I am often asked some version of this question by our clients: “When should I launch my website and start posting on social media?” Our clients range from filmmakers to entrepreneurs to thought leaders. They are smart and savvy visionaries, so they know they need a website and social media presence, but are not sure when to begin.
My advice: As soon as you know the title of the film, project or organization, purchase the domain names and secure the social media handles. Then, as soon as you have content to release (i.e. a film trailer or brand film, behind-the-scenes photos, or something else noteworthy) start posting.
Why so soon? Three reasons:
- Make yourself easy to find online. You want to build up the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on your website and the following on your social media handles as you go. Both of those contribute to your branding and overall presentation, so show outlets and stakeholders that people are paying attention to you.
- You snooze, you loose. If you wait too long, someone else could grab the names before you. Then you either have to change the name/title or you have websites or social media handles that are not perfect fits.
- Avoid the last-minute scramble. You never want to be in a position where you are scrambling to launch your website and your social media while you are on your way to a premiere or launch event. It will be really stressful and expensive to do well, and you can avoid the all of that by getting started early.
I know this goes against the old way of doing things, where content creators would keep everything secret until their World Premiere and then hope everyone rushes to see it. But how do you expect your audience, consumers, funders, donors, supporters, press, critics, and distributors to find you without an online presence?
If you have an indie film or a start-up, you likely cannot compete with a big Hollywood marketing budget, so do not try. Start early and let your SEO and followers accumulate with each new success.
In my experience, a celebrity who recorded the voice over work for our film for free, specifically told me we had a great website at the Voice Over session. Another time, the website and social media showed we were a legit production, so the celebrity’s manager began negotiating an interview time with us. You can read more about these experiences in my blog post: How To Attract Celebrities for Your Cause-Oriented Film
For now, let’s answer some basic questions about websites and social media…
How many URLs should I purchase?
The simple answer is: as many as you can afford and are available. In the case of our recent documentary, “Mary Janes: The Women of Weed”, I initially purchased website domains for MaryJanesFilm.com along with MaryJanesFilm.net and MaryJanesFilm.org because that fit our early budget.
Why should I purchase the same name with different endings?
The reason we purchased web domains ending with .com, .net and .org was to control the content that appears on the most frequent domain names. Additionally, while all of our content appears on MaryJanesFilm.com, we point the other sites (ending in .net and .org) to the .com page, thereby helping our SEO.
What social media platforms should I use?
Our motto is: Speak from where your audience is listening. It doesn’t matter if you like or dislike a platform; if your audience is engaged somewhere, you need to be there. Start by comparing your audiences/consumers with the average demographics of the social media platforms. Then search for existing communities, threads, and groups on those platforms to find where your audiences cross over. Create accounts there, and introduce yourself to your existing communities by liking, commenting and sharing content.
My top name choices aren’t available. Should I purchase a domain name or social media handle?
I have never purchased a domain name or social media handle for my independent film productions, mostly because of our budget. (Side note: It can be quite amusing to see how much people value their domain names or social media handles.) If you want to field offers, go for it; but do your research to ensure the offer is legit and you will get what you pay for.
Instead, I’ve found that if I tweaked my naming conventions, I could usually find something that will work. For example: neither MaryJanes nor WomenOfWeed was available on all the platforms I wanted, but MaryJanesFilm was, so I grabbed those instead.
If you get creative, you can probably find something that will work.
Should I purchase domain names and social media handles with related keywords?
If you can afford them, you can set yourself a timeline or a budget and acquire more domain names and social media handles over time.
What should I post on my website?
Once you’ve purchased the domain names and web hosting, it’s time to design our film website. Initially, you can get by with a landing page that includes some key art, basic information about the film/project/company, and links (or plug-ins) for your social media handles.
Eventually, you’ll want to build a multi-page website because users will search for different types of content there. You can avoid re-building the website from scratch by having a solid long-term plan for what the site will include.
Here’s a quick overview of the elements you may want to include on our website:
- Home page with key art and announcements
- Film trailer or brand film about your company
- Cast page – with photos and bios
- Team or Crew page – with photos and bios
- Online store – for merchandise
- List of upcoming screenings/events
- Details on how to purchase your product or host a screening
- Where to buy the film when released – including a way to purchase it through your website
- Links to your social media platforms
- Media links
- Electronic Press Kit (EPK) – you can read my tips for an EPK here.
Add the elements as they are ready and as you have relevant content. With that, you are on your way to a user-friendly website.
What should I post on social media?
Social media is a conversation. If you are only talking about yourself, you’ll quickly lose followers. Ask questions, solicit feedback, share content from other influencers and give them credit. Once you begin the dialogue, you can adjust the content based on what gets the most engagements.
You can start the conversation by sharing anything relevant to your film/project:
- Film Poster or Key Art
- Film trailer or brand film
- Behind-the-scenes photos
- Sneak peek videos your process
- Photos and short bios of the founder, director, team, cast, and/or crew
- Upcoming screenings/events
- An image and link to a new blog post
- An image and link to recent press or previews
Balance this self-promoting (“look at me”) content with inspiring gifts for your followers:
- Recent articles or studies they may find interesting
- Upcoming events related to your topic
- Inspiring quotes or art
I changed the name. Now what?
If it’s a major change, you can check to see if any new name combinations are available for websites and social media. If there are, you can switch. However, if the change is minor and you have a significant following, you can leave it the way it is and avoid confusing your followers.
Better yet, do a combination: secure the new names, and then slowing transition your audience to the new names by inviting them to like the content over there.
How long should I keep the website and social media active?
As long as you have something to talk about, keep your website and social media content updated. Additionally, you want to control the conversation about your film/product. If you disable the accounts and stop the registering the domain names, someone else can grab them and shift the conversation. My advice: keep them active for a few years after you shut down your project/organization to be safe.
I hope these tips are helpful as you develop your film websites and social media.