The 2011 Total Film Blog Awards results are in, and No Film School has won the Best Creative Blog award. Thanks to everyone who made this possible by voting! In fact, so many of you voted for No Film School that I was accused of cheating by some commenters and temporarily removed from the contest by the organizers. The controversy stemmed from the fact that many of you voted within a narrow window of time, and some believed this could only be the result of fraud. It was no such thing. If you're curious as to how this happened, read on; otherwise, thank you again for your support. The award should help this site grow and improve in the future.
This was a "popular vote" contest, so there was no curatorial aspect once the nominations were announced -- it was entirely up to you. Some of the controversy stemmed from this. Because I would've felt miffed if I'd lost the award based on the assumption I was cheating (guilty until proven innocent), I thought I'd take the time to explain exactly how this happened -- and what people can learn from this, in terms of how social media does (and does not) work. Before I do so, I'd like to thank Total Film for the nomination, the award, and for coming around to understanding exactly how this was possible.
There is a difference between a judged (qualitative) and a popular vote (quantitative) contest. When we won the Webby Award for Best Drama Series, for example, it was because a team of judges deemed our show the best. At the same time, there was a People's Choice Award, which went to Lonelygirl15, as we expected -- Lonelygirl had hundreds of millions of views, was on the cover of WIRED magazine, and generally had a fanbase hundreds of times larger than our fledgling urban western. In the case of the Total Film Blog Awards, however, it was only a straight popularity contest, ((In fact, let me say this: if I were a judge, I would give the award to Ted Hope or John August. Their sites offer expertise above and beyond what I can offer. Especially at this point in my career.)) so blogs were encouraged to mobilize their audiences to vote for the site they liked the most. On the internet, where building a large audience takes time and effort, those with larger followings were rewarded with more votes. But some of the sites spent a lot more effort promoting the contest publicly than others. In fact, the only site nominated in the creative category with more traffic than No Film School (I think), John August, didn't promote the awards at all. Thus the most determined promoters of the contest -- on Facebook, Twitter, through email, and on their own respective blogs -- were leading the contest early in the voting.
Other than a brief announcement about this site's nomination, I had not been Facebooking and Tweeting the contest like some of the other nominees, and as a result No Film School was lagging in votes. But then I emailed my readers. This is when the controversy started; to avoid such drama, I probably should've emailed you all at the beginning instead of late in the contest, but in all honesty it didn't occur to me to do so at the beginning. But when it comes down to it, these contests shouldn't be won by the amount of effort you put into asking your readers for votes on Facebook or Twitter. The award should be won by the amount of effort you put into your blog in the days, weeks, months, and years before you're ever been nominated for anything. I'd like to think that's what I've done over the past year, living out of a suitcase for ten months in order to launch this site, and delaying film projects in order to build an audience.
Thousands of you voted as soon as I sent you an email about the contest. Suddenly I'd gone from third to first -- and now led by a wide margin. Some of the other contestants, who'd been working hard to garner votes over the past couple of weeks, cried foul. And I can't blame them, as it probably looked to the layman like cheating. Certainly out of the ordinary. Unusual.
The commenters weren't the only ones who found it "unusual" that someone was able to garner so many votes so quickly. The organizers emailed me to say they'd never seen anything like it in the years they've been running the contest, which was why No Film School was removed from the running with a day to go (before being reinstated at the last minute, after I offered my emails as evidence). But the word "unusual" is a fitting one, because I'm not trying to run a "usual" blog. Here is one example of what I've done that is "unusual":
I've given away nearly 150,000 copies of The DSLR Cinematography Guide for free. At 12 megabytes per PDF, that's 460 gigabytes of DSLR guide that I've sent out free since September! ((As you can imagine, this amount of bandwidth is not free, though I use Amazon S3 to deliver the PDFs, which brings the costs down considerably.)) So it may seem like I got an unusual amount of votes in a very short time, but I've also spent an unusual amount of time building a valuable newsletter and giving away content for free.
Here's the thing with Facebook and Twitter: they're not particularly "sticky." If a story goes viral on either service, it can bring in a lot of traffic. But a simple tweet like "vote for me" will scroll past most user's timelines in a heartbeat. An email is a bit different; it stays in your inbox until you read or trash it. That's why an email list is valuable. ((And costly: it currently runs me $180/month to maintain the email list. Because I am not constantly selling stuff to subscribers, however, many months I don't break even on this endeavor (the newsletter does bring in additional traffic, but I'm not sure if it brings in $180/month of additional traffic).)) It's also worth it to me to have a more personal relationship with my readers, and while it can sometimes feel like a slog to answer a lot of backed-up emails (I do my best!), I believe in the newsletter wholeheartedly. Email is different from social media (that article is by the email service I use, AWeber). That's why No Film School got so many votes so quickly, and why there wasn't a preponderance of public evidence as to why.
For the thousands of you who voted for No Film School, thank you, thank you, thank you. So many of you voted that people didn't believe it! Turns out I'm not the only one who thinks my audience is too good to be true.