Films are made to be seen. If you want to get philosophical about it, Aristotle believed that a piece of art wasn’t complete until someone had seen it. Viewers are essential not just economically, but creatively. That’s why it can be so frustrating to put your heart and soul into a video, only to watch it fizzle out the minute it hits Vimeo. We think it’s more than just the filmmaker’s ego. Viewers complete the process.
So it’s worth considering how you’re going to get people to see your projects. In most cases, it’s not enough to have an amazing film. There are thousands of amazing films on Vimeo that haven’t hit 1K views yet, and probably never will. Their creators might think their work is the problem — but it’s not. The truth is, putting just a bit of strategy and effort into attracting viewers can make all the difference.
About a year ago, we started making films here at Musicbed, and we learned the hard way what it takes to get eyes on our projects. It takes some know-how and some trial and error, but most of all it takes effort. Three Staff Picks and a few million views later, we’ve learned some things about the value of marketing — the value of believing enough in the things we’ve made to give them a little extra shove when we release them into the world.
Here are a few things that have worked for us.
Before we put any time into making a film (and we’re not talking feature-length films here, but four- to five-minute films), we always make a plan for how we’re going to promote that film. We think about who the film’s audience will be, what blogs or publications that audience follows, and how we could partner with those particular outlets to get our video in front of more people. We also set aside a small budget for ad buy. We decide what sort of behind-the-scenes assets we should create in case someone wants to talk to us about how the film was made. We consider how this film fits into the level of work people have come to expect from us. But really, the point is that we make a plan — not just for how our films are going to be made, but how they’re going to be seen.
“One of the most important things you can do is identify your audience.”
In the early stages, before you’ve built a dedicated following of your work, it can sometimes feel impossible to get people interested in your projects. The good news is it gets easier. The more people who become interested in your work, the more promotional work they will do for you. But early on, you’re going to have to do some legwork of your own. One of the most important things you can do is identify your audience. What groups of people are going to be interested in your film — and not just because you made it, but because the subject matter is interesting to them?
When we made Stories That Matter, we knew churches would be interested in the film — and more specifically, the creative departments within those churches. Because of this, we knew exactly whom to reach out to when the film was done. We shot out tons of emails asking people to check out the film and, if they liked it, share it with their audiences. More often than not, a viewership has to be built with your bare hands. They won’t find you — you must find them.
A great way to find more places to reach out to is identifying other Vimeo videos that might have a similar audience to yours and then checking out the embedded views for those videos (a nice little Vimeo feature). Doing this has led us to publications and organizations that would be interested in featuring our video as well.
Important note: Once you’ve identified an organization or publication you think might be interested in sharing your video, the way you approach them is very important. Put some thought into exactly why you think your video would be a good fit for their audience — and exactly what you want them to do. If you simply send a link and say, “Check this out,” there’s a good chance they probably won’t. And even if they do check it out, they probably won’t know what to do with it. Be very clear and very simple. Spell it out for them.
“More often than not, a viewership has to be built with your bare hands. They won’t find you — you must find them.”
We recently chatted with a marketing genius friend of ours about how a filmmaker might promote her work through more tactical methods. It’s probably best to just let him speak for himself, so here’s a piece of our conversation:
Does she have money?
Are you going to put this conversation on the blog?
You’re a liar.
I’d say she should leverage all the social networks and not be afraid to pay for reach. Surprisingly, social advertising is still in its infancy; and because of that, it’s relatively cheap. I’d recommend StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Facebook, for starters. StumbleUpon’s platform is a CPV (cost-per-view) model. It’s like 20 cents per view, and you can get super targeted. I would target people who have an interest in indie films and creativity. On Reddit, you just need to find the right subreddit and not be too promotional. Contribute to the community. Add value.
One of the biggest things people need to understand, though, is momentum. First, you focus on getting views by buying ads, getting several thousand views within the first few days; and then you go pitch it to publications or organizations or media outlets. They’ll have a much higher likelihood of pushing your work because they want to get on board with something that’s already picking up steam.
This better be just a conversation between two dudes.
“Meeting an audience’s expectations, and doing it often, is the best way to keep them around.”
One of the most rewarding parts of creating films is creating an audience of people who are interested in what you’re doing. Creating, essentially, a community. But while it’s inspiring to build an audience, it’s also a big responsibility. It takes work. It takes, more than anything else, consistency in terms of quality, quantity, and brand.
We’ll tackle these two together since they’re so interconnected. However, quality and quantity tend to tug in opposite directions, and the one that seems to win more often is quantity. Now, more than ever before, people feel the need to put out a lot of content. To produce, produce, produce. And that means they’re often producing things that aren’t very good.
On the other hand, you have perfectionists who release something only once it’s reached a state of flawlessness, which means they release things so infrequently that they basically have to start over every time. For our purposes, we’ve tried to get the best of both worlds — we are constantly pushing ourselves in terms of quality, and we are constantly giving ourselves deadlines. We believe meeting an audience’s expectations, and doing it often, is the best way to keep them around.
Part of maintaining an audience is understanding why they’ve connected with your work in the first place. For us, it comes down to our brand. It’s taken us years to really understand what Musicbed is and what Musicbed is about, and everything we create now is a reflection of that. We have plenty of great ideas every month that simply aren’t right for our brand — they’re just not Musicbed — so we don’t produce them. By trying to stay true to our brand, we’re also trying to stay true to our audience — to why they care about the things we produce in the first place. This helps people stick around too.
If you’ve followed our posts in the past (especially the recent interview we did with Tony Anderson and Luke Atencio), you know we understand the trap of caring too much about Vimeo views and likes, and all of the hullaballoo of external affirmation. We know how easy it is to start chasing the wrong things. But, at the same time, we firmly believe films were made to be seen — and ideally by a lot of people. We believe there is a practical, necessary time to think about building an audience and finding viewers.
Hopefully a few of the lessons we’ve learned will help you too. Take the pieces that feel right, disregard the rest, and let us know what you’ve discovered for yourself.
VP of Marketing, Musicbed
It’s very hard to tell what makes a film great. Students spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to learn the secret. Critics write hundreds of thousands of words trying to explain it. And still, it usually remains a mystery. But we had a revelation recently while... Read More
Observation is an act of creation. Whether or not that’s true for the cosmos, it’s true for clichés: they don’t exist until we notice them ⎯ or someone points them out. Andy Baker, senior vice president and global creative director at Nat Geo, pointed out a cool... Read More
At this point, we expect advertising to be insincere. We’ve never won a free cruise to the Bahamas. That cheap Mexican beer won’t transport us to our own beach — not even inside our minds. So if we expect anything from ads these days, it’s entertainment and little else... Read More