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DOCUMENTARY TIP #11:Finding & Building your Audience

This is a DocuMentors Tip about using Social Media Marketing and the Internet to build your audience even before you begin shooting. When you start building your audience this early, it not only helps you with distribution but with funding as well. You can use your fan base to bring in grassroots documentary funding and donations. (If you're a DocuMentors member, Listen to our Web Fund Drive tutorial in the Members Area for more info). And in terms of distribution, it can help you to sell-out in theaters when you release your film, and generate great DVD and VOD sales. Having a large fan base can also give you leverage when negotiating distribution deals. And better yet, it can give you solid revenues if you go the DIY route.

Step 1: Branding: Before you use the internet to build your audience there are some important items you will need to identify. And they all have to do with one thing: uniqueness.

Basically you will be using the internet to sell your product, which is your film. You will not be alone in trying to sell a film using the web, so in order to get the best advantage you have to answer this question first: 'What is unique to the product you are trying to sell?' And within that question, you must also identify what is original regarding your genre, your film and your audience.

In other words, what is your unique genre of doc filmmaking; what is unique to the film's story—its the first doc to ever be filmed inside Los Alamos, for example; and who is your unique, or core, audience?

Once you have answered these questions, you have given yourself a brand and identity, and now you are ready to start to reaching out and building your audience.

(If you joined us for the Web Site and SEO webinar, you'll want to couple your brand and identity results with your keyword strategies when you build or update your web site.)

Step 2: Finding Your Documentary's Followers: One of the first group of folks you want to reach out to is 'the influencers,' which is really just a fancy name for bloggers. Figure out who is writing about the issues or characters involved in your story and let them know about you and your project. And do not be afraid of contacting them, because in general bloggers are hungry for good content. Give them content to post. They will be happy, and so will their readers. (and so will you as people start visiting your web site and Facebook page, etc..!)

It works best if you can even give them incentive like a special gift in return for the mention, or an offer such as for them to guest blog on your website. Offer something that helps give them some stake in your project. Also, the best gift is not always digital—sometimes a real world keepsake that is from your film can really go a long way--a T-shirt for example, or an autographed picture from your celebrity doc subject.

These influencers will help you reach your most avid fans, which is perfect since it is these fans who you want to get to right away. Initiate the conversation with them with the help of the bloggers or through Facebook and Twitter, and direct them back to your web site.

Another great way to reach your core audience is to participate in any Forums on the web about your subject and direct people back to your blog, web site, or social media marketing pages.

The key is to go find these “Alpha fans”—do not wait for them to come to you. And do not be afraid to start small and build from there. Find the subcultures that fit your idea, and think about driving the conversation early with the bloggers, forums, and your fans and followers. Then from the Alpha fans you can branch out to the documentary fan, and finally to the broader audience.

Step 3: Fan Participation: Once you start getting fans to come to your site, you need to keep them coming back. They way to do this is by giving them ways to participate in your site, because if they do participate, the chances are REALLY good that they will see the film.  Also by participating, they start to feel involved in the film. As a result, they start telling other people about the film, which generates the doc filmmakers greatest marketing tool: word of mouth.

While it is important to a give clear idea of what the film is about on your site, you can also use your site to set up a world beyond the film and make it interactive, since this gives your fans a chance to participate and become a part of the film in a sense.

Some ways to do this with docs are to create a blog about the filmmaking process, the characters, and/or themes in your film. Or you can expand and extend the narrative beyond your film by working with/connecting to grass roots organizations that work on the social issue(s) your doc covers. Also you can post content from the film on your site, or even post Webisodes that include extra footage that you won't include in the film.

All of this, from branding your film, to finding your followers, and to getting your fans to become a part of the film and help spread the word, will help with your eventual box office. So don't wait. Go find those fans now!

If you need more guidance about grassroots fundraising with the web, listen to the Documentary How To: GrassRoots Fundraising.

See other Tools and Tutorials for Making a Documentary.