film reel

This is an opinion editorial from Sprout Social team member Andy White, Director of Social Business Strategy. Follow him on Twitter at @white.

Imagine building a new social community from scratch every time your product is mere months away from release, only to jettison the account and the community once the product hits the shelves. That is current best practice for the film industry, a business that has  tried to fit social into its traditional marketing 101.

Building and maintaining a long-term audience is the hardest achievement in social media. I’m not talking about a passive, by-the-numbers, bought and sold audience, but a dynamic, engaged community with long-tail dialogues and relationships. That community comprises your core group of influencers — a group that you will  come to know well, and who will organically spread and create your message of their own volition.

Many organizations in the film business struggle with taking the community that has been nurtured only to abandon it shortly thereafter. Taking that approach makes it impossible to move forward with anything but the most rudimentary approach. Without a long-term investment, there is little room outside of going through the motions and plowing monies into promoted products for the short-burn.

Many organizations in the vertical are cutting short their audiences, and  abandoning the trust placed in it by its fans and followers, only to come back around and beg for a follow the next time a movie release is scheduled. To completely negate the medium to long-tail effects of a passionate and committed fan base is at best shortsighted, and at worst is missing the entire point of social.

A Few Examples

One of the most useful examples of this practice is the Twitter account for a major studio release from earlier this year, Broken City. The account has 440 followers, 32 tweets, 2 images and 1 video. The film was released on January 18, and the account went dormant two days later. Forget continuing some semblance of dialogue though the home video release window — there wasn’t so much as a tweet announcing the film’s availability on Blu-ray.

Fox didn’t elect to pay to play for that film — you can tell from the lack of the ‘Verified’ checkmark — and it showcases perfectly the difficulties in launching an entire community within a very short window without throwing money at the problem. Following the same model is the recent release Paranoia. Both failed to keep the community going for long.

The numbers achieved and the actions forced by this strategy are troubling. It’s wash, rinse and repeat on both a cynical and cyclical level, with a blatant disregard for the audience and their collective investment. How do the studio’s marketers think that they will build any form of advocacy and love for the product they themselves have spent years crafting with such truncated social engagement windows?

When we consider that it is a compelling hashtag that serves as the content link,  the conversation driver, and the connector, we must then conclude that for the vast majority of films a unique handle is redundant.

The Case For a Longer Shelf-Life

As it stands the studios and their agencies are pitching their films as the brands, not the studios. An argument could be made that this is shortsighted and a clear misstep for the vast majority of movies. Franchises such as The Avengers have a lifespan beyond that of the classic release window and are thus exempt.

Consider the Golden Age when an MGM-branded release was a real stamp of quality and a validation of the film to which it was attached. Social media, used well and thoughtfully, could become one step towards that type of branding and affinity for the studios. The studio is the umbrella above all — they could become the Audi. It is within this gilded umbrella where the vast majority of film releases should live.

Except – that is – the franchise. These overarching properties, often with a built-in, fervent fan base, not only lend itself to this model but seem to thrive within it. Says William Smith, social media manager for the Fast and the Furious series, “We constantly asked ourselves, ‘What do fans really want?’ ensuring every piece of social content was something that fans genuinely wanted to see, watch and share.” In other words, the Furious series built a community that became innate over time because it has been given the time and space to do so.

It’s that time, that space, that community the rest of the film industry needs in social, lest it fall into an endless prophesy of audience disengagement. Opportunity, missed.

[Image credit: Hector Alejandro]