Amplify the Message: Social Media at Your Festival Debut

Note: This piece first appeared on Seed & Spark and The Huffington Post.


You’ve read a lot about social media best practices — after all, it’s the best way to market your film for free. Though building an audience early on might not translate to transactions just yet, you will have already established a community to talk to when your film eventually reaches screens.

The truth is, no one’s an expert; we’ve all been trial-and-erroring our way over the past five years, and platforms will continue to evolve. But how can you make the most out of social media today? As you head to Sundance, Slamdance, or any festival this year, some tips on how to capitalize on the increased exposure it will bring — both to your film and to you as a filmmaker.

That’s what friends are for.
Social media marketing starts with the people who already know, respect, and love the people connected to the film.

• Ask your production team to use social media to amplify the message and ask their friends to support the film. This will form an invaluable base from which to grow.

• To make it completely turnkey, send sample tweets and updates (with links) to your team, making explicit the particular messaging you want to get out. The easier to copy and paste—best case, adding a personalizing tweak — the more likely they are to help you spread the word.

• Let them know about the #hashtags you have chosen for the film (these can work on Twitter and Instagram); standardizing them early will lead to widespread use and more exposure.

• At the very least, ask the team to engage with the things you post. On Facebook, the share button is your best viral tool — with comment a close second and like a distant third. On Twitter, a retweet is more valuable than a favorite.

Social media is not rocket science — in fact, it can be quite tedious — but to make it work, you have to commit.

• If you don’t have time to do it yourself, assign the task to someone on your team, but discuss explicit guidelines, and make sure you trust his or her judgment. (And, to be safe, monitor the output.)

• If you have the money, hire a professional consultant; they have developed expertise in this area.

• How many posts per day is up to you; don’t spam your audience, but there will be natural ebbs (e.g., during the festival) and flows, and Twitter has more room for abundance than Facebook.

• Engage with your audience; if they comment, DM or ask questions, respond!

Be visible.
Let everyone know how to find you on social.

• Add links to your film’s website and printed materials (postcards, posters).

• Tell the festival; most have a spot for social links in the online film guide.

• Cross-promote among platforms; e.g., let your Facebook fans know about your Twitter account.

• If possible (and not terribly awkward), encourage people to follow you during your post-screening Q&A.

Provide a peek behind the curtain.
Those who follow films and filmmakers are often looking for insider access to a world they want to know about. Throughout the festival, share candid snapshots of your team, your screenings, the surroundings:

• What’s the view from onstage at a Q&A?

• Who let loose at the after-party?

• Who won the Sled-Off?

But if you tag people, make sure they look good, and that the photos are not incriminating. Which leads to…

You never know whose help you might need someday.
Have a voice, and share opinions, but don’t be overly snarky. And never, ever diss other films, unless you are willing to risk burning bridges. The advice we give teenagers also applies here — don’t write anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer (or collaborator, or investor!) to read someday; big egos have long memories.

Split your personality.
You already have Facebook, Twitter — and possibly Instagram — accounts for your film. Well done! But you should also take this opportunity to establish yourself as a filmmaker (director, producer, cinematographer); you will have a long career, and you want your online persona to be evergreen.

• Establish who you are. On Twitter, create your own handle, and make sure the display name is your actual name.

• Let people know how to find you; Twitter @handles on business cards are becoming standard.

Schmooze and connect.
You will meet lots of filmmakers, programmers, industry, and press on the festival circuit. Ask for their Twitter handles, and follow them on the spot. From your film account, shout out to fellow films and filmmakers at screenings and/or with #FF (Follow Friday) tweets. With any luck, what you pay forward will come back to reward you later on.

Dance with the one who brought you.
Don’t forget to mention the festival hosting you — in tweets, Facebook updates, and on Instagram. Thank them publicly, use their official @handle when appropriate, and use the #hashtags liberally. People far and near are following festival #hashtags for news, reviews, photos, and updates; give them something to retweet.

If you are heading to Utah this week, there are a few things you should know: @Slamdance and @sundancefest are the handles, and #slamdance2013 and #sundance are the hashtags this year. Good luck, stay warm, and connect.