Building The Community Web Around an Artist

Today's guest post (part 1 of 2) is by 2010 Brave Thinker Of Indie Film Sheri Candler.

I think I have been promising this post for a while, ever since I wrote the New Independent Filmmaker’s Business Model. If you haven’t read that post, give it a little peruse so you can see what I am on about. The key premise is that all artists should be building a tribe (a Seth Godin term as it relates to marketing) or an engaged audience for their work. One that transitions from one project to the next throughout your career and indeed your life. These supporters will be your friends, your evangelists, your patrons and if you cultivate this relationship, you will not have need to reach a mass in order to make a comfortable living. I have been thinking though that maybe the idea should be compared to a web.

In looking through some other advice on this, I can see why some can be turned off by the idea. It seems most of the advice focuses only on how to lure people in just so you can sell them something, kind of like how the spider spins her web. It’s a strategy I guess, but that isn’t what I am going to tell you to do here. I am a firm believer that self promotion is about helping other people. What I propose is offering value, sharing knowledge and genuinely wanting to connect with people and connect people you know who should know each other. Perhaps it is better described as a web, an interconnected community. One that you lead, but is dependent on everyone’s interactivity. To me that is much more palatable to an artist because it is authentic, no ulterior motive, which is refreshing in today’s society. But reciprocity does happen because it is really human nature to help someone who has helped you, in fact in this scenario, it is expected.

First elements to understand when constructing you community web:

Permission-You must have permission to talk to people. Permission? Yes, you will only be talking to people who have opted in to hear what you have to say. You will NOT be eblasting everyone you ever met once a week. You will NOT be spamming hundreds of strangers who don’t want to hear from you. You will have “the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” (Seth Godin).  How do you get permission? It starts simply by communicating with people on a one to one level. Aren’t you doing that now? You should be, that’s what social media is for. Not automated, canned message, advertising social media but real conversations. So think of what online services you can use, that you feel comfortable using for communicating every day. It doesn’t have to be hours every day, but some amount of time every day.

Trust-We need to trust you. We need to know you are listening, you understand us, you will help us as we will help you and each other. We need NOT to feel that you are using us.

It’s not you, it’s we-Although this post is directed at building the web around yourself, it is really more about taking a leadership role that is missing from a community. There are lots of people in the world with similar interests and outlooks on life. Artists can contribute a lot to bringing these people together around ideas and creativity. Without leadership, they are just a crowd, unconnected to one another. You and your work are the catalysts that bring them together, if you actively step up to that role.

Building it, getting them to come

I have been reading a book this weekend by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan called “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead” and it has helped me to think of how you should be looking at building your web. No one can tell you “do these 10 things and you will have a community,” but you can start by setting goals for yourself and thinking through the small steps you can take to achieve them. A goal could be to start building an email list of names so that you can speak directly with your community. This is exactly what The Dead did starting in 1971, long before social media made it easy. They placed a call to action postcard in the album sleeve of the famous “Skull and Roses” asking “Dead Freaks Unite!” by sending in their addresses. The band used this list to communicate directly, gauge where the tours would be booked, offer exclusive content, they even gave priority ticket offers for the live shows to list members. Their list of hundreds of thousands was built over 30 years and continues to this day, despite the fact that the official band no longer exists. The community lives on.

First start with you. What’s your story? What can you share with us that helps us to know if we are kindreds? This clearly means that you will not be attracting everybody. Everybody should not be your goal. Everybody isn’t loyal. Trying to attract everybody is like cat wrangling, way more trouble than it is worth. You want the RIGHT people, those who are most open to wanting to contribute to something greater than themselves. Those are the people who are going to enlarge the web, to help you weave it.

Give us the genuine signals that you care and are passionate about what you do. We can sniff out the disingenuous; those who are only in this for money and fame.  Make us believe in you and that you want to know us as people, not as targets. We won’t join you if you want to manipulate us. We have everything we need. We don’t need yet another commodity, another product.  Make us different people for having known you and your stories.

Then, find us. If you know yourself and what you are interested in, you can figure out where we live. Think about your throughline. Many people say that they are interested in many different things, but if they really analyzed all of those seemingly different areas, they will find a commonality. That’s your throughline and those most likely to connect with you will have the same. When you know what characteristics those are, it will be easier to find your community. Start to embed yourself in the places where we already gather.

I have heard some say that it is difficult to move people from one community to another. I personally have found this isn’t the case once they know you and I have advised people on how to embed themselves and have seen their personal community numbers grow. It takes time  and constant attention, but it will work. Your web will become intertwined in others so the goal isn’t to move people, it is to become an extension.

Build the platform. Give yourself a place to speak from and a place for the community to gather. This may be an interactive website, it may just be a blog, it may start with a Facebook page (though ideally you’ll want your own dedicated platform!). You may grow your community by starting in another one, but eventually you need a place of your own, a little place your community can grow and thrive.

Think of ways to delight us, to keep us coming back. As the propagator of your web, you need that connection to stay strong. Sometimes community members are lazy and forget to check back in. There should be a fresh serving of something noteworthy on your site at regular intervals. I saw a great reminder email the other day from a community with which I am involved. Just a message telling me what was going on over there, new discussions that were happening, new members who had joined and an invitation to check back in. It was very effective in catching my attention and letting me know that they had missed me, like they actually know I have been out for a while. Was it somewhat automated? Probably, but it still made me want to check back in and see what was happening. Someone should be thinking up and executing content that will keep the community engaged and involved.

This PMD person, how is this going to help?

This is the person who can keep the content on track and keep the community interested. I don’t think you should turn your personal identity over to a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution), but a PMD can have access your community while helping to spread the web to other influential individuals and groups and help to figure out the best way to get your film out to them. Ideally, the person you choose to help you is either already in your web or someone you introduce to them as a helper to you. Back to the Grateful Dead example, it was Eileen Law who became the community manager for the Dead’s fans. She was one of the band’s earliest fans. Eileen put together the newsletters, collected and organized the fan list, her voice was the one fans would hear on the message machine when they called for priority tickets. The Dead had a record label, but the label wasn’t talking to the fans and much of the turnout to their shows came by word of mouth from the band. You still must keep engaged, but this person will serve as your liaison while you are in the creative process. All in the community must be kept aware of what is happening, transparency is important here. Believe me, once you start getting a community built up who expect regular interaction, this person will be vital.

Next post: Artists who are doing this and a roadmap…

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.