With the help of social media, you can accomplish almost anything. You can become the king of the night by throwing an epic party in the style of Gatsby. You can fundrise for an important cause by creating a social media campaign, like the #IceBucketChallenge, or you can organize a festival: to raise awareness about a particular issue, or simply as an act of celebrating art. Whatever idea you have in mind, the Internet and the techonology available today certainly have the means to support your vision and help you see it come to life.

Social media can be a powerful tool in the mission of bringing people closer to your ideas, but only if you know how to use it. In this article, we’ll borrow inspiration from the people in charge of film festivals, while seeking advice on what’s the best way to use social media responsibly and effectively, and hopefully we’ll give you the needed motivation if you’re thinking of getting involved with a creative project!

How do big festivals implement social media?

The Sundance Institute’s social media manager, Royale Ziegler, shares in a Q&A with Adweek that social media has the power to amplify the work of both aspiring and already established artists, and to connect it with new audiences. Perhaps the secret behind the success of their social presence lies in the next sentence:

 ”Collectively we’re telling the story of Sundance Institute.”

A director may shape the path of a company, but it’s up to all the employees to follow his or her guidance, but also to bring their best into the daily tasks, in order to achieve long-term success. One person cannot simply manage all the tasks and thrive. We must rely on one another, especially when pulling off something so time-demanding and attention-seeking, such as a film festival.

The Sundance Institute has definitely understood the power of team work and team spirit. They may be sharing their stories individually, but they are reaching and accomplishing the festival goals collectively. What’s more, as the infographic by Genuine Article illustrates, the festival tends to include a certain amount of time on each film from the programme:

Similarly, the Tribeca Film Festival writes on its website: ”These days, filmmakers don’t just need a press kit and a Web site; they need a social media presence.” Yup, this is the same festival that actually got Robert De Niro on Snapchat!

So, where do you begin when you’re building an audience from scratch?

Founder of the Havana Glasgow Film Festival, Eirene Houston says:

”planning a social media strategy to generate wider interest and connect the festival content to people’s lives is essential to spark their interest, so imaginations is key, and I think if it’s done well, it can contribute to wider awareness about the festival, more quickly.”

Even if she believes that social media has actually changed film festivals, not just the way you promote them, Eirene shares that traditional marketing was a big part of the first year of the festival. ”I’ve only been running our festival for 2 years, so social media has always been a part of it, but it takes a while for social media to make an impact. For example, although we used social media the first year, I think people mostly came through word of mouth. We also had some more ‘old fashioned ways’, like articles in newspapers, radio invitations, posters, emails and physical programmes. I guess, it was more newsworthy being the first edition of the festival.”

Enjoying some salsa at a great fundraiser for #HGFF17 and Hurricane Irma relief 💃🏽

A post shared by Havana Glasgow Film Festival (@havana.glasgow.film.fest) on

For her, social media pushes you to think out of the box, to act more creatively – ‘’You have to have more than just films.” This year’s programme, for example, features a Children’s Salsa event, which is ideal both for parents and children who want to enjoy a day in the museum full of activities and fun.

The event that really got my attention, however, was the Salsa Speed Networking for Filmmakers, which sounds a lot like speed dating, only it is specifically designed for film lovers and filmmakers, and it involves salsa (no experience required!). The participants will be invited to share a 5-minute dance with different partners, to find out who they are and what their interests are, with the idea of potentially forming collaborations in the future. Now, if that’s not a creative use of the festival’s time frame, I don’t know what is!

”The curation of the festival is the fun bit, the hard stuff is fundraising and marketing, which can never really stop,” Eirene admits, as she explains that the process of planning, organizing and promoting a festival truly is a full-time job and it takes almost an entire year to accomplish. As soon as one edition is finished, one must begin thinking ahead for the next one.

What’s the main advantage of social media then?

”Social media has changed publicity and marketing strategies for film festivals tremendously,” argues Lizelle Bisschoff, founder of the film festival Africa in Motion. The annual festival, which is now in its twelfth year, brings the best of African cinema to Scotland, with almost 600 titles screened to over 35,000 people since the inauguration of the festival in 2006.

Africa in Motion 2013

Lizelle admits there are many benefits to the increased use of social media channels, such as the easy and cheap submission from filmmakers, and the wider reach of festivals that implement and promote online submissions. ”To give you an example, this has increased Africa in Motion’s short film competition submissions from around 50 in 2007, which is the year it first ran, to almost 400 submissions in 2017!”

The technological advances of today are not only changing the way festivals are created and promoted, but also the way the organizers keep their internal and external communication. Forget the old-fashioned way of participating in the festival’s programme. Filmmakers and distributors no longer need to send DVDs or USB drives, when they can simply upload and send their files, turning the process of submission into a much simpler and enhanced experience. Following, organizers can stay in touch all throughout the process via e-mail, social media, FaceTime, or via any other digital form, even if they are miles away from one another.

”With the increasingly sophisticated targeted marketing you can achieve on social media sites, such as Facebook, we are relying less and less on traditional publicity channels such as press releases, newspapers, print publicty etc.,” says Lizelle.

”Social media has the advantage that you can tap into your target audience directly. It is also much cheaper and more environmentally friendly than traditional print advertising!” 

But how many visitors are really being gained from social media?

According to Lizelle, social media allows you to target your intended audience directly, which in turn helps resolve the challenge as to how to reach audiences. ”We found, for example, in 2016, that 25% of our Africa in Motion audiences said they heard about the festival through social media, whereas only 3% said they heard about the festival through traditional publicity channels such as newspapers and magazines. That is quite a significant and telling discrepancy!”

Any social media post can show you how many ‘organic’ or ‘paid’ users it reached. By ‘organic’, I mean the users who saw the post because they had already liked the page of the festival or saw it through a friend, instead of appearing on their Facebook wall as an advertisement, which is how ‘paid’ users and views are being gathered. Having said that, once you use social media, you can track how different posts are doing, or what kind of content people like more. Plus, you can post paid content, which, of course, will generate more page views and post likes.

Okay, but why is social media such a powerful tool for film festivals?

‘’I think there is a greater focus on getting a feeling for being there and social media, with visual platforms like Facebook and Instagram, can do that for festivals.’’

Film Curation student Amelia Seely believes that social media makes festival more exciting and helps to create a buzz, a feel for the atmosphere. She is due to receive her Master’s degree in November and she’s currently working as a Project Assistant at an arts consultancy company. ‘’From my experience social media can sometimes be neglected but I believe it is vital and it is a full-time commitment.

‘’Festivals need to be sharing things online all the time to keep up the momentum and get people excited and enthusiastic about it as much as the organisers behind it.‘’

#terrifying #whatalooker

A post shared by Millie (@_amelia_anne_) on

Amelia has been involved with the organization of many festivals, including Havana Glasgow Film Festival, Africa in Motion Film Festival, Glasgow Short Film Festival, and more. According to her, the best approach is to make social media feed as inclusive as possible for all demographics, leaving aside the idea that one platform attracts one age group more than another. ‘’Whilst focusing on the likely target audience I think it is important not to use one platform for one age group as the festival needs to be as accessible to as many as possible and represented equally across each.’’

In her view, the live video, which more and more social media platforms feature today, is increasing in importance and will soon become a staple for film festivals in their social media and marketing. ‘’This is definitely a good thing as it makes it possible for people who are unable to make it, from all across the world, to share and enjoy the festival. Although it might not be so much the films but rather the Q&As that fans have the opportunity to see from distance. To sit alongside with the filmmakers – it does make the events more accessible, and widens further the reach of the discussion.‘’

Should you study a course in order to be a successful film festival organizer?  

Amelia will be continuing her academic journey later on this year, when she starts her PhD programme at the University of Exeter, where she’ll be researching the British Film Industry in the 1970s and 1980s in connection to the film artist Bill Douglas. This is what she said about studying Film Curation: ”I think the course has been very helpful in thinking about how to use different spaces creatively, as well as the responsibility of a film curator in providing opportunities for audiences to see films that they would not normally get to see or to experience them in a unique setting.

Another great setting @thenomadcinema #purplerain #prince

A post shared by Millie (@_amelia_anne_) on

‘’This module enabled me to put what I had learnt in terms of theory, into practice. Even before studying, of course, I volunteered for different film events and festivals, however, I was often given roles such as front of house, box office, ushering. As part of the course, I have been able to meet lots of people in the film exhibition industry and have had greater responsibilities than I would have had in a normal volunteering capacity.

‘’There are initiatives such as Scalarama where anyone can get involved to put on their own film event and gaining this kind of practical experience within a supportive network is extremely valuable.

‘’Personally, after studying Film Curation and the practical experience I gained during the course, I now feel confident to go on to start my own festival in the future.’’

What’s the final verdict?

Despite the evident popularity and growth of social media both in our day-to-day life, and in the world of promoting ideas, I think we must all remember a key aspect to journalism – one which applies to everything there is and surrounds us for as long as we exist. There can never be a substitute for the human connection, for the human element that attracts us to stories, to events, to creations.

It is perhaps this human element that has made popular the Live Video feature that helps us feel closer to events which are miles away, that allows us to live through experiences from the comfortable zone of the place we call home, and to share glorious moments ourselves with friends and family who are unable to make them. Yet, paradoxically, it is also the human element that will ultimately physically lack in the places we broadcast from or observe from far away, if all just tuned in to watch the Live Video, without ever attending the events.

In the words of Eirene, ”there is no substitute for meeting people, sharing your passion and spreading the word through that. It is very time consuming and hard to be in so many places, but you can’t grow a festival at home in front of a computer. You have to be out there talking to people, laughing, drinking, inspiring. You have to create a community that people want to be part of.”

For more information about the two festivals, which are happening one after the other, visit their official websites:

Don’t forget to share your experience on social media!