of their email. Ryan Koo mentioned a filmmaker that offered the soundtrack of his film for free in advance in exchange of people’s email, and Zack Liberman went the extra mile with his site: free-3D-glasses.com that sends free 3D glasses (as you might have guessed) to anyone in the world in exchange of their email.
Liberman did mention that this might not have been the best idea ever since his website went viral and he ended up with 85,000 emails (i.e. glasses to mail). Unfortunately nobody thought about asking him how he was dealing with a cost of such enterprise (producing the glasses, mailing them, paying for the mailing list and the time spent dealing with everything). If you are planning on giving incentives, keep in mind that the cost can become high, especially if you go for perks that requires production and mailing.
Dani Faith Leonard and Alex Cirillo also insisted on an important point: don’t give incentives that seem random or that won’t interest people but rather find incentives that will keep them involved in your project. I think in that sense, Liberman’s incentive is great: he is working on a multi-platform story that is in 3D whatever the medium, so for people to ask for 3D glasses is the best way to ensure they will have a way to appreciate the story whenever available, and to keep them curious. Perks that should be banned in my opinion: a signed copy of your screenplay or a DVD (!!!) for $50. These perks smell like the 20th century, I don’t think many people want to add objects to their overpacked houses, and your signature isn’t worth as much as you’d like to think. (no offense)
4 – Think About Crowdfunding As a Tool To Build Your Audience More Than to Raise Money for This One Project
Something everybody agreed upon is that crowdfunding campaigns are a great step for you to create awareness about your project and find and/or expand your audience. Of course, you do a crowdfunding campaign because you need money, but this act of asking strangers for money goes beyond a monetary transaction. As I’ve mentioned before, crowdfunding can be a double edged sword if you don’t take good care of your audience but, as Brian Parsons explained, a film that has done a crowdfunding campaign will have a much easier time to build a buzz for a Tugg screening, because it often has a crowd of people across the country and “in the trenches”, willing to help spread the world, which it wouldn’t have otherwise.
5 – Deliver Content in Multiple Ways
That’s another important point: there are more and more ways to share your process and to make your work available once it’s completed. You don’t want to limit yourself to national screenings (otherwise, why did you try to get Likes and followers on a global scale?), consider streaming platforms such as Distrify or VHX to name a few. Make it easy for your audience to find you. In the same way, if you have an Instagram, a Twitter, a Facebook or a Pinterest etc. understand that each platforms has a different type of followers and thus requires a different type of content. Of course you can sometimes cross share the same cool picture, but whether your followers follow you everywhere, or just on one platform, coming with fresh content on each platform is more effective. (Check Gary Vaynercheck‘s talk “Stop Storytelling Like it’s 2007” for more on that).
6 – Don’t Make Screenings, Create Events
When you plan a screening, try to be creative about its format. Doing a Q&A afterwards is one of the easiest way to make it more than a screening, but you can go one step further by having special guests, [stand-up comedians doing a 20 min show after a screening were mentioned, if you’re film or documentary is about sports, dance, music, you can try to ellaborate an event around that too] and transform what looks like a straightforward experience as something quite thrilling that will stay in your audience’s mind and also motivate them to spread the world about your film.
The Big Vision Empty Wallet team pointed out that Interactive Events get people interested and excited about your work, and that’s a good way to collect information. Ryan Koo also mentioned that you can be creative, doing live streaming and using technology to compensate lack of budget.
7 – Find Sponsors and Partnerships
Last but not least, finding sponsors and creating partnerships are two good ways to expand your audience. It might be easier if you’re working on a documentary, as you can try to find organizations and associations that are directly linked to your subject matter and offer people to make a contribution to those organizations (and thus collect data). But, there is one piece of advice that I thought was really good for all filmmakers: work with other indie filmmakers to cross-promote your work. This one I love particularly because it might be the one that we overlooked the most: ask your peers!
Jason Ward mentioned what I thought was a brilliant idea: an indie filmmaker asked a peer who was doing a screening if he could show the trailer for his coming movie. It’s a simple and efficient way for him to reach an audience in a personal and powerful way (and get some feedbacks), and to make the screening event something a little bit more than what it initially was, at no cost for any of the filmmaker. This is something I have done personally numerous times on mentorless by offering filmmakers to write a guest post to create awareness about their projects and their crowdfunding campaigns. I often can’t give as much money as I’d like to, but I try to compensate by giving them maybe a wider visibility.
Hopefully you found some insights in those seven points. You can get even more by watching the full panel below:
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check the archives for a taste of it.