Social media is the worst form of media, besides all those others. Apologies to Winston Churchill for repurposing his famous quote on democracy. Isn't that what we often do with social media, repurpose quotes and video (or sometimes just copy and paste)? For independent filmmakers social media can be incredibly powerful and maybe Churchill would agree: democratizing. A filmmaker can engage with people via social media from the moment a project is conceived, share video throughout the process, find new stories to document and share with that same audience, and generate support for a film.
Even just 5 years ago before everyone and your mother got on Facebook you could try an email campaign, but interaction was challenging. Now with Facebook you can post items daily, or even a few times a day, without turning off too many of your supporters. Show me another way to have a communal conversation about niche topics via other forms of media. This is no substitute for real human interaction at screenings and fora. But Facebook, and the others provide a unique platform for multi-direction conversation between filmmakers and a global audience; an especially important piece for me given our most recent film Coexist focuses on Rwanda. That conversation needs to be informative without being annoying and without seeming too much like advertising.
Why is Facebook an especially important tool for a filmmaker versus an author, small business owner, or other business? I asked Martha Staid, founder of Blink Twice Creative. She's a social media consultant who works with non-profits. “As a filmmaker you have the great opportunity to let your work speak for itself: video is so easy to distribute online and can be so much more compelling than the flood of text that makes up a lot of what you see on Facebook or Twitter. The chance to spread via word of mouth is great when you have strong video content to put out there.” When have you heard the word viral followed by something other than video? And those handy insights that Facebook compiles for page owners seem to concur. When I post videos on our coexistdocumentary.org page, the stats say, videos get the most attention.
Naming your page can be tricky since many films can evolve throughout production forcing a change in title, which Facebook doesn't allow. (When you “like” Coexist, how would feel if the page owner changed the name to Hate, leading to an update your friends might see that says “Jane Smith likes Hate”?) We ended up ditching our old page and creating a new one when our title changed. Our fans and supporters seemed to pretty quickly follow us to the new page.
We are hearing more about Facebook and the others destroying privacy. And there is merit to that argument. Clearly Facebook is offering something users aren't finding elsewhere, opportunities to know about things they are interested in. Some of these ads come from the information we share (knowingly, or unwittingly) with the Facebook bots. And it is precisely this niche marketing that can help a filmmaker reach her or his core audience. As Staid points out, “Rather than creating a hive mind, social media lets subcultures find each other and thrive. Social media let people communicate: whether they then choose to discuss Foucault or what they drank last night is up to them. But the medium's not the message, and for better or worse, social media's just the tool.”
The business-folk might ask how we monetize this? Clearly social media do help in fundraising. For Coexist it was a great tool to show foundations that we had built a base of support among family, friends, and their friends. There is no doubt that people like to support a winner, so when they see their friends donating to a project via Facebook Causes, Kickstarter or others, that can be a motivator. But our veteran fundraising adviser for Coexist doesn't believe Kickstarter is useful in the long-run, unless it can be used as the basis for building relationships. He told me, “You are always helping the funders achieve their goals, and you are always beginning and maintaining long term relationships.”
I do believe social media relationships are becoming more feasible and can grow into meaningful personal relationships. Those must be cultivated just like in-person relationships and treated as equally valuable. On Facebook our relationships often begin when we vote with our “like” button. You could call it 21st century democracy. And even though democracy and social media are amongst the worst of governments and modes of communication, if not for Facebook Coexist may have never happened. It has helped me reconnect, and build relationships, with both of the people who turned out to be producers of our documentary.
Adam Mazo is the Director of the documentary film Coexist, which will have its western Massachusetts premiere at a free event at Hampshire College on Tuesday evening, March 1st. Special guest Alice Gatebuke, a human rights activist and genocide survivor, will join Mr. Mazo for a discussion following the screening.