“This is a learning process. Your habits will change as you become more adept at using social media, and as the platforms themselves change.”
Did you know that social media platforms account for roughly 50% of all time spent online? Collectively, we’re spending more and more of our lives engaging with content on networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Love it or hate it, social media has become a valuable tool for filmmakers who want to reach an audience.
Using social media to drive interest and investment in you and your movie projects can seem intimidating – or even impossible. That’s why we wanted to take some time today to discuss successful social media strategies for filmmakers: so that you can spend less time fretting about the tools at your disposal and more time actually telling and sharing your stories!
To that end, we’ve boiled down our research and experience with social media best practices, distilling them into 10 essential steps. Our hope is that, although this is by no means a comprehensive guide, it will be more than enough to help you start unlocking the potential of social media in your filmmaking outreach efforts.
I. Pick Your Platform
Of course, you’ll want to identify where your target audience is spending their time on social media. Facebook is a far-reaching, rather all-encompassing platform which, at the time of this writing, boasts more than two billion monthly active users. Twitter is a great venue for networking and news updates, while Instagram’s visuals-first format is (currently) most popular with younger generations.
If you’re a cinematographer, Instagram could be a good fit, allowing you to share representative photos and videos from your work and life. If you’re a comedy writer, Twitter could function as a forum to share bite-sized jokes. If you’re a documentarian, then you could focus on Facebook to share think pieces and drive discussion with people likely to appreciate it.
Don’t stress out about needing to be good at all social media, all of the time. Instead, pick a platform to start with and stick with it. Learn its ins and outs and build your following until you’re ready to add another platform to the mix. You may find that one platform is enough to engage the majority of your audience. One step at a time! If you try to do too much too soon, you run the risk of getting overwhelmed, giving up, and doing nothing at all.
To help illustrate the concepts we’re discussing, let’s invent a couple of filmmakers and look at their use cases.
AJ is a female filmmaker with a short film, “Amazing Short”, playing the festival circuit. It’s a comedy starring an up-and-coming female comedian. Meanwhile, JR is crowdfunding for a feature-length documentary about environmental conservation. Perhaps AJ begins her social media efforts on Twitter, engaging her audience wittily and frequently, building relationships. JR decides to focus on Facebook, mixing articles about the environment with upbeat crowdfunding updates.
II. Find Your Audience
Make a list of all of the words that describe you and the work you do. Try to come up with 30 words or so. Next, identify common themes in the list and look for people already in that space on the social media platform of your choice.
Depending on the platform, a good way to find these people is by searching the words on your list as hashtags. Study what they’re posting and which pieces of their content have the most interactions. How can you shape your own posts to leverage the trends you’re seeing?
More generally, what artists inspire your work? Which companies are producing content similar to your own? What kinds of films does your audience enjoy watching? Identify these accounts and figure out what they’re sharing with their communities. You’ll have a better sense of the sort of world you want to create with your own content.
Of course, save your word list for future reference and feel free to keep adding to it! Think of it as a springboard into your greater strategy.
AJ’s word list may include: Comedy, Comedian, Independent, Short Film, Women in Film, Funny Women, Woman Director…
JR’s word list may include: Documentary, Feature Film, Environment, Eco, Green, Environmental Conservation, Save the Planet, Crowdfunding…
III. Engage Your Audience on Their Terms
Now that you’ve studied some related accounts, take a look at who’s engaging with them. Do some reconnaissance – learn who these people are and what sort of content they like and engage with. Follow them and get a conversation going! Be proactive. A snowball doesn’t make itself; you have to get it rolling down the hill first. Similarly, your audience isn’t going to build itself until there’s some momentum behind it, and in order to get momentum, you need to do some virtual networking!
If you’re on Twitter, you can use lists to keep track of what your favorite accounts are sharing. This makes checking in with keyword topics and other segments you define relatively quick and easy. Regardless, by liking, responding to, and re-sharing posts by your inspirations, fellow filmmakers, and fans, you’re contributing to the conversations they already care about, on the platform they’re already using, encouraging them to reciprocate and keep track of you.
AJ could create lists for: Comedy, Women in Film, Film Festivals, Screenwriting, Short Films…
JR could create lists for: People Who Supported My Crowdfunding Campaign, Documentary Filmmakers, Environment, Film Festivals…
IV. Be Consistent
If and when you decide to keep up with multiple social media platforms, try to create the same usernames, or handles, for each, and be sure to use the same profile photos. You may even want to use the same bio and descriptive text. The reason for this is that you want to maintain a consistent brand. People should know it’s you regardless of what platform they find you on.
Of course, there’s plenty of advice out there about when you should post, how often you should post, etc., but these are generalizations – useful points of reference but not hard and fast rules. Don’t obsess over what you “should” be doing in order to cast the widest possible net. Instead, learn the patterns that work best for you, taking into consideration the schedule and frequency that tend to win the most and best responses from your audience. Try posting at different times of the day and on different days of the week to figure out your optimal windows. Once you’ve found them, stick with them! People may come to expect new content according to the pace you set.
Throughout all of this, be sure to set realistic goals for yourself. It will take time to collect and analyze the data that will help you determine an effective rhythm.
Moreover, making time to post regularly can be a challenge, so planning a week or even a month of content in advance is often a good idea. That way, you’ll have content queued to cover for the days you’re not available on social media.
Again, it will take time for you to learn what’s optimal for you and your brand. This is normal. Don’t panic if things don’t “go viral” overnight.
V. Plan Ahead
We’ve touched on this already, but it’s worth repeating: consider planning out some social media content in advance. In addition to helping you cover gaps in your availability, advance planning affords you the opportunity to create mini-campaigns. You can share according to an outline and space out your content, resulting in a very intentional and curated feed.
For example, if you have a film releasing online, you could take screen grabs and release them over the course of the week leading up to the premiere, building anticipation. Or do you have some sweet behind-the-scenes photos from a recent shoot? Instead of sharing them all at the same time, space them out, keeping your feed alive, varied, and interesting.
Time-saving tools like Sprout Social, Buffer, and HootSuite are useful ways to manage your social media presence, whether you’re working on one platform or several. They can help you plan ahead and even analyze data trends unique to your audience. Of course, this sort of assistance comes at a cost! It’s up to you to decide whether or not to incorporate such tools into your social media workflow. Some platforms already have scheduling and analysis features built in. Facebook, for example, includes an “Insights” area for Pages eager to learn more about their audience and reach.
Remember AJ? She knew she’d need social media content, so she made sure to take photos of rehearsals, production meetings, and life on set. After the shoot, she created a few short video teasers and posted them along with the very best photos to her new Instagram profile. Since she’s managing both Twitter and Instagram, AJ has invested in a social media management tool to cut down on the time spent toggling between platforms. She queues up a couple of posts a week on both platforms, tagging all relevant cast and crew members so that they’ll see and perhaps share the posts with their own networks.
Meanwhile, JR continues to curate content related to his documentary, spaced out so that his feed doesn’t feel spammy. He intersperses thank you messages and shout-outs to his crowdfunding supporters and shares footage clips and interview quotes from his film, intending to spark conversation. He also keeps his audience abreast of updates on the film’s progress.
VI. Use Hashtags
You’ve already searched hashtags in Step II; now it’s time to share some! Hashtags are vehicles of discovery. People could find you the same way you found them in Step II; namely, by browsing content associated with the hashtags you choose. Don’t underestimate the power of hashtags. They’re especially important on Instagram, which at the time of this writing allows you to use up to 30!
If you’re on Twitter, check in with what’s trending and adopt the hashtags of the moment that feel true to your brand. Don’t include hashtags that don’t feel at home in the world of your social media presence, however. People can tell if you’re forcing something that doesn’t work for you just because you want to increase your reach.
It’s a good idea to use a hashtag for each one of your projects to help you keep track. For example, AJ would use the hashtag #AmazingShort for her latest project in posts related to her short film. This helps make your projects easier to find.
VII. Participate in the Community
Your ultimate goal may be to build an audience for self-distribution or crowdfund your film project, but what that looks like in practice is fostering relationships. You’re connecting with other living, breathing human beings who care about and appreciate your work, and whose work and perspectives you’ll want to engage with as well.
Social media is rarely a one-way street. Think of it as a large-scale conversation with your friends and acquaintances. If you only ever talked about yourself, it would be hard to build a real, meaningful relationship, right? Be sure to check out what your fans and followers are saying. Be responsive and engage with them and their work. Support your fellow creators by sharing what they share, too.
The more you converse with others, the easier it will become for you to maintain a lively social media presence, since you’ll be connecting to a wider conversation.
AJ has plenty to post about her own short film, but she makes sure to post when her cast and crew have news to share, too. She replies to comments from her fellow filmmakers and other audience members and checks their profiles regularly so that she can like and share what they have to say. She also continues to search relevant hashtags so as to discover new creators to support.
Similarly, JR spreads the word about environmental groups whose missions are close to the message of his film. He shares others’ events and fundraising campaigns when they align with the vision of his film, and he stops by his followers’ profiles from time to time in order to chime into conversations that are important to them and relevant to him.
Don’t overthink this, guys – just build community! It’s the virtual equivalent of in-person networking.
VIII. Don’t Stretch Yourself Too Thin
You don’t necessarily need to create a new account for each film you make. Instead, keep track of things using hashtags. Sure, you could set up a shiny new account for a project that has a specific niche audience or that doesn’t fit your overall brand image, but nine times out of ten, it’s wise to keep things simple. Don’t make things more difficult than they have to be. If you start from scratch, you need to repeat steps I through VII.
AJ rocks the hashtag #AmazingShort whenever she posts about her short film on her own personal Twitter and Instagram accounts. Conversely, since JR has been working on a feature length documentary for several years, he decided it was best to create a separate Facebook Page and Twitter handle. He shares movie-related posts on his personal accounts.
IX. Adapt As Necessary
You probably won’t get social media perfect right off the bat, and that’s okay. This is a learning process. Your habits will change as you become more adept at using social media, and as the platforms themselves change.
The more active you are on your social networks, the more data you’ll collect, the better you’ll become at predicting what works for your audience and what doesn’t. If you’re scheduling blocks of content at a time, evaluate what worked best from previous campaigns and incorporate those conclusions into your future strategies. Don’t hesitate to delete older posts that no longer fit your voice! Social media is a moving target.
Tools like Canva are great for designing a variety of posts for Facebook and Instagram, sprucing up the presentation quickly and easily. A Color Story is a handy app that will help you color correct and prettify images for Instagram and Facebook. Basically, there’s an increasing number of social media-minded solutions out there to help you stay nimble in your content creation without compromising quality.
Even so, sometimes it’s hard to muster the energy you need to create your own posts on a regular basis. When you fall into a slump, remember that you can stay active simply by engaging with other people’s posts. Be present and consistent even during your dry spells.
AJ used to share her best posts on weekends, but recently, she’s noticed an uptick of engagement during the middle of the week. Inspired by this data, she decides to try sharing her coolest content on Wednesdays. She’s also started experimenting with Canva, adding text to some of her Instagram posts for variety.
JR has observed that he gets the most interaction with his posts when he uses the hashtag #EcoDoc, so it becomes a regular in his rotation. People aren’t interacting as much with his text-heavy news articles of late, so he’s decided to focus on finding and sharing more video content instead.
X. Remember to Be a Person
Authenticity is key to social media these days. We can’t stress this enough. Think of your account as an extension of yourself as a filmmaker, and even as a person. Don’t hide behind your project and your brand; show yourself!
Have conversations with your audience and your fellow creators. They’re an opportunity for you to refine your creative voice and discover what communicates most effectively with your online community. With any luck, the interaction will be a reward unto itself, but whenever you get discouraged, go ahead and take a step back and remember that these people can help you reach your ultimate goal of finding viewers, crowdfunding your film, or whatever the case may be. Try to approach social media as a tool, not a chore, and do you best to find a way to make the experience fun.
For AJ, this means posting things in her own voice, which matches the voice of her work, and following people who create and share the sort of content she naturally enjoys. Consequently, she’s naturally forming relationships online. For JR, social activism is a driving force, inspiring him to engage in conversations around a cause he cares about.
What keeps you going, Indie Film friends? What steps do you take in your own social media strategies? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
– By Courtney Hope Thérond
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