Building The Community Web-Those Already Doing This

Today's guest post is Pt 2 of 2 from 2010 Brave Thinker Of Indie Film Sheri Candler. I have investigated some artists already building their communities (and sustaining themselves) and thought you should use them as examples to follow.

Examples of artists who have built a community web

In addition to the Grateful Dead, a group most all of you are aware of, there are  examples of artists from many areas who have successfully built up a community around themselves and their work.

Kevin Smith is a great example. Smith says he can spend up to 9 hours a day online and started this back in 1995. He has never put his career only in filmmaking, saying he never expected THAT to last. Instead, his community has been introduced to a variety of his activities; a SModcast, comic books, stand up comedy, regular writing contributions to various magazines. Smith isn’t tied to only one avenue of revenue and in fact can make a living off many things outside of making films. He was able to pinpoint exactly what his fans liked about him early on and he reaches out to them continually. If I had to suggest something, I would ask him to allow a community aspect on his site so that fellow fans can contact each other.

Matthew Ebel is another example. Ebel is rock pianist who is now forging a path into the transmedia world on his next project which involves an album, a novel, a graphic novel, and a radio drama. He continually infuses his music with stories and characters which helps to draw in the listener. Ebel regularly blogs and has his own podcast which has grown his community of supporters. He acknowledges that these activities exploded him out of obscurity and credits them with his ability to make a living as an artist. He releases new music through a subscription service on his blog as well as touring the world and he encourages his fans to take his music and create something new from it. I will be exploring Mike Masnick’s CwF+RtB=$$ in  a future post with Ebel as a good example of someone doing this successfully. Ebel regularly engages with his fans on his Facebook page as well as in comments on his blog.

Jonathan Coulton is a musician who left his day job in 2005 to write music full time. When he was first starting, he released a new song a week (Thing a Week) to his site under Creative Commons where anyone can take his music and do whatever with it as long as it is non commercial. This experiment served to self discipline him to stay on track with his writing; he made himself achieve this goal. It also built up his fan base who regularly needed to be fed content and who enjoyed interacting with him. Within 2 years, Coulton said he was making more at songwriting than he had been from computer programming, the job he left to start his musical career. He also found during this time that his community did not just want to buy music from him, they wanted to be his friend.  Community members have drawn artwork for each song, contributed their own versions of his music, given him tips about other revenue streams he could be investigating. Coulton doesn’t see his work as a musician simply to sit around strumming a guitar and thinking up song ideas. He actively engages his community every day. For more on this story see a NYT article on him from 2007.

A roadmap

My friend Ross Pruden has been giving me feedback on this post while I have been writing it and even though I said I am not going to give you 10 steps to guarantee community, he insists that I give you SOME kind of guidance on beginning this process.

Goals-as I mentioned before, start with small steps. If you are starting from zero, try to get your first 500 true fans in the first year or two. It takes a lot of time to find, nurture and consistently maintain this community. You must be committed to doing this work and perhaps have someone help you.

Interaction-Not only do you want your community numbers to go up, but you want the engagement to rise. This is easily seen on the new Facebook analytics if that is a place you have chosen to speak from. It should also be seen on your Google analytics through your site traffic numbers and from the number of comments on your posts. Don’t get TOO caught up in measurement. The goal is building a worthwhile community, not gaming numbers, but it gives you a good idea of what is working and what is not so you can adjust.

Allow for creative connection-Ideally, you want a community involved in your work and to connect with each other. Allow them to riff on your content, remix it to share with others, become part of this “in” crowd. View this spread of your content and ideas as a way to enlarge your community, not as revenue lost. More on this to come.

Connect to others with communities-You aren’t the only artist looking to build an audience. There surely are other similar artists, maybe in another medium, with similar fan interests. I saw this quote on Twitter today from John Maeda “Talent recognizes other talent and shows appreciation for it, instead of envy.” Live this quote, connect yourself and your community to like minded communities in order to widen the circle. Don’t be selfish and egotistical, traits like that will not allow you to have a community. You will be widening your circle incrementally, welcoming in new members who become exposed to your work and ideas through others.

I just need a community and all will be well?

I will acknowledge that while you are beginning to  build your web, you will have to reach out much more using traditional methods. Advertising, publicity, affiliations are all tools in the mix and they can work a bit faster than connecting with people one by one. Be mindful of where you place these, again the goal isn’t everyone, just those most interested in what you have to offer. You are issuing an invitation to connect when you talk about your community, not an invitation to buy something. Refer back to Bob Moczydlowsky’s equation for financial success. DON’T make the film first and hope it finds an audience. Build your web first, then make the film. I will restate that this work is going to take a lot of time and effort. This isn’t “buzz” building, it is a long term strategy to building a sustainable career. One where you can live as an artist free to make whatever content pleases you and delights your community while making a living.

PS added later: another artist building her own community is Amanda Palmer. Palmer has such a following that she now works with other artists. She has fan art, she has her own store, she has a street team called The Reconnaissance with a bootcamp to teach one how to become part of the team, there is a forum on her page where fans can interact with her and with each other. Palmer uses Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Youtube and Flickr to update and talk to her community and she gives away content as well as selling all manner of merch in her store. She famously went on Twitter one Friday evening and started talking with fans when she came up with the idea of selling tshirts about what losers they all were for being home on Twitter on a Friday night. She sold over $11,000 in merch within 2 hours that night! As she said, her record on a label to that point had made her $0. Check the post here.

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.