Yes, You Too Can (and SHOULD) Build an Audience!
The only proven path to success for an independent artist in this increasingly fragmented world of content distribution is a direct connection to your audience. Good news: We have more tools to find and connect to our audiences than ever before! Bad news: You have to work really hard to find them, connect to them, and keep them. Second round of good news: You’re a storyteller, so your natural strengths befit these new challenges!
Seed&Spark is a crowdfunding and streaming distribution platform just for film. The words we want you to hear loudest in that description are “crowd” and “distribution.” That’s why for the last two years we’ve been collecting best practices from filmmakers who’ve been successfully building audiences, funding their projects, and finding distribution. A film (and for that matter, an actor’s career) is a small business. And small businesses require customers: real people who will exchange their money for something you’re making that they perceive as valuable.
Perhaps you still think generating revenue is producer’s problem. Or the director’s problem. But you can add tremendous value and independence to your career as an actor by building a relationship with your audience. And to build a potentially life-long relationship with your audience, you need to respect yourself as a primary artist—not just a secondary player reading someone else’s words. Understand what you bring as an equal collaborator to every project you choose. That’s the foundation of a successful career.
As you begin to think seriously about audience building, don’t make the mistake of thinking broadly. Don’t just “get on social media.” Building a following beyond people you already know is tough (some of you may have noticed). But it’s a hell of a lot easier if you have a specific idea of who you want following you.
So, before you start tweeting willy-nilly, take a few minutes to ask yourself:
Who is your audience? Where do they hang out (online and IRL)? How do you get their email addresses?
[Spoiler alert: Demographics are not actually people. Too often we talk to filmmakers who, when we ask the first of these three questions, answer: “My audience is men between the ages of 18-28.” No. That is not your audience. That’s way too general.]
The thing about the proliferation of social media—and the data we can collect from it—is that it has allowed us all to indulge much more specific, tailored tastes. Rory Culkin, Michael B. Jordan, and Justin Bieber are all men between 18 and 25. But we don’t surmise they all watch the same movies. Which means you need to drill deep when conceptualizing your audience. Start by thinking of five actual humans—preferably ones you’re connected to—who would be interested in watching what you’re making (or the projects in which you want a starring role).
Next, interview them with the following questions:
Where do you hang out online? (Twitter? Facebook? Reddit? Pinterest?) What/Who do you read for news and interest? (Blogs? News outlets?) What music do you listen to? Where do you spend your free time? Where do you watch the things you watch? Online? On TV? On your phone?
Compile these results and study them. You’ll be surprised how this research will define your outreach efforts. You’ll get a better idea of where to look for more fans, and more importantly, the best ways you can reach them. Reading the blogs they read will give you a sense of the tone and content that engages them. The music they listen to might influence what you choose to put on your reel, or use to score that short you’re making.
By understanding who your audience is, you are embarking on a creative collaboration with them—one in which you will learn to identify the intersection of who you are as an artist, and who precisely appreciates your singular talents.
This outreach is a rehearsal process. You won’t always strike gold. When you come up empty-handed, though, keep an open mind so you can find the best solution. Sometimes when you miss the mark you’re just aiming at the wrong audience. Other times, especially when you’re starting out, what you’re aiming at them just stinks. But the only way to really grow is to look objectively at the feedback you’re getting. And the only way to get that feedback is to keep broadcasting.
Once you’ve identified the social media outlets where your audience hangs out, along with the subjects, videos, images, and music that interest them, start posting. Try some different tones (humor, sarcasm, earnestness, flirting, teasing, etc). Post articles with a short commentary. Post a cool music video your friend made. See what the crowd responds to, and when they respond, engage! These are the basic methods of what’s called “message testing”—the ultimate goal of which is to create conversations and interactions around what you’re sharing. If no one is responding, you’re aren’t fostering a relationship with your fans.
Of course, that begs the question, if you have 10,000 Twitter followers, does it really matter if a bunch of them aren’t retweeting you? Yes! An audience isn’t just about numbers. It’s about dedication. If your “fans” won’t so much as “like” your post on Facebook, they’re unlikely to show up to a screening you’re promoting.
So, how do you encourage engagement? Once you’ve identified where your audience is, entice them with cool content. If they respond, write back! Have a Twitter conversation, like their Facebook posts, or comment on the blog of theirs you like. Then, ask them to step up their involvement with you by signing up for your (super cool! not annoying!) email list. Nowhere are conversions to buying tickets, or contributing to campaigns, higher than when people receive those requests directly in their inbox.
That’s right. All of this is essential business if you’re so much as considering crowdfunding for a project of any kind. So start now. Next week, we’ll get into the specifics of how to apply message testing directly to crowdfunding, and how to leverage your crowdfunding campaign as one of the primary tools for audience building to grow your career.
Emily Best is the Founder and CEO of Seed&Spark. She loves storytelling, storytellers, and stories. She was lucky enough to make a movie with some of her closest friends, a project called "Like the Water" that inspired this whole crazy idea.