Connecting with Your AudienceSo you have your site up and running. Now what? How do you get people to visit it?

You have many options: optimizing your site architecture for search engines, outreach via people you know, and social networking, outreach via organizations, via SEO keyword optimization, and finally, by making your site attractive to web surfers.

What You Can Offer

You have to adopt the proper attitude toward your audience and supporters. Ask yourself what you can give them rather than what they can do for you. If you focus on the former question, the latter question will answer itself. Always remember that people are busy, so there must be an incentive for them to spend time on your website; your film itself is not enough. Always consider how knowing about your film and organization services their business and/or personal life

Organizational Outreach

As a founding member of Brave New Films and director of alternative marketing at Focus Features, Lisa Smithline pioneered a new model of community-based distribution while working on films as diverse as Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices (2005), Trouble the Water (2008), Crips and Bloods (2008), Crude (2009), and many, many more. As a top notch, grassroots community marketing strategist, she has a catchphrase for working with organizations: Do it for You (DIFY). Engage organizations that will, in turn, do a lot of marketing and outreach for you.

  • Research: You might consider hiring a grassroots consultant to do organizational research, which could also cover some of your Internet press outreach. It is best to hire someone who is interested in film, they will be more enthusiastic, and enthusiasm is important. It is not a stretch to give associate producer credit to someone whose sole role is research or community outreach. This is a perfect task for the PMD.
  • Outreach: Recognize the organizational and institutional structures that exist around your film’s topic or theme. This is much easier with films that deal with an issue that has an organized base (e.g., environment, women’s issues, etc.). Many organizations are dedicated concerns such as these, and even for the types of films that address them. Organizations also include communities invested in the topic—fan communities, blogs, new media, etc. Find them! Many of these groups are eager to be partners. They might help fund your film or generate audience awareness, or even help you connect with people to interview. A consultant can help brainstorm ideas for various types of niches.

Boyle suggests contacting organizations in a non-pitchy way via personal email. The following are some tips for sending these emails.

  • The email should be personal, not a blast.
  • Your email address and the subject line of the email must be used effectively, so the reader actually opens the email.
  • The outreach person should use an email address that incorporates the title or the subject of the film.
  • If you have been referred to an organization or a person being contacted by someone else, put the name of the recommender in the subject line.
  • Research the person you are emailing and direct the contents of your email to their interests. Engagement them from their point of view.
  • Keep the as short as possible.
  • While Boyle does not recommend cold calling there are still many people who respond to a phone call faster than an email; if possible, try to gauge these contacts and reach out to them via phone.
  • Remember that outreach is about relationships. You will have many of these relationships for a long time. They are valuable; treat them as valuable.

Using Your Website

Search engines like activity on your site that has substance. Once of the easiest ways to regularly update your site with new content is with blog posts. While Twitter has begun to take the place of the instant short blog, I do feel that there is still space for more in-depth writing about your film. Additionally, it is important to blog from your own personal site, not just a blogging site, as it creates activity directed toward you and your projects, which is what you are looking for.

If you don’t like to blog, hire a ghostwriter who does. Perhaps it is the same person doing your organizational outreach and/or your PMD. One of our producers, Tracy Wares, handled blogging for Bomb It’s blogging for the first three years. After her, I enlisted Harrison Bohrman, who earned his co-producer credit through a two-year commitment to blogging and tagging on the Bomb It site almost every day. Whatever their relationship to you, make sure that they have a connection to the film before hiring them to blog.

Benefits of Blogging

Blogging means higher search rankings for your film in relevant categories. Use blogs to chronicle the progress of a film, or to write about other organizations you are partnering with, share news related to your film, share the people in your film, and whatever else might be of interest to your audience. Blogging drives traffic to your site as you link to new or interesting stories related to the subject of your film (e.g., for Bomb It, we blog about graffiti around the world, in addition to news about the film).

Benefits of Tagging

Tagging is marking your posts with keywords that you want associated with it. You’ll need to tag your posts in two ways.

  • Search engines pick up on keywords when you tag. Create a list of keywords for your film that your post will always be tagged with, and then add specific keywords to describe the content of the blog.
  • Ensure you drop keywords into the titles of your blog posts so search engines can easily find the keywords.

Frequency of Blogging

Obviously, your film schedule will have some bearing on the frequency with which you can create blog postings; however, you should be posting at least once a week, if at all possible. Try to develop a manageable production rate you can maintain to get your audience accustomed to a regular flow of postings. You should also factor time spent on Twitter and other social media sites like Facebook into your schedule.

Blogging Topics

Of course, you should promote your film and film screenings via blog posts. Additionally, you should blog about the topic of your film and how it impacts the world today. This will make your film seem relevant to your audience on a broader level and keep them coming back to your site. One simple way to generate blog topics is to use Google Alerts. You can sign up for keywords of significance to your film, and then Google Alerts emails you related articles on a weekly or daily basis.

Cultivating Relationships

Blogging and linking via keywords are two easy ways to create relationships between your film and people who are (or should be!) interested in your film, organization, and website. Search engines can improve your rankings, not only by linking other sites to you, but also when other sites write about you. For this reason, it is best to create mutual, dynamic relationships between related sites.

  • Blog about and link to sites related to your project.
  • Request (politely) that the sites you link to link back to you.
  • Get other sites to write special feature blogs about your film during production, post-production, and distribution. Ask them to review it and post about screenings and to list your website when writing about you.
  • Create affiliate relationships with other sites.
  • Create relationships to generate community screenings.

Encourage Joining Your Mailing List

The best way to get people on your mailing list is to give them a bonus for signing up. When we first set up our mailing list, we sent people free stickers, which helped us get 2,000 to join before the film was released. Here are some offers you can make that are a bit easier to implement.

  • A discount coupon when the film is released
  • Exclusive pre-release purchase opportunities
  • The ability to purchase a signed copy of the film
  • A combo package (e.g., a DVD and a poster)
  • Email updates about the film
  • Access to behind the scenes footage

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is crowdsourcing as applied to film finance. It allows fans and supporters to invest in your projects and career and participate at a step above the mailing list level. It is also becoming a significant source of funding for media content creators of this generation. Another way to promote participation is to offer special deals or “goodies” for people who donate. So, for example, you might post something like the following on your website.

  • A $10 donation gets you access to behind-the-scenes footage and updates.
  • A $25 donation gets you a free copy of the film two weeks before the release date.
  • A $50 donation gets you all of the above, as well as a “special thanks” credit at the end of the film.
  • A $100 donation gets you all of the above, as well as the ability to make suggestions on the final cut of the film.
  • A $500 donation gets you all of the above as well as an invitation to the set.
  • A $1000 gets you all of the above as well as an “Associate Producer” credit.

And so on. You can coordinate this fundraising through a PayPal account, Kickstarter, or any number of online tip collecting services. However, there are now a number of emerging media finance sites. IndieGoGo.com, for example, is strictly devoted to films and takes a nine percent commission on all funds raised. Slava Rubin, one of the website’s founders, views crowdfunding as a primary step in developing a relationship with an audience.

He also reports a one-to-five ratio of funds raised on the site to funds raised due to their site. So, if a project has raised $20,000 on IndieGoGo.com, studies indicate that the film usually raises five times that amount as a result of publicity from the site. One reason for this, according to Rubin, is that contributors who are not inclined to participate in crowdfunding often see the donation page and opt to donate directly through the film or the organization’s homepage.

In addition, IndieGoGo.com recently announced an alliance with the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) for fiscal sponsorship. This is when your non-profit-worthy project is covered through a larger, non-profit entity, allowing a tax write-off for donations for your film (usually for documentaries). This allows you to collect tax-deductible donations without having to undergo non-profit status for yourself. You can also apply to SFFS for fiscal sponsorship and, if accepted, any fund raised via IndieGoGo.com will only be subject to a seven percent fee.