Creative Distribution and Audience Engagement post-Cambridge Analytica

This Wednesday at 12:45pm most people will be scrambling to get to their coveted lunch break. They’ll sit on a bench outside, breathing their allotted 30 minutes of fresh air, holding a faux-turkey sandwich in one hand and their cell phone in the other. As they scroll through Facebook, trying not to drip mustard on their new iPhone X, I’ll be co-hosting a conversation alongside Sonja Henrici from the Scottish Documentary Institute, for the IDA’s Getting Real Conference. The topic of our conversation is, “Creative Distribution and Audience Engagement post-Cambridge Analytica: A look at changing strategies, roles, demands and data.” It’s a mouth full, but to break it way down, we’re discussing the cat video you clicked on while the tomato fell out of your sandwich. Who owns that video? Why did they post that video?  What action did they want you to take? And most importantly, who’s audience do you, holder of the faux-turkey sandwich, belong to?

Long after I’ve penned books on selling your film on your own, the audience is closer than ever and yet so, so far out of reach. Large corporations whether social media giants (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… oh wait that’s Facebook now too), or streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu etc etc etc), hold all the data which is the most important key to self-distribution.

So, without these keys to the castle, how can filmmakers function in this new kingdom? We’re still figuring this out. But breathe easy because everyone else – including studios, ad agencies, brands are still figuring this out too.

I know I sound like a broken record on this but as I have been saying for over 10 years: a film’s success is based on its goals. It’s important to know what you are trying to achieve before you start trying to achieve it. The most common goals for distribution are:

  1. Make some money
  2. Make your next film.
  3. Change the world
  4. Build an audience for your future films.
  5. Just get people to see your film!

These goals are all different and yet have one common factor when related to the film – they need audience engagement to succeed.

And now, we’ve circled back to audience engagement. On Wednesday, Sonja and I will be introducing a strange new world for most documentary filmmakers – data and advertising – including why you should care about data, how you can access it to help connect with your audiences, the differences between owned, paid, shared and earned media and how and why you can use, promote and track the results of your campaigns.   We’ll also be touching on the new world of GDPR (OY!) and why you need to know what that means and how you can function within the new world of data privacy while still increasing your audience.

Over the next year I will be writing and speaking a lot on this topic so stay tuned.

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