This is the first part in a five part series. You can read the introductory article explaining the ideas behind this series here.
The year is 1997 and my parents are dragging me to the theater for what might be my first officially sanctioned viewing of boobies. The movie was Titanic, and while I did go to the movies as a kid this was the one occasion I remember where we all went together as a family.
For the most part going to the theater is a personal experience. You go to see a movie because you want to see it. You go with a friend who shares your taste, or with a significant other because it’s something they want to see.
This wasn’t the case in ’97. If it were a movie my dad wanted to see he would’ve dragged my mom along, and if it was something my sister or I wanted to see, we would’ve made one of them take us. I never asked to see Titanic, heck I’m not even sure my parents really wanted to see it – we all already knew the ending anyway (the boobs were the real – awkward twist). You see, my parents went to the theater that night, and they took us because they understood that it was expected that we would see it. They knew that people around the water cooler were going to be talking about it for a long time, and they knew that twenty years later, their son would need to use it in a blog post as an example of a shared social experience that every one of my readers over the age of 25 will be able to appreciate.
That brings me to the subject at hand, the most significant reason people will choose to watch or not watch your content, and they are almost all social reasons.
You Didn’t Connect With A Community
Now it’s probably too much to ask for your little indie to match that national, or global community that Titanic was able to connect with. When you do everything perfectly, and you have millions of dollars at your disposal you can create a global phenomenon. For those without the millions, well… you can still try and do everything perfectly.
At its core a community is a group of at least two people connected by some common bond. The bonds that hold them together also serve as an efficient distribution system within the group. Like in the example of the significant other dragging their spouse to the theater, simply connecting with one, turned into two.
There are really interesting dynamics at play within communities that makes them a powerful tool for audience development. Generally speaking communities are formed by groups of people who have some kind of shared experience. The strength of that community and force behind the bonds that hold them together are directly related to those shared experiences.
Members of a community know where they each came from – they can easily relate to one another. Most importantly of all these factors they create trust between members of the group. When you turn one member of the group on to your content other members of that group will trust in their recommendation.
Think of it this way. How many times have you done something based on a personal recommendation? The answer is probably all of the time.
Of course we’ve all gotten those recommendations from people we trust that we were still skeptical about. Like that time an old co-worker of mine swore that the best sushi in town was at a nearby ‘gentlemen’s club.’ To be fair, the dude was shady AF.
There will always be skeptics within the community, but that’s where the power of the group takes over. When the bonds are strong enough, and your conversion rates are high, eventually those skeptics have no choice but to buy in, if only to continue fitting into the group.
This is the Titanic factor at play on a small scale. The size of the group doesn’t matter. When a large portion of the group has bought in others will start to jump in for the shared experience of it all. You see, it is the shared experience that forms your identity as part of the group, so the decision to not participate is a decision to distance oneself from the community.
Once your series enters the collective consciousness of the community your content can become almost a tenant of faith among the group – as important as any religious doctrine, venerated on a level equal to the Kubrick’s, and Spielberg’s of the film world. Your films may pale in comparison but within that community you are part of the integral bonds that hold it together.
Let Me Guess, You Didn’t Turn A Trusted Source Into A Fan?
Embedding yourself within a community and turning one fan into two, then two fans into four, and so on, is challenging and a potentially slow process. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to simply turn on the right member of the group. These are people we often refer to as tastemakers or influencers. They are trusted reviewers, social media influencers or even just friends.
This is a lot more straight forward of a concept. Some people just have the power to influence a huge number of people. Just get Justin Beiber to tweet out your YouTube channel and you are set! On a more realistic note, reaching out to people with a large following and trying to make a connection can go a long way.
We all have that one blogger who’s movie reviews we trust more than anyone. Maybe the social reach isn’t quite on the level of the Beibs but the readers are loyal and the recommendations are taken seriously. I guarantee you, that dude who decided he didn’t want to watch your show didn’t read a glowing review of it from his favorite blogger.
You can take this concept all the way down to the smallest scale. Everyone has a friend or two with just impeccable taste. Their music recommendations are so on point you don’t know how they do it. Then there’s your friend Taylor who always seems to know about all the illest parties. I’m gona go out on a limb and guess that Aunt Sally didn’t get a recommendation from her version of Taylor to watch your stuff.
The Crowd Was Indifferent, or Thinks You Suck
The strong social connections between members of a community or an influencer and their audience will create strong, positive reactions when you hit the mark. Still, your target audience is just a subset of the larger collective that represents your total potential fan base.
When I ask creators to describe whom they think will like their show, the most common response is ‘everyone.’ My typical retort is that ‘everyone is no one’ and this is precisely because your real fan base is going to come from those first two groups.
Inevitably, while trying to reach out to those first two groups we will reach an even larger group of different people. These are the people we hope will be our fans, but who we weren’t willing to bet on. Taken together with the first two groups we have the largest group, which I call ‘the aggregate.’
People who don’t find you via community or influencers will look towards the aggregate for advice when your project comes up. The aggregate is your rating on Amazon or IMDB, a score on Rotten Tomatoes, your subscriber or thumbs up count on YouTube or whatever type of rating Netflix is showing these days. This is the final score, or the bottom line.
If the score is good, you might win over another viewer – if not… or worst of all, if there are no scores to be found… This illustrates the importance of focusing on the target communities and individual influencers. The ones you win over will help you get out of the gate quickly, starting you off with nice aggregate scores and helpful positive reviews. It’s the people you weren’t targetting who find you and give you that one star rating, or tell you how much you suck in your YouTube comments section.
Ultimately this bulk group is not representative of your projects overall quality, though it may be indicative of its abilities commercially. If by some chance you are one of those few filmmakers who’s content actually does appeal to everybody and you get great aggregate ratings, embrace it because as strong as those community and influencer bonds are, nothing has the reach and financial backing of the masses.
Humans are social creatures, and as such it should come as no surprise that our instincts lead us to follow the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ or to make decisions based on the health of the group over the individual. While social reasons are far from the only reasons we watch the things we watch they are easily the most powerful and make for an indie producers best bet to capture lightening in a bottle and grow beyond their means.