As Web TV entertainment grows, so does the number of Web series choices, which is fantastic, but overwhelming. Marketing a new show so an audience can find it is challenging and can be expensive. But how else will millions of Web video fans discover it? Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of being immersed in the Web series content creator community through my involvement with marketing and media relations for both the Streamy Awards and with International Academy of Web Television, as well as writing for Tubefilter News. This post is my way of giving back to a community that I admire, and that is at the forefront of driving Web original entertainment from a novelty to a mainstream consumer experience.
I Have a Web Series. Now What?
For many independent content creators, I’ve learned that the greatest challenge after securing funding (or self-financing), talent and a crew is to market the show for a successful launch and ongoing audience building. Marketing is especially difficult with no budget, no friends with marketing skills, no prior successful Web series shows and show content that doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-existing entertainment genre (i.e., comedy, horror, gaming or tech geeks). So how can independent show creators rise above these barricades to be discovered?
Compulsions Web Series
If you want to learn about Web series marketing challenges and how to surmount them, then you will enjoy this account of launching the Web series, Compulsions. As the marketing lead for Compulsions, I can attest that they were formidable:
- No brand sponsors or advertising partners
- No Web TV Network Partner or distribution strategy
- No marketing budget
- No launch strategy
- No clear-cut genre
- Mediocre Web site
- No previous Web series credentials for the creator
- Eight episodes
- Needed to launch by December 2009 for Streamy Award qualification (Holiday Season)
It was October 2009, and we needed to address all of the above issues in tandem for a successful launch by December 31st. One advantage in Compulsions’ favor was creator Bernie Su’s natural gift as a promoter. He genuinely enjoys people and works in the world of online advertising to finance his artistic aspirations. So he had some knowledge of marketing and advertising. After a final push to find a sponsor or buyer, it was clear that we needed to move forward with the launch assuming no external marketing support. The clock was ticking.
Though we had a long checklist of marketing tasks, following are the core components that require the greatest amount of time and attention from content creators.
Web site: Compulsions’ site was missing key information about the show, cast, a blog, e-newsletter signup, and an overall consistent brand feel with creative that reflected the shows’ complex genre. We tackled all of these and also finalized messaging for the show to use consistently in all marketing outreach. We also finalized the show’s primary ad image for promotion and thumbnail use on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Tip: Review Web series and TV/movie Web sites with marketing budgets for ideas. Observe how the site creative reflects the show’s vibe and target audience. Keep this in mind when creating yours.
Audience Building: Compulsions is described as a dramatic thriller, but also includes a sadism theme, violence, suspense, and mystery, among others. So how do we pro-actively piece together an audience leading up to the premiere and continue to build the audience during and after for an eight-part series? (After all, we know that the larger the audience, the better chance of a second season with funding and new opportunities for the Compulsions’ cast and crew.) Being less knowledgeable about the show’s genre, I asked Bernie and his producers to create a list of movies, TV shows and current Web series that capture aspects of Compulsions’ themes for potential audience crossover interest. Once we had the list, we divided and conquered by going into these fan communities with complete transparency to let them know about a new Web series that’s premiering soon that we think they would like, based on their interest in that particular movie/TV show, and linked them to the new and improved Compulsions Web site to see the trailer and to sign up for a Premiere Alert that included dates, times, and link to view. This went on for a few weeks.
Tip: Get your Web site and marketing creative completed at least two months in advance so you have time to begin audience-building activities for the premiere.
The Trailer: No surprises that a fantastic trailer (not a teaser, which is shorter), is critical for building pre-launch buzz. The power of the trailer is critical and as we all know, a primary tool for audience-building before the premiere. It is also valuable for supporting media outreach efforts before the launch. Bernie created one trailer and one teaser. The trailer was successful at generating expectation, presenting a “feel” for the series and as a valuable tool for audience-building before the premiere. Next, a compelling teaser was created to generate excitement at the half-way point of the series for the final four episodes in order to keep the momentum alive and the audience intrigued. (This teaser was debuted at the private screening event – see below.) Of course, the more trailers or teasers the better, similar to the “scenes from next week’s show” strategy used on TV. Trailers and teasers require time and resources. If you only have resources for one, make a great trailer. Never treat it as an afterthought or a secondary piece of content.
Tip: Pretend that the trailer is your submission for an Emmy Award. Make it count. Make it fabulous.
Social Media – Blog, Facebook, Twitter: Accounts were set up for Compulsions using the final creative for brand consistency. A combination of premiere countdown tweets and proactively finding followers and fans, interwoven with the show’s Web site where Bernie was writing blogs about behind the scenes shooting, the genre, character profiles was just enough to whet the appetite of potential audience members. All were prompted to follow Compulsions on Facebook and Twitter as well. Combined, these touch points grew awareness, gave audience members a variety of options to engage and built a connection between them and the show before and after the premiere.
Tip: Consistently engage with fans, start conversations and monitor daily to answer any questions. Offer multiple social media channels.
Distribution Strategy: There are so many distribution options for content creators. As an untested content creator with a complex genre and no pre-existing sizeable fan base, I believed that it was important to premiere exclusively on an established Web TV network. And that’s what we were able to do with Dailymotion. We negotiated site-wide and e-newsletter promotion opportunities to reach their member base, as well as revenue sharing from any advertising.
Tip: Maximize all promotional opportunities available with the Web TV network you exclusively sign with. Networks are hungry for original quality programs, so you have leverage. Request a list of promotional options.
Windowing: Next we needed to decide, as it was almost December 1st, when to launch and when to run the episodes. After a number of brainstorms, and the holidays fast-approaching along with the Streamys qualification deadline, we decided to run all eight episodes over a two week period, Monday through Thursday. Holiday distraction by the audience was a risk we opted not to take, and giving the audience a back-to-back experience for a suspense thriller Web series would be similar to a multi-part made for TV movie, so the concept was not unusual – just novel for a Web series. This strategy built audience numbers quickly.
Tip: Be aware of real world events, such as holidays, Super Bowl, etc. when picking your premiere date. Don’t risk getting drowned out or ignored by your core audience.
Media Strategy: A launch press release was written and distributed to key media with the show’s official messaging and a screenshot. The world of media that covers Web series is expanding, but not fast enough to the dismay of content creators and publicists. So also encourage new fans and friends to write up brief blog posts about the show and ask them to include a link to any media coverage you do receive. And be sure to add links to coverage on the News page on your Web site (or homepage). Unless you have a notable star, previous track record of success or a million fans, be realistic about media coverage. It’s most efficient to develop unique story angles for vertical outlets that tend to cover the show’s genre already.
Tip: Do not send a reporter an email that says, “Check out my show” with a link. That won’t work .Tell them what is special about your show and why they should watch it.
Preview Event (Optional): Bernie felt strongly about having a sneak-peak event for the LA-based Web TV community and was able to do it on a tight budget. So we created a program for the evening that previewed the first four episodes, immediately followed by a cast and crew panel interview by a Web TV industry reporter. We did this a week before the public premiere. This event successfully immersed the community into the show and emotionally connected them with the talent. It also left them hanging for the final four episodes. I’m certain that the event dramatically increased word-of-mouth marketing by attendees via Twitter and Facebook, which was invaluable for audience growth leading up to the public premiere.
There is so much more creative marketing, advertising and promotion than can be done to market a Web series when you have a budget. This is by no means is a complete list. But if you’re broke, start with these building blocks. If you’re not getting traction, don’t give up. Ask for advice from friends who have been through a successful Web series launch. Also remember, marketing must continue after the premiere, as there are millions of Web users who are waiting to discover your show. Marketing never ends – at least not for a Web series!
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If you liked this article, also read On Set: Creating Digital Marketing “Extras”