The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

What the film industry should think about when using social media to reach out to the audience

with 23 comments

Does it matter to the film industry what you write on our blog? Can your angry rant reach further than to your regular 25 readers? Do they care when share your love for the movie you watched last night on Twitter or Facebook?

I think they might. At least they have started to take notice. Maybe they haven’t figured out what to make of us yet, but be sure: they’re out there, watching, listening.

Meeting the industry
I saw one example of this recently. Every year the Swedish Film Institute arranges a conference called Malmö Filmdagar, where producers and distributors of movies and other people with a professional interest in film get together for a few days. I’m not quite sure of what they’re doing, but I assume they make  deals, watch a lot of movies, smalltalk and exchange business cards.

I don’t think it’s by hazard that the opening seminar this year is dedicate to social media, with the title “The power social media holds over film”. Moderated by the the CEO of the institute, Anna Serner, the panelists will talk about this from various points of view. There’s  one director, one journalist and one PR specialist from a marketing bureau. The blogosphere is represented by by Åsa Fiffi Lund who runs the blog Fiffi’s Filmtajm.

What I would say
They’ve  announced a few of the questions that will be discussed:

How big influence do bloggers have over film criticism?
How do you best use social media in the launching of a film?
Does the new media landscape hold any threat against our branch of business?

Seeing those questions I started to think about what I would say if I got the chance to speak to the film industry about social media.

What advice would I like to give them? Is there something I would like them to know in how to approach people like me? I also thought about my own role in the world of movies. Why are we doing this in the first place? Could you truthfully claim that the discussions in social media in the long run will contribute to the development of film, that it brings us better movies and helps good movies to find an audience?

A lot of questions have been tossed up in the air and I don’t plan to answer all of them. But here are a couple of thoughts and views that I’d like to share:

1. Social media matter.

It’s enough to look at your kids to see what influences them most in their choices of what clothes to wear, what books to read or what movies to see. They’re much more interested to hear what their friends and role models say about a certain film on their blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts than to follow the advice from some old fart who claims that he’s a professional film critic and hence an expert.

Blogging may be graffiti with punctuation. But written messages on a wall can start a revolution in a country. Don’t underestimate their power.

2. The smaller budget a movie has for traditional marketing and advertising, the more important do social media become for spreading the word and getting it out there.

Speaking for myself there are a lot of independent movies I wouldn’t have considered watching or even heard about it if it hadn’t been for the word of mouth in the blogosphere, on Twitter and on forums. When it comes to a big budget film like The Dark Knight Rises, I don’t think that the 1002nd raving review on my little blog makes any impact at the box office. But the opposite can happen. If there’s a lot of negativity about a certain film flowing through the feeds, I think it will affect the general idea about a film. I don’t think negative reviews from film critics was the only reason why John Carter didn’t make well in the box offices. We bloggers did our share of the work.

3. The unknown blogger of today may be the Roger Ebert of tomorrow.

The borders are dissolving, to the dismay and frustration of some of the established film critics who find it harder and harder to get paid for their job. There are amateur writers out there who do just as well as they do – or better for an audience that can anything from tiny to huge. And you never know: the blogger who has 100 readers can be a future Roger Ebert.

If an unknown blogger approaches you asking you nicely for an interview, don’t just dismiss them thinking they’re insignificant. See it as an investment.

4. Use social media to communicate – not to advertise.

Think of social media as a cocktail party. You don’t go in there talking loudly, bragging and selling yourself without paying any attention to those who are already there and involved in conversations. You sneak in, you listen to what they’re talking about and slowly you’re getting involved.

We want our virtual rooms to be places where we share ideas and meet people, not where we expose ourselves to marketing. That’s what advertising is for. Share something interesting and meaningful with us and engage yourself in discussions and we’ll be happen to listen. You might even be able to sneak in a little bit of marketing once in a while – but you need to earn it.

5. Be nice.

It’s a harsh world out there. If you start looking what people say about you in social media, you won’t have to look for long before you’ll find someone who hates your movie. You need to learn to cope with it. Always, always be nice – even when you’re not treated nicely. The damage you suffer from someone badmouthing your movie is nothing compared to the ridicule you’ll get if you go nuts about it. The rumor will spread instantly, like in a recent example when a Swedish blogger had given a book a bad review. The author took it very badly and started to write sexist comments suggesting that her negativity must be caused by a lack of access to male sex organs. This story is now in the biggest newspaper, spreading negativity around the book as well as the author and the publisher has declared that they never ever want anything to do with this writer again. Never ever put out words in social media in a state of affection. You can’t erase them, ever.

Good examples
So, who is doing it right then? Are there any examples of people in the film industry who share and discuss rather than just blow their own trumpet? Here are a few that I come to think of.

Top on mind for me are Peter Jackson’s video diaries from the making of The Hobbit. There’s no writing on our noses that this is will be an awesome movie that we need to see. He makes us feel invited to share his world. When you watch those films you feel as if you’re a part of the making of the movie, not just an audience targeted for marketing. They’re so enjoyable that we’ll happily share them with our friends, making them go viral.

It’s a bad idea to hire someone to tweet in your name. We spot it easily and it’s frankly pretty off-putting. You want to sense that there’s a real person behind the handle, someone who feels present. An example of someone who does this is Duncan Jones @ManMadeMoon, the director of Moon and Source Code. He’s sometimes funny, always personal and has a ton of interaction with his followers, throwing out questions, answering to other people’s tweets and re-tweeting his own findings. When you’ve built that kind of relationship with your audience, we’re more willing to accept if sneak in a bit of marketing once in a while. As long as it doesn’t’ take over.

My third example is Sean Hood. He’s a screenwriter who runs a blog and tweets once in a while, but most of all engages in the social platform Quora, where he answers all sorts of questions about movies and screenwriting in particular. It’s popular to talk about the benefits of being transparent, but he does it for real.

What would you say?
And now it’s time to wrap up this post. I’ve have a few more things to say on the topic, but I’ll leave that for another day. I’m looking forward to see how the discussions will run at the seminar. Hopefully we’ll get to hear about it through social media, anything else would be a disappointment.

I’ll give the last word to you. If you were a panelist at a seminar for the film industry and they asked you to talk about the role of social media, what would you say?

Written by Jessica

August 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm

23 Responses

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  1. I think I would say something like this:

    Social media is important, but there is nothing intrinsically new about it. In days of yore plays would rise and fall not only upon comment in the newspapers, but due to the chatter at balls (and music theatre acts on conversations in knitting circles and the pubs). Put a group of humans together, and some rudimentary communication tools, and you will get social media. The tools today are different, if cóurse. The electronic age is, generally, both faster and more personal than before. The former change is technological, the second is as much cultural. But the challenge of social media has always existed.

    Different particular forms of social media though are used by different groups of people. If one’s endeavour is designed to cater to a very particular sort of audience, one can craft the message and particular medium to that audience. To use our historical example again, if one had crafted an exclusive opera one would be more concerned with crafting a message appropriate to a stately ballroom than a gin-market. So today, if one wishes to appeal to a very particular crowd the more general forms of social media (twitter, faceboot) may not be as effective as joining particular forums or frequenting particular blogs.

    Likewise never forget that twitter in particular is only used by a relatively small group of people – and not a particularly representative group of people at that. One should not ignore twitter, but in most cases one will rely on it at one’s peril. The same is true of other social media platforms too, be they less well known.

    When one introduces oneself into an online community, never forget it is a community. One plays by the rules of that community. Create a bad impression, and any value one might achieve will be lost. Social media = potential for social faux paus. Be honest, but not rude. Avoid corporate-speak. You either become part of the community, or you might as well not bother.

    Most importantly, never forget what “the majority” find popular is often not what “the select” find popular. The most obvious recent case in point being Avatar, which was massivey popular, yet attracted more than a little opprobrium in more “serious” circles. Remember twitter, blogging, and forums are relatively small communities still, and can be self-reinforcing. Sometimes it is good to step outside the new fangled ways of social media, walk into a pub, or similar (perhaps a bowling alley or restaurant near the local cinema) and listen to what the folks on the ground are saying.

    Because good old fashioned conversation remains the most important of all the social media.


    August 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    • You speak the truth. There’s really a lot of good insight in what you say here that I wish many of my PR collegues heard. Like: “Avoid corporate-speak. You either become part of the community, or you might as well not bother.” Couldn’t say it better. This is what people pay loads of money to hear on seminars and yet you wrap it up in just one good sentence.
      Also: I agree wholeheartedly about the value of overhearing pub conversations. It would be a mistake to assume that the Twitter inhabitants are representative of the audience. They’re really a pretty special kind of people.


      August 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm

  2. Great post Jessica and I agree w/ you on a lot of these, especially #4 “Use social media to communicate – not to advertise” I mean the personal touches make you want to go and support their work. I think Russell Crowe does this well also, ’cause he doesn’t just promote his stuff, he actually engages with his followers on Twitter. As for #3, well I’ve been trying to get an interview with this sort of unknown actor who’s currently filming a movie with a lot of major actors, but so far to no avail. I think they’d be more receptive if I were say, part of The Huntington Post or something.

    I agree that those Hobbit Video Journals are awesome.They’re so welcoming and fun to watch!


    August 17, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    • Thanks Ruth! I haven’t checked out Russell Crowe but thanks for the tip. I really like to follow film people who do this out of curiosity and interest rather than just to advertise stuff.

      Sad to hear that even unknown actors are reluctant to speak to a blogger. I think they make a mistake there.


      August 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm

  3. This is a great post Jessica. I agree that social media is becoming more and more important in spreading word-of-mouth about films, like Alex Withrow’s independent production Earrings, which was released at the end of last month and news of it spread like wildfire across the blogosphere and Letterboxd. I think the opinions of humble film bloggers may grow to be respected and taken more seriously than professional critics, even, because film bloggers are people you can talk to who are happy to give you their time. I enjoy all forms of criticism but blogging really brings criticism to another level, a more accessible one that seems more open for discussion and debate.


    August 18, 2012 at 1:05 am

    • Thanks Tyler! Like you I find myself listening and reading more and more non-professional critics since they’re as you say much more open to discussion, which makes it more rewarding than if you’re just expected to inhale the wisdom of someone. The best ones like Kermode, who we both adore, knows how to communicate though and uses social media in an excellent way.


      August 19, 2012 at 8:39 pm

  4. Respect and humility is key. Tyler’s example of Earrings is a great one. I’m not positive anyone of else will become the next Roger Ebert, but your sentiments connect.

    Sam Fragoso

    August 18, 2012 at 5:45 am

    • No, I maybe Roger Ebert was a bad example. Since there are so many voices out there nowadays I figure it gets harder and harder to reach through and become The Voice that everyone listens to. I think though that film companies that are sniffy about a blog not having enough of readers to be worth their time, should think a little bit forward. PR is very much about building relations and relations with certain bloggers might be just as valuable as those you have with established film critics.


      August 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

  5. We have already touched on this subject, but it was very interesting to read through your arguments. To me, you make a very convincing case. I agree with stnylan in that a certain “buzz” always have existed and that the inclination (positive or negative) of that buzz affects the cultural output. But while the question of whether the emperor would fall asleep during the latest opera or not primarily concerned the people at the opera in the eighteenth century, it can now potentially concern thousands of people all over the globe. The distribution of cultural products have become more effective and widespread, but so has also the discussions about them


    August 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    • Thanks Sofia. Indeed I think rumour spreading has become so much quicker and easier with social media involved. You could imagine that the emperor falling asleep at the opera could have reached a magazine at some point, but it would still take ages for the news to spread and it would still be very limited. Now… it happens so quickly. Thinking of it I can suddenly understand if celebreties choose not to be a part of it at all. What you don’t know you don’t suffer from…


      August 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  6. Interesting post and subject. One thing that has changed for me if we’re talking about the new digital and global world is the way information is spread so fast and far away. Now I know about new movies coming up long before they are even made. I also learn about smaller movies from “exotic” countries.

    The problem with all this wealth of information is that I want to se Beasts of the Southern Wild tonight. When does it premiere in Sweden? Why, 4 January 2013 of course. Gah. But perhaps one should be glad that it’s even coming here.


    August 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

    • What I’m trying to say is that there is a discrepancy between how fast and far the buzz of a movie spreads and how fast and far the actually movie is available. The movie business needs to adapt somehow. And I actually think they are on the way. But they have some way to go. This winter I wanted to watch Trollhunter. I found it at swedish Internet VOD service Headweb… but it was only available if I lived in Norway. So I had to wait or find it another way… Just sayin.


      August 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

      • *Nods*. I know that the all the buzz makes it very tempting for people from small, neglected markets like Sweden and New Zeeland to download illegally so they can be a part of the online discussion when it’s there. I don’t do this myself, but I really understand people’s frustration about it. The film industry needs to realize how much the world has shrunk. You can’t think of it as seperate markets. It’s one market, but some people in that market get to see movies a lot later than others and it pisses them off quite a bit.


        August 19, 2012 at 8:56 pm

  7. Splendid post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the role that social media plays over film! I so agree with your 5 points. Loved the Contagion reference! hehe


    August 19, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    • Thanks Fernando! Yes, I really had to use it, didn’t I? It’s a line that sticks, either you agree with it or not.


      August 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

  8. Social media is soooo over-estimated here in Sweden. You know, SFI had their own blog to promote film news. They even had payed staff. They didn’t even have one tenth of the traffic I had. They didn’t know a shit about social media marketing or blogging. So I say they are the last who should speak about these things. About #4:”Use social media to communicate – not to advertise.” Easy said, hard to do. Everyone is marketing themselves in one way or another. They who don’t understand passive aggressive social marketing are doomed. The key is to market oneself smart without anyone noticing it. In business its called CRM=Customer Relationship Management”. I think every blogger or media profile do just this. And it’s nothing else than smart marketing. And about “#5. Be nice”: This is exactly what some swedish media profiles suck big time at. They are mean, patronising and love to write boldly bad about others. Overall a very good post, but also a great comment from “stnylan”.


    August 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    • I would give them the benefit of the doubt in this. Maybe they’ve been ignorant in the past, but Anna Serner is very active on Twitter and runs her own blog, which is a good thing, so she gets personal experience of it. (Though she really should learn to reply to comments. She doesn’t get more of those than that she should be able to handle it.) Anyway I think it shows interest and insight that they’re doing this seminar. I hope something good will come out of it.

      I have to admit that I don’t understand “passive aggressive social marketing”, so I’m afraid this means that I’m doomed. On the other hand I do this for fun, not for profit or hits, so I guess there’s no big loss there.
      Or maybe I’m doing something right, without realizing it?

      Anyway: I’m really glad that you dropped by and that you appreciated the post. And yes, stnylan’s comment is great and necessary to put things in proportion. It’s easy to get overenthusiastic when speaking about the importance of social media. I’m guilty as charged of that.


      August 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm

  9. I think smaller films need to reach out to these niche markets better. Sure it seems funny to say that…(a niche film needs to search out the niche market), but aren’t there people who search out these posts for a living?

    I hope there will be a continued movement to include Social Media into marketing a movie. One movie you might not have mentioned was Prometheus. While it did have perhaps too many shorts leading up to the movie at least it knew how to generate interest. Hopefully more movies will take that approach.


    August 21, 2012 at 12:52 am

    • Oh, the marketing of Prometheus was brilliant! Maybe a little bit too good; it built such an expectation that the backlash and anticlimax was inevitable.


      August 21, 2012 at 7:44 am

    • I have no clue how Prometheus was marketed on social media, maybe you could give me some examples. But except for the fact it was intended to be a an “Alien-prequel” and that the creator Ridley Scott went back to the origins of his fame as a director, I do believe that the hype around the movie was more or less built out of frustration. Ridley Scott changed the project so many times that in the end no one knew exactly what the movie was about. Everyone tried to guess on it and came to different conclusions.


      August 22, 2012 at 11:53 am

      • I mean the bits and pieces that were leaked out over time, like the faked TED talk for instance, that got viral. They made the kind of material that people love to share and spread around, helping out witht the advertising, free of charge.


        August 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm

  10. Great article Jessica. I like your idea around social media being like a cocktail party!

    And your right about bloggers carrying more influence. Anything can go viral these days and gain an audience the established critics get on a weekly basis.


    August 22, 2012 at 8:31 am

    • Thanks Dan! Yes, I think it’s way trickier these days to figure out whose voice matters most in the media mix. I don’t think you’ll always find those voices in traditional media.


      August 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

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