I recently sent some advice to a friend who is looking to start an online audio drama series. He pointed out that the tips might be of interest to others in a similar situation.
Arms Race succeeded and found an audience due to a mix of things:
- It’s quite good. Not ground-breaking by any means and there’s a lot of rough edges and it’s clearly zero budget, but it entertains and has wit and energy. This really is the main thing: make sure your product is good, otherwise nothing else really matters. Note that this doesn’t mean it has to be ‘Hollywood’ good – online audiences understand when something is super low budget. But the work needs some skill and a lot passion for audiences to tune in. The reason this is important is that if your work is good, people will repost/share/tweet/etc links to it. If they have 20 friends, and a couple of those friends then do the same, suddenly you’ve 60 extra people aware of your stuff. this’ll only happen *if it’s good*. As an audio production in particular, accept nothing less than professional quality sound. One of the major benefits of audio over video is that you actually CAN get professional sound quality, whereas a low budget video will almost never look as good as a professional movie.
- I spent a few days promoting Arms Race to key websites/people. Hence it ended up being blogged about by a few people, including quite prominent steampunk novel authors. It also got mentioned on io9.com, I think. Similarly, our later shorts were mentioned on Kotaku, which brought in thousands of views. In that case, Kotaku covered them because they were tenuously game related (Temporary Status = Fallout, Confrontation at Dawn = Witcher), so they knew their readers would be interested to some degree. You only need to hit a few key websites to get a lot of people checking you out, so ahead of time make sure you identify the main contact points, and hit them hard on release day. Although it’s important to be honest – we never present ourselves as some mega budget, super slick production. We make it very clear that we’re low budget and indie, which opens a few doors.
- Have a cohesive social media strategy. Where are your audience? Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Pinterest, Google+, etc? Probably all of the above. You need to have a presence on all of them. And then perhaps a central website (just an attractive blog is enough, like itsatrap.co.uk) that brings it all together, which provides a simple URL to give to people you meet.
- Respond and engage with your audience. If people leave comments, reply back, thank them, take on board constructive criticism etc. Most importantly: if people post negative stuff, let ’em. Don’t respond angrily. Either ignore it, or respond with a “thanks, we’ll bear that in mind for the next one!” type attitude. That will earn respect, and even somebody that didn’t like your stuff might then check you out again in the future – and more importantly, everybody else reading those comments can see you’re a mature gentleman. Whatever you do, never tell your critics that they’re wrong!
- You can’t just post your stuff on your own website and expect people to find it. You need to go find them. So post your stuff on a social channel – that’s why we use YouTube rather than hosting our videos ourselves, for example: YouTube does half of our promotion for us. In that regard, pay careful attention to tags/categories/etc. While you probably won’t be using YouTube for your main audio stuff, I imaging the same advice applies to Soundcloud or whatever platform you’re gonna use.
- Even if you’re an audio production, consider how you can use other media to enhance the overall experience. For example, even if the main product is audio, how about regular video diaries chronicling the production? Interviews with cast, etc? That gives you an excuse to have a presence on YouTube, the most important media platform in the world (more important than cinema, TV, etc, put together, in my opinion), while giving your fans extra rewards. Also, it puts a face to your company and work, and media consumers on the internet love personality: they love to know the people behind the work, as it makes them feel like they have a personal stake. That’s why at FXhome we make everything very personal. Hence on our Kickstarter, me and Josh are front and centre on camera.
- Most importantly, who is your audience? Don’t just promote at random people, or everybody. Pinpoint. Who is interested? Who are the fans? Who is REALLY into that stuff? Go for them first, and then they’ll help spread the word out to everybody else. Hence Arms Race did well because we automatically tapped into the steampunk movement, which is fanatical and noisy and loves to self-promote. Find out hashtags on Twitter that your potential audience uses (eg #steampunk, #indiefilm etc). Find forums and communities online that might be interested (though critical in this is not to appear like a spam artist. Don’t just post “Check out my thing!” You need to earn people’s respect first. Make a few other posts first, perhaps. Or give something back to the community. etc). Finally on this, while you need to know your audience, don’t try to second-guess them during production. You still need to make the thing that YOU want to make, otherwise you’ll lose the passion.
Right….I know that’s all a bit vague, but hopefully it’s useful to some degree or another!