FilmmakingFrom Fearing Social Media to Making It My BFF: Growing An Audience for your Show or Film
April 18, 2018
I created the web series Distance because I wanted to share my experience of being in a long distance relationship. I had never seen a show specifically about long distance, and I was fascinated with the evolving technology that made long distance love possible while also creating new and strange barriers between us and those we love. And, more than that, I wanted to write an authentically awkward cyber sex scene. So began my relationship with Distance.
The next two years were a blur — we wrote and shot a pilot, crowdfunded over $20,000 on Seed & Spark (woot woot), and finally wrote and shot the series that premiered just yesterday. Throughout that entire process, the thing I wanted to do least was think about how to reach an audience, specifically creating and managing our “social media presence” — even that phrase gave me the heebies. I was terrified.
“No one is going to care about your show, it’s not even released yet!”
“The world won’t care about another Instagram account for a web series with no famous people.”
“We’re already the most indie of indie productions, now you wanna add social media. What sort of monster are you?”
And then in the days leading up to production, I realized I couldn’t put it off any longer, so I created our Instagram and Facebook pages and began down the road of building a meaningful relationship with an audience that has come to champion the show: the long distance relationship (LDR) community — a devoted, supportive worldwide collective of people in relationships all across the world helping one another through the difficulties of long distance.
When creating Distance, I never thought of the broader LDR world that existed or that there would be a community waiting with open arms to receive the show. I made Distance because it was what I knew, and I was fortunate enough to have my own story met by thousands of others wrapped up in their own tale of LDR. So, if you take one thing from all this, let it be that if you make it matter to you, it probably matters to others as well, and in that intersection will be your audience. Now for the real question: how do you connect with that audience?
Listen (to the Hashtags)
Hop on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and anywhere else people hang out and start searching the hashtags (or keywords) that relate to your show. For us that began with the simple #longdistancerelationship search and quickly evolved to a wide variety of hashtags — #ldr, #ldrlove, #ldrproblems and about 50 more. The hashtag #longdistancerelationship has about 750,000 posts on Instagram alone!
That’s nuts — and amazing. Immediately I realized there was a community of people here, an understanding that deepened as I started reading all of the posts made by those in the community. I quickly saw there were couples who created entire Instagram and Tumblr accounts devoted to their relationship. With names like “3749miles” (example), these accounts chronicled the daily struggles of being long distance, an experience made easier by the shared understandings brought through online community. It’s nice when others “get it.” And perhaps it would be nice if a show “got it” too.
Authentically Follow, Say Hi and Ask Questions
After you listen and listen and listen, start to follow people in the community. Send messages to folks and be as honest as possible. Authenticity is everything here — people need to understand that you genuinely want to be a part of their community, not that you want to simply pop in for a few days, get those views and bounce. While we’re here, let me just say — DO NOT under any circumstances go into a community and think that you can outsmart people. People of any community, digital or otherwise, are very perceptive about outsiders coming in and wanting something from them, so before you do anything more, please commit that you want to actually be part of this community. If you don’t, have a long think about why you made your show/film in the first place. And if you don’t have the time, totally get it — find someone on your team or a consultant who can help here. Authenticity is KEY.
Once you’ve followed people, reach out via DM (direct message) or email and say hi. Explain what you’re up to and, if possible, share some content from your show. Once folks can see what you’re working on, they will (usually) be far more likely to connect and want to be a part of the journey in getting this story — THEIR STORY — out to the world. And feel encouraged to ask them to share their stories. Because every online community, no matter how big or small, sees themselves as not fully understood by the broader world, a fact that is both exacerbated and aided by the internet.
Start conversations: see what they’re excited about in the community and ask questions. I realized early that a truly great benefit of social media (and art) is that it helps people feel less alone. Answering questions in a public forum and seeing other people’s answers is a great way to create this feeling, so our account began to ask questions like the one below which resulted in 190 likes and 190 comments. And this was before we had even begun shooting the show.
Once I realized that the community was more interested in content that pertained to them directly, I started reaching out specifically to people in LDRs and asked if they would like us to feature their story on our page, a series we called “Real Life LDRs.” The series became a huge success and accomplished a few key objectives:
- Amplified the presence of people’s relationship stories through our channels
- Deepened our relationship with specific individuals who learned more about the show through our back and forth messages.
- Increased the overall awareness of the worldwide prevalence of couples in long distance relationships, a benefit both to the LDR community and our show.
Give digital advertising a shot. I know, I know — everyone is upset at Facebook right now for all the data they have, but as unpopular an opinion as this might be, that data can be an independent creator’s BFF. For example, I can target ads with the Distance trailer on Facebook specifically to people in a long distance relationships. That means that our near zero marketing spend can be used to maximize eyeballs on our trailer and show. And while your audience may not be as easy to target, there are ways to reach them. I found Seed&Spark’s “Who Is Your Audience” section of their class super helpful for this, both during our crowdfunding and as we released. And if that’s still not working out, find an expert in the Facebook and broader social media game to help you out. There are lots of folks out there who want to help.
Before you do any advertising though, have a little heart-to-heart with your god or the voice of your parents and see if it feels like an okay thing to do. In our case, sharing the Distance trailer (a show that’s free) with more people doesn’t feel unethical in any way, so we moved forward with the campaign.
The fact is, there is an audience for your show. It may not be as easy to identify as the LDR community, but it is there, and it is made up of people who are already connecting both online and off. Your show or film may likely speak directly to that community or spark excitement and interest around the community, as art often does.
So hop on in, listen for a while and say hello. Oh, and watch Distance, duh.
Take a page from Alex's book and get started on your audience-building journey. First stop? Our completely free online class.