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Making the Most of YouTube
Halloween music video used as marketing for Adventures of Power

Making the Most of YouTube

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Ryan Gielen of marketing service company, Believe, helps explain how to best work the platform visited by 85% of Americans and hence enjoying an Alexa ranking of 3.

How is YOUTUBE (YT) best used for marketing indie films?

The best use of YouTube is for audience building before, during and after the filming process.

The perfect version of this would be a filmmaker who spends the year leading up to her shoot vlogging about the fundraising process, casting, producing, and any fears, hopes and challenges they’re facing.

These would be posted regularly, and interspersed with funny or interesting scripted content with a homemade feel, nothing too precious. These videos would establish her voice and build a small but loyal audience who happen to like that voice.

Then the filmmaker would upload a few homemade videos from set, showing off cast, crew and creatives and continuing the themes established in pre-production: it's important to think of you audience as peers, they're going to be cool with talking shop, so she would provide tips & tricks along with a personal look at the process.

In the 6-12 months following production, the filmmaker would continue to create and post videos on a set schedule, with material growing progressively more produced, while remaining entertaining. Again, interspersed with scripted, themed content. For instance, if the film is about a chef, the filmmaker would have a homemade, super-low-budget cooking show about how they get by on a freelancer or indie filmmaker living.

Every tenth video would be a clip from the film or a trailer or some piece of fun marketing material. Maybe three or four total in the 6-12 months of post-production. All the while, she would be interacting with fans, commenting on other filmmakers’ videos and channels, subscribing to channels and YT’ers with interests related to her film.

Assuming her film—like most of our films—does not get a huge distribution deal, and she partners with an aggregator to make the film available on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and VOD, she would then post those links on her YouTube channel and script and upload a personal vlog about where people can find the film.

Finally, she would spend the next year creating and uploading funny or interesting videos along a regular schedule, interacting with fans and producers constantly, and would remind people once every three months that they can find her film on the relevant outlets.

This is how she could build and maintain an audience—if she’s going to be making films for a while, it’s a good investment of her time and energy. People will connect with her and her voice, and will look for ways to engage others on the filmmaker’s behalf. Kevin Smith and Miranda July are two great examples of filmmakers who have used a similar approach to attracting and growing an audience, albeit on different platforms.

(And Sundance alum Ari Gold is a great example of a robust YouTube user who also worked with Believe for the release of Adventures of Power. More about this below.)

Key techniques and best practices for building one's audience or community via YouTube

YT is built on eliminating the distance between producer and user. This is the single most important thing to remember when trying to market on YouTube, and here’s why: along with the ability to create and upload self-produced content comes the desire to interact with other creators, peers. So, YT is built and populated by tens of millions of people who interact with content and producers horizontally, not people who want to passively accept content dropped vertically from studies above.

If you decide to step into their world, you have to understand and respect their mindset and tailor your marketing accordingly. In short, it shouldn’t feel like marketing. Producers who succeed on YouTube create videos that feel homemade, personally delivered by a real human being, not a big Hollywood team directly to the individual audience member. This is why producers who present themselves to the YT community do better than filmmakers who only present their film, or their trailer. YT is not a dumping ground for deleted scenes and outtakes, it’s a place people come to be entertained.

Finally, YT’ers do carry over some traits of traditional television audiences—they like content they can count on. Videos that feel like standalone material aren’t worth connecting with, because there’s no promise of future entertainment. You have a dramatically higher chance of getting subscribers- and having your videos shared—if you upload regularly, on a given day, at a given time, with fresh content.

So… the take homes are:

  1. Interact with every audience member, from day one. They’re your peers as well as audience.
  2. Don’t just market. Create content that seeks to entertain.
  3. Post consistently, for a long time.

These three things turn a lot of filmmakers off, and I understand that. We want to make films, and leave the marketing to others. That mindset—while totally understandable- is why so many films are just sitting on shelves. Marketing is a lot of work, but if you invest the time wisely and follow the three simple guidelines above, you can build an audience.

Key tagging and captioning techniques

Tagging and captioning are generally self-explanatory, in other words: you want to add keywords or tags to every video, and you want them to reflect the most common search terms that would lead to your video. Don't just throw in tags that are words found in your title—approach this from the point of view of someone who is looking for a similar video to yours, and ask "What keywords would they enter?"

For instance, you've decided to create and upload a weekly series of videos examining all the outlets indie filmmakers have for self-distributing their films, one outlet each week. This week you're uploading a video about how to maximize the attention you can bring to Netflix. Your audience is indie filmmakers, producers and marketers. Some obvious tags: #indie #film #netflix #name of your film. These tags are going to position the video to appear in searches by indie filmmakers and people looking for ways to rent indie films on Netflix, both of which are your audience.

Next you want to hit #how to #promotion #marketing #self-distribution #digital. These are going to pull in indie artists in other fields, who may want to apply your ideas to their products- a book or an album, for instance. These producers of indie art are also consumers of indie art, also your audience.

Finally, someone who is looking to drive eyeballs to their Netflix release(s) is probably going to be looking for ways to measure their results, or may already have them in place. Good keywords include: #analytics #understanding #clicks #views #CPC (cost per click) #CPM (cost per thousand), etc.

Three important caveats:

  1. This is a generic example, clearly. The best way to decide on keywords is to do a couple searches, find related videos, and look at their keywords. If the video has a lot of views, or seems similar to yours, grab the relevant keywords. Doing a handful of test searches from your desired audience's perspective is a great way to stumble upon keywords you would not have thought of.
  2. Your video title and description are more important. They should be keyword rich. The title should be short and the description should be long (up to 5,000 words). Don't name the video solely based on the content, also name it based on the relevant, meaty search keywords.
  3. The single greatest factor in the success of any video is inbound links. Period. Tagging, title and descriptions are useful in the long run, they can't be ignored, but Google's recent algorithm change has solidified organic, quality inbound links as the single most important factor in the ranking of any website, product, video.

How do you generate views on YouTube?

There are three basic ways to drive eyeballs to your videos.

  1. Share them across social networks, and encourage others to do the same.
  2. Get postings and links from websites with large audiences already.
  3. Advertise your videos online and on mobile devices.

We (BELIEVE) do a proprietary combination of all three for clients large and small.

I know those three bullets are vague, but we are currently writing an eBook on the subject and we can't give away everything. But that should tell you just how rich the subject is—there's enough material on executing the above three steps to literally fill a book.

Some examples of films BELIEVE has worked on that worked well via YouTube marketing

Some films we can’t discuss at the studio’s or filmmaker’s request, but here are two excellent examples of YT marketing that we have worked on:

Ari Gold, Adventures of Power

Ari and his team created an entire 70-video YouTube promotional campaign featuring original videos, deleted scenes, constant updates and interaction- all free to the end user. Their videos have received over 500K views, gained over 3,000 subscribers, and three of his videos even reached the front page of YouTube, officially going viral. The YouTube fan base has led to stronger DVD and digital sales.

My film, The Graduates

The Graduates was the #1 comedy on Hulu for months, and remains in the Top 10 all-time after two years. We’re competing with major studio films and stars and have held our ground for two full years. Though filmmakers remain skeptical about Hulu, we’ve had a wonderful, profitable experience there, and the hundreds of thousands of people who have seen our film have in many cases followed us across social media, bought the film or the soundtrack, and remained responsive to the projects we’ve released since meeting them. The majority of our viewers discover the film through a few consistently updated YouTube channels and webseries.

Two of the strongest performing videos are linked here. You’ll notice they appear to have nothing to do with the film or product they’re selling:

  • Marketing Adventures of Power with a Halloween music video; 197,000+ views; Officially viral, making it to the Front Page of YouTube. http://goo.gl/G53Uv
  • Marketing 1800Recycling with funny “Fail” videos; 3,000,000+ views; Three videos officialy viral, making it to the Front Page of YouTube. http://goo.gl/cnkk9

There are two of over 100 pieces of content we've taken viral for clients big and small. Couple this with a consistent output of content and some audience interaction, and you have an active and growing Subscriber base.

"Why does this matter, or how does this help?" are the questions we hear most often when explaining the value of a successful viral video or webseries to a potential client. Taking the examples above, there's obvious value in getting hundreds of thousands of people to interact with your material. Couple that with a widely available film, and the viral video that had nothing to do with your movie just became a great ad for you and the film. People who are truly entertained by the viral video will visit your channel and poke around, and that's when they're most receptive to marketing materials like the trailer. You've won them over by not marketing at them, and now they will seek out your marketing.

As the price of digital goods rapidly drops toward zero, filmmakers who build an audience on YouTube will have a huge advantage when it comes time to ask people to pony up for a ticket, a download, a soundtrack or a t-shirt, because not only will they want to spend (to help you keep producing content) they'll also share the videos, becoming advocates who advertise on your behalf.

What are some good benchmarks in terms of reasonable numbers to shoot for in terms of trailer view, etc.?

This is a complicated question, because we can assist clients in getting any amount of views, so it completely depends on two things: your budget, and your audience. If you've spent time developing an audience, you have to spend a lot less to get and keep people interested, which is why we provide so much (and such specific) advice on audience development before, during and after filming. If you've done nothing to develop an audience, it's going to cost money to get real eyeballs on your marketing material.

Simply uploading a trailer to YouTube is a good step- it's about as basic and necessary as a website- but it doesn't guarantee a single view. I would focus the benchmarks on content creation and interaction with fans- try to create and upload one new piece each week for a year. If you have a good concept and you interact with fans, your material will stand out, because you're a filmmaker, after all- making interesting content is your life.

Any other good marketing platforms you work with to market films?

We use Twitter and Facebook, of course, but there is no silver bullet. You must create content and interact with fans.

The digital revolution continues to bring prices down, but the upside is that the same outlets that bring prices down also corral audiences into niches. 85% of the country visits YouTube, every conceivable niche is represented there, and they're all looking for entertaining content. It can be a massive platform for any filmmaker.

Another upside of the digital and social media revolution is that with so many on-demand options, audiences are seeking and finding more and more independent films, months and years after their release and sharing their discoveries with friends. The need for an "opening weekend" is moot. Don't get me wrong, if you can have a big opening weekend anywhere, take it. But if not, your movie on Netflix or Hulu will look just as fresh in a year as it does today. We advise clients to keep their YouTube and social media presence just as vibrant and fresh two years after their release as on Day 1. Releasing an indie film today is much closer to opening a small web-based business than it is to releasing a studio film.

How do you distinguish marketing on YouTube via distributing on YouTube?

I wish we could speak intelligently about the YouTube screening room, but it's so new that we don't have a lot of work to point to. It appears studio films are gaining some traction there, but it's too new to have numbers and benchmarks.

One important note that may work with earlier comments: As the YouTube Screening Room grows and people become more accustomed to buying professionally produced content while visiting YouTube, it will be hugely advantageous to have a large audience within the YT ecosystem already. The ability to direct your Subscribers to your film without having to leave their chosen social media is incredibly valuable. But, again, its value is proportional to the size of the audience you've developed.

More about BELIEVE:

Believe handles YouTube, Facebook and Twitter campaigns for clients in the entertainment industry. We scale campaigns to project budgets, provide rich targeting across all social media, and deliver an audience to your film. We're filmmakers so we understand the challenges that artists face when it becomes necessary to take marketing into your own hands.

For more information about BELIEVE and their services visit believelimited.com or contact ryan@believelimited.com

This content appears courtesy of The Film Collaborative / Orly Ravid, Editorial Consultant