BOND Strategy And Influence: How The Social Graph Can Save Film

Focusing on digital behaviors, not digital technologies, will better market films in the hyper-connected age.

Every year, to help stem the tide of declining box-office revenues, film industry executives ask the same question: What’s the next ______?  In 2007, it was “What’s the next Myspace?” Then in 2010, it became “What’s the next Twitter or Facebook?” Today, its “What’s the next Foursquare or Instagram”?

At a time when a new digital service or mobile app can go from zero to a million users in a matter of weeks, every film executive wants to know which emerging technology platform they should be partnering with to reach new audiences. And yet to truly understand how to effectively market and sell a feature film in the digital age, the industry needs to be spending less time following new digital technologies and more time following new digital behaviors.

Understanding the Social Graph

To fully understand online behaviors today, you must first understand the concept of the “social graph” and how it works.

While online start-ups and app developers have been leveraging the social graph for years, the film industry has yet to fully understand and embrace it. The common understanding of social networking is that it allows people to stay connected with friends, family members and acquaintances online. But inside every social network is a personal social graph that maps our digital connections.

In the last year, as witnessed by the meteoric rise of a social platform like Instagram, we’ve learned that the full value of our social graph is achieved only when we export our digital connections from services like Facebook and then integrate them into additional services that are based on common actions that we take online, such as reading or buying. We receive an incredible amount of added value when we stay connected to our social graph, not only when we log onto Facebook or Twitter.

Today the biggest benefit of our social graph comes not from the amount of connections we have (as many mistakenly believe), but rather from the filtering and social curation that these connections provide. Content that is read, shared, or commented on by someone in our social circle has a higher likelihood of reaching us. Increasingly, for something to reach us at all, it must be shared by someone who we already know and “follow.” This person can be a friend, a family member, or a former colleague or college roommate. It can also be a film critic or journalist. But more and more, rarely is it a traditional media brand.

Penetrating the Social Filter

By exporting our social graph from networks like Facebook and Twitter, and then incorporating it into new digital media platforms like Flipboard and AOL Editions, we no longer need to turn on the television, open the daily newspaper, or read multiple magazines to learn and discover what the best film is for us to see on Friday night. We know that if a movie is one that we’ll likely enjoy seeing, someone from our social graph will probably share information about it through our feed.  There’s no longer a need for us read newspapers or magazines to pro-actively search for what we might want to watch this weekend. If a film review or a feature article doesn’t pop-up in our Twitter feed or on our Flipboard page from someone we know, then – to us – it simply doesn’t exist.

To be a successful film marketer today, you need to know how to get information through the social graph filter. You need to know what content people are most likely to talk about and share through their social networks. For a movie to fully capture and audience’s attention, it truly needs to become part of the cultural zeitgeist. To get us to go to a movie theater today, our feeds need to be filled with information, content, and recommendations that are all provided by our social connections. Now more than ever, movie campaigns need to be authentic and personal. They shouldn’t be afraid to engage and provoke. They need to celebrate and win over audiences who then in turn in create a national conversation.

It can be argued that today every film has a “social media campaign.” But for most, this simply means launching a Facebook page or buying ads on Twitter. The reality is that even though our world has become increasingly digital, most film marketing consists of purchasing demographically targeted mass media impressions and using boilerplate PR tactics to let people know that a film will be in theaters on Friday night. Today, a strategy consisting of simply buying attention no longer works. Marketing should no longer be measured on column inches or media impressions, but rather, by the percentage of a person’s feed that a marketer can capture.

With the financial success of socially marketed films like SENNA and Exit Through The Gift Shop (both supported by the work of Bond Strategy And Influence – and films we will discuss in detail in the next installment), marketers are starting to understand how leveraging the social graph can provide the most efficient and effective way to market a film in the digital age.

Photo via Tribeca Film.

Written by Marc Schiller and Mike Lee of BOND Strategy and Influence and published with kind permission.

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