Jeff Chiba Stearns - Online Film Monetization and Strategies for Social Media

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"I like the Buzz Score Film Annex uses because you can see right away that your social media networking is working with the rise in Influence and Sharing scores. It’s a great incentive since a higher Buzz Score usually reflects higher revenue generating and monetization from you uploaded content." - Jeff Chiba Stearns.

Jeff Chiba Stearns joined Film Annex thanks to Jonathan Ng's recommendation. As he says it himself, "Word of mouth is the greatest form of marketing." He's one of the last filmmakers who has been listed in Eren's Picks and already sees the results. He's a full time animation filmmaker because he understands that self promotion is key in online film distribution and that "online monetization is the future of filmmaking."

You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. He also has several Facebook pages for himself as a filmmaker, his animation studio and his films.

Below is an interview of Jeff about his thoughts on the recent changes in the film industry, how he uses social media and some tips for other filmmakers on online film distribution and strategies for social media.

Film Annex: What do you think of the recent evolutions in the film industry?
Jeff Chiba Stearns:
One of my favorite independent animators of all time, the late Norman McLaren, once said, “Film is changing and it can’t help but keep changing.” I really believe this is true in all facets of filmmaking and the way we consume media. We can’t deny that the Internet and digital technological advances have been the biggest game changers in film since film itself. Therefore, in order to stand out from the crowd, it takes understanding of self-promotion and social media marketing. Just like film, the way we promote and market films is changing and will continue to change and evolve with no signs of slowing down. Thus, if filmmakers don’t keep up with trends, they will be left behind with no mercy. If you noticed recently, major studio movie posters don’t even list websites anymore; they display the film’s Facebook page. Studios know that if they present fans with bonus content, new trailers, etc., one fan will possibility share that content and trailer with their friends. Word of mouth is the greatest form of marketing and best of all for these studios, it is free.

FA: When did you start promoting your work specifically on social media platforms?
JCS: When I joined Facebook back in March 2007, I was reluctant to move to a new social media platform. Before that, I was using MySpace to promote my films and myself. Although, in all honesty, I couldn’t stand MySpace because of its confusing layouts, tacky customizations, and high level of spam from weird usernames. So when Facebook came about, I liked that there was a real name behind the face and was more personal. It made social media friendlier for me. I also like how fan pages connected my films to my fans and how easy it is to keep people updated on my work and interact with them if they have questions or comments about my work.

FA: What social media platforms do you use? Which one(s) do you think is(are) more efficient for filmmakers to promote their work and why?
JCS: Right now, I use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Google+. I do feel that five social media outlets are a bit much to manage but each one serves a different purpose for self-promotion. I obviously lean towards Facebook because this is the social media platform I am most familiar with and have been using the longest. Plus, it’s easy to update, connect with people, and promote work. I really like the fan pages and I’ve found this the best way to connect with fans and people who like a particular film or me as a filmmaker. It’s been important to give people a personal connection and platform to discuss the topics in the films with comments and questions. It’s the added experience after watching the film to have a platform for people to talk about the work with others and engage them in a dialogue and discussion about the themes and issues presented. As well, the ability to create events for free to promote screenings, workshops, etc. and invite people in my networks is so much easier than going out and putting up posters and postcards or paying for ads in newspapers. I now understand the power of Twitter. It took me a bit longer to figure out how to use Twitter with hashtags, etc. but now I tweet as often as I can and think it’s a great way to keep people informed about my work in a real time setting. As well, I like LinkedIn for connecting with professionals and peers and for me it’s a way to drum up some possible commercial work. So it’s good to post new Film Annex video links on LinkedIn to show my work to previous and potential clients. I’m still slow to grasp Google+ and Tumblr because they are the newest platforms for me to learn but I’m starting to understand more of how they work and how they could be used to benefit my work. A good tip is to use free online programs like HootSuite to link all your social media together, which allows you to send one update to all your social media networks at one time. 

FA: Did you make interesting contacts or create business opportunities by sharing your work on social media?
Of course, social media for me is actually a really great way to stay in touch with my networks of peers, clients, and friends. Also, social media is a great way just to stay connected with cool animation trends, to see what your animation buddies are creating, and to find out about events and festivals happening. LinkedIn obviously has been very good at connecting me to possible new clients who want to know more about my work and my portfolio. People can follow you without them appearing in your newsfeed. That is why Facebook Pages, Twitter, and LinkedIn are so great because it allows me to connect with people who like my work and who I may not normally have met in person. I’ve had a lot of people refer me to their friends in regards to animation gigs based on the links to my work that I’ve posted on my social networking sites. It’s also great when your work gets shared by your friends and fans because it finds a wider audience that you normally wouldn’t have access to. 

FA: Give us an example on how you promote your Web TV or work in general on social media?
JCS: Normally, when I create a new blog post or upload a new video to my Web TV, I always post the update on all social media networks to get the word out. If I spend an hour or two writing and editing a blog post, it makes no sense not to let people know it’s up and fresh. You can’t just expect people to find it or seek it out, especially with so much information people are bombarded with these days. You have to direct people to you! It’s great to see that after posting a link on social media about my Web TV blog posts, I always notice the number of likes next to the blog post increase immediately. Therefore, this is how I know it’s working and people are reading my blogs and watching my videos. As well, I always post links to my Web TV films and videos within my blogs to help encourage people to check out the videos as an added enhancement of reading my blogs. As well, when I post about a film on my Web TV, I always try to give people an incentive to go watch it. I let them know this may be something they may relate to or a topic they may be interested in. Sometimes I’ll joke and say if you want a little distraction or break from work, take a couple minutes and check out my animated film. You have to remember that you’re providing people entertainment for free so you’re giving people some enjoyment and hopefully some inspiration. 

FA: Did you see a change on your revenues on Film Annex after promoting your Web TV on social media?
JCS: In the beginning, before being featured on Eren’s Picks and on the recommended Web TV spotlights via the Film Annex homepage, I would often try some experiments to see if social media did increase revenues.  When I started using Facebook to promote my Web TV, I definitely saw my revenues increasing that day.  If I made a post about a new film or just a general link to my Web TV, I would see a spike in my revenues so I knew it was working. Although for me, the most important reason for using social media was that it drove traffic to my Web TV and people who may not have been familiar with all of my work or had just seen one or two of my films, now had access to watching all of my work. This was a great new way to show my work to some old friends and peers who may normally not have ever been motivated to watch my other work previously. I like the Buzz Score Film Annex uses because you can see right away that your social media networking is working with the rise in Influence and Sharing scores. It’s a great incentive since a higher Buzz Score usually reflects higher revenue generating and monetization from you uploaded content. 

FA: Do you have any tips for other filmmakers on how to promote your films on social media?
JCS: Sure, as an independent filmmaker who believes in DIY distribution, social media is definitely my greatest tool for self-promotion and as an added bonus, the greatest thing about social media is that it is free. When I’m at a film festival, I always encourage people to ‘like’ my Facebook page or find me on Twitter. It’s really important to establish a connection with people who like your work because they will be more compelled to follow you and support your future work. As well, I make sure all my promotional material, postcards and posters have a link to the film’s Facebook page. An independent filmmaker has to be an entrepreneur, especially if you plan to self produce your own work. I am a full-time filmmaker because I know how to self promote and market my work. Online monetization is the future of filmmaking, like it or not. This Echo generation or what is also known as millennial or Gen Y youth, is getting their media online, not from TV. As well, like it or not, this generation is not going to the theaters as much as Generation X or our parents’ generation. This is a fact and it scares big movie theater chains who are scrambling to reinvent the wheel. Why do you think 3D was so popular, not because it was new and hip and they could charge a couple extra dollars per ticket…but they thought that they had figured out a way to beat pirating and online downloading. They figured people couldn’t take a pirated video of a fuzzy 3D movie. Of course we learned that didn’t stop people.

As an animation filmmaker who makes a living off creating short films, the Internet is a perfect model for self-distribution. But with self-distribution, a filmmaker needs to know how to harness the power of social media to create a buzz around their work. It is a fine balance of self-promotion, bragging, and taking pride in your work. I usually send out one or two posts per day, but no more than one post about my work. I always try to post other things like just something cool I found on the Internet that I want to share. This way people don’t get burnt out of your constant self-promotion. Remember, by linking to your films or a blog, you’re giving someone something. It’s not like you’re asking them for something. You’re giving the gift of laughter, drama, entertainment, and thought. If they find your work is compelling, you’ve made a fan. Your fans will support you and your work and it’s super important to create a fan base and a brand around you as a filmmaker because at the end of the day, like it or not, by making a film, you’ve made a product. That product is something you can sell and make money from. Yes, it’s art, but any good artist will tell you, art is worth money, art is "sellable", art is valuable, just as film is art, film is valuable. Take no shame or embarrassment in sharing your films with the world, have confidence and take pride in your work, and good things will come!

Click here to read more about promoting films online and on social media platforms.

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