Here are some rules for how to make your audience into your film's best advocates with social media.
Film festival DOC NYC's Pro Marketing Boot Camp, grounded by the storied Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame, focused on grassroots marketing, leveraging partnerships and crowdfunding for promoting your film, and upping your social media game. Much of the advice fell into the common sense category, presented by folks who have been honing that common sense through experience into useful industry know-how, but there were plenty takeaways for how we can all promote our films using existing tools.
Kristin McCracken is a social media strategist, who ran digital media for Tribeca Film Festival and developed the festival’s presence on social media platforms. Since 2012, she’s worked as a social media and content strategist for films, filmmakers, and festivals. At the Marketing Boot Camp, she presented a workshop called Up Your Game On Social Media, which outlined some ground rules, offered practical tips, and suggested best practices towards wielding Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to the greatest advantage for film projects. Some of her tips may seem obvious, but she offered a lot of practical tips to keep in mind. Our top takeaways are below.
Many followers won’t have made a film: share the process, be honest about the ups and downs, and show what making a movie is all about.
Social media basics
In the Things You Already Know category, don’t be narcissistic or annoying—ever—especially on social media. In the Things You Likely Know But It Is Good to Reinforce category: create a short and sweet hashtag and use it across platforms, take your time to craft words and art, and do commune with fans: answer questions, and say thank you. McCracken suggested that filmmakers use social media to boldly experiment, join the conversation, and grow an authentic following.
A strong social media presence for a project takes time to build, and part of the decision you need to make is how much time you have to personally give (if you aren’t hiring a strategist) and how and where to spend that time. With a host of social media platforms available, the heavy-hitters for film projects are Facebook and YouTube, and if one has the bandwidth, Twitter. Filmmakers love Vimeo, but it hasn’t taken off with the general public the way YouTube has. 80% of Instagram users are outside the United States, so whether or not to throw that in the mix depends on where focus is desired. (If you're hungry to delve into more wildcard platforms, Tumblr, Snapchat, and Pinterest are worth exploring).
McCracken suggested some ground rules for your social media presence:
1. Create a voice
For your film’s social media, pick a personality or tone that matches the project. If the film is a documentary focused on the refugee crisis, posts will want to have a different tone than ones promoting a quirky comedy. Be informative, smart, and feedback-friendly. Avoid snark unless that is exactly the tone your project calls for.
2. Keep identity consistent across platforms
Aim to have consistent handles across platforms. If the movie title is available that’s a solid go-to; the words “film” or “movie” or “doc” can be added if they must. Also, keep key art similar across platforms: this is branding. Cover art should represent the film, and profile pictures can be an eye-catching title treatment.
3. Stay focused and organized
Keeping a social media Google doc or other document accessible by the team is highly recommended. This can serve to schedule social media posts and share info with team members, and it can help track goals and progress.
A sample spreadsheet could have a column for Date, Time, Facebook, Twitter, links and key words used (why reinvent the wheel each time a post is made?), as well as an organized way to track social media log-ins, handles of crew and stars that can be tagged, links to a trailer, the film’s website—this list can go on and on.
You can also start an easily accessible folder of “Social Media Assets” associated with the project. These assets could include photographs (behind the scenes photos, candid snapshots of tech scouts or rehearsals, etc) or quick video hellos by actors while on set.
For your film’s social media, pick a personality or tone that matches the project.
What to post
The content of posts and how often you choose to post will naturally vary widely, depending on the type of project, where the project is in development, and your preferences. You want to keep your content fresh; even the profile/”about me”/bio sections should be up-to-date with where the film is in its process. With posting, slow and steady wins the race, and it’s recommended to spread assets out over time.
Posts can include updates or announcements related to the project. Introduce the team. Share frame grabs or candid photos, but photos should be of high quality. Short videos such as deleted scenes, interview excerpts, or clips from the film can also be shared. McCracken emphasized that going viral is a goal. People are more likely to share things they find funny, if that is appropriate for the project. To that end, she recommended creating memes or short and snappy videos.
Another tactic is to give your followers insider access. Many of them won’t have made a film: share the process, be honest about the ups and downs, and show what making a movie is all about. Finally, become a landing place for people who are interested in the topics featured in the film. If you set up Google Alerts to find articles related to the film’s topic across the Internet, you can share them to become a source of information for folks interested in those issues.
In order to learn what kind of content your fans respond to best, set up a Bitly account and use it to share your links, which allows you to track how many people click on what is shared.
The best way to use Facebook
Facebook is widely used and has over a billion daily active users, and gives you an opportunity to build a lasting community. Establish two-way communication, answer people’s questions and reply to their comments, and tag users. Have a strong Facebook page and don’t assume people will visit the film’s website. In fact, if funds are tight, a Facebook page can substitute for a unique website.
Create content on Facebook that you’d like to see. Uploading videos directly to Facebook—rather than sharing links to YouTube videos—will reach more users.
As far as when to post, McCracken recommended posting two to three times a week, or even as little as once a week. If there is a lot of quality content available you could post up to three times a day, or if you are leading up to a release, you could post as often as once a day. In short, post when you have something interesting to say.
McCracken also offered a few time-saving tips. Don't forget that posts can be scheduled ahead of time through Facebook; you don’t have to be logged in the moment your page publishes the post. Also, if you use one Internet browser with your personal logins for social media, and another browser for your film’s pages, you don’t have to be constantly logging in and out. You can use your personal account to like and share your film’s posts to increase visibility.
One of the best parts about social media for low-budget filmmakers is that it's free to use, but you may want to consider setting a budget for Facebook ads targeted at fans and their friends to boost big announcements for increased visibility. The month before a release, having $500-1000 for a Facebook budget can be very helpful.
“The foundation of your career is relationships.”
Tweet as much as you like
Twitter has over 300 million active monthly users, and gaining traction can take time. Follow people who are connected to issues in the film so they may follow you back—and so you can join the conversation. McCracken says tweet as much as you like—just make sure what you say is interesting. Similar to Facebook, posts can be scheduled ahead of time by using third party apps such as Tweetdeck.
One thing to consider is whether you want your Twitter identity to be yourself or your film. As Morgan Spurlock pointed out, how you build your career is something to think about, and what you can do towards the longevity and opportunities are at play in many of your decisions. “This is a business where you make friends and make relationships,” Spurlock reflected. “The foundation of your career is relationships.” Towards this end, McCracken suggested being yourself on Twitter, as opposed to having an account specifically for your film. This makes your account more evergreen, and allows you to build up a following over your career, while still allowing you to talk about your current projects. McCracken believes Twitter users like points of view and opinions, as opposed to passive branding.
YouTube is for the masses
YouTube is an excellent tool for discovery, so use keywords. Create a channel for yourself or your production company and let it grow over time. McCracken recommended creating a playlist for each new project, where creations such as a trailer and behind the scenes videos can be shared, and links to videos shot by others can be added, such as interviews that media outlets may have done with you or your cast.
Morgan Spurlock reflected that getting your film into the hearts and minds of an audience is one of the greatest accomplishments you can achieve. Fellow speaker Caitlin Boyle of Film Sprout, a distribution company dedicated to helping social justice filmmakers create robust community, recommended aiming for relationships with audiences to be transformational over transactional. We want to make films, reach an audience, and make a difference. Social media is a fantastic way to build and engage an audience by creating a space for folks to learn new information and engage in conversation around things they care about. What additional advice or experience do you have to share about using social media to promote your films? Let us know in the comments.