A successful marketing and distribution campaign has three key ingredients: advertising on social networks, partnerships with established media outlets and reaching out to influencers.
Producing and distributing used to be two entirely different disciplines managed by producers and media outlets respectively. In the digital age, however, the difference between the two is not as clear seeing as distribution has become one variable among others. Distribution opportunities abound and what is relevant for one project will not necessarily be relevant for another.
So how does one decide? Here are some tips to implement a relevant strategy for your project without wasting oft-limited means of communication on activities that do not reach their intended audiences.
The end of advertising?
I met with Julien Aubert, founder of Bigger than Fiction, a Paris-based agency that specializes in innovative communication mechanisms for cultural works. Today, the agency is also involved in production activities.
He warns me from the onset: display campaigns—i.e., advertising on third-party sites using banners and related material—are out!
“We do fewer and fewer of them. They no longer pay off, people don’t pay attention to them, the clicks are no longer there. And they represent a lot of work. A single campaign requires working with three or four networks! Conversely, Facebook is very simple to use and a lot more effective when it comes to targeting [audiences].”
Bigger than Fiction works both for traditional broadcasters seeking to generate buzz around their online programming and for digital-only projects that need to build an audience from scratch.
Aubert considers that a campaign can have three notable components: media purchases on social networks, content partnerships with relevant media outlets and strategies targeting influencers that are based mainly on the web’s new voices (YouTubers, Instagramers and so forth).
Turning to social networks
I quickly understood that if buying advertising on Facebook and consorts is not necessarily the most original dimension, it nevertheless remains a must.
“To this day, we continue to provide social network publication and media purchase operations for producers with limited communication budgets. We did that for The Enemy, a virtual reality project. With them, we thought up a narrative for Facebook and planned the conversation for some twenty or so publications spread out over more than a month. We then launched a media purchase campaign directly on Facebook.”
And what about the other social networks? “Twitter is also quite profitable, but it’s a network that has lost a lot of its engagement power. The number of tweets and retweets, the time spent online by users, everything is down. It’s a network in decline but it will not disappear because it remains highly useful to professionals who are looking for certain types of information. Unfortunately, it’s an outlet that will never go mainstream.”
“Instagram is starting to take off in promotional terms because it’s popular with youth and shares its media purchasing platform with Facebook!”
“As for Snapchat, it’s a complicated network because it’s not possible to share other users’ content as in the case of Twitter, for example, with retweets or to access data on the popularity of a given post. Consequently, not many campaigns are done on this network, which also shows signs of weakness in light of Instagram’s increasing popularity.”
The excessive concentration of Facebook’s marketing power (and of its foal, Instagram) is striking. And it raises societal issues that are not the subject of this post, but certainly represents a bargain for those who are looking for a way to promote a digital work.
Focussing on partnerships
“We used to communicate from scratch and even develop websites to attract attention,” recalls Julien. “We realize today that certain media outlets—such as Konbini, Merci Alfred, My Little Paris, MinuteBuzz in France—already have a lot of followers. These sites register millions of views per month and their audiences have developed habits. Our strategy has become to feed the channels that these audiences use already.”
It’s a ‘recipe’ that Bigger than Fiction has been developing since some time already. To promote Wei or Die, an interactive film broadcast by France Télévisions at the end of 2015, the agency reached five content partnerships with five influential media outlets. In exchange for the right to distribute the work on their respective sites, these five partners produced content based on the work’s theme (in this case, student integration weekends).
“The process resembles native advertising. The goal is to generate buzz around the project in the format of an article, an op-ed piece drafted by the media itself and adopting its own tone. It goes much further than public relations!”
For its Été comic strip distributed on Instagram and coproduced with public broadcaster Arte, Bigger than Fiction once again partnered up with four highly influent social network players.
The agreement? “They publish our stories three times on their respective Instagram accounts and the goal is to eventually have subscribers migrate from their account to ours. The Les Inrocks magazine also devotes a double page to us in its paper edition. In exchange, we offer them five product placements each. The authors themselves decided on the product placements. The objective was to do things intelligently and discretely without negatively affecting their own operations.”
The intended goal is therefore not to force media outlets to recopy and relay a press release but rather to get them involved in a global creative process by offering them an opportunity to create original content and accompanying them in the production thereof.
If the most established media outlets still often prefer to resort to the classic advertising networks, many publications are favourable to content partnerships.
Calling on influencers
Not to mention web influencers on whom Bigger than Fiction increasingly calls for its campaigns. Instagramers, YouTubers and Snapchatters reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. Their influence is comparable in volume to that of certain media outlets, and that has great value.
“Having an Instagramer with more than 500,000 subscribers devote an entire day of work to you costs at least 5,000 euros. That’s an average. It’s costly but it works. What’s extraordinary with them is the engagement they generate from their posts. They generate a minimum of 20,000 Likes the minute they post something online! There is really something going on between them and their communities.”
For example, for Planète+’s documentary titled Espace : l’Odyssée du Futur, the agency organized a 150-minute Facebook Live event with four YouTubers.
“We leased a studio in which we reproduced the International Space Station to hold the ‘Facebook Live [event] in duplex mode from space.’ We recorded 850,000 online views in a single day and the broadcaster was very pleased with the content. He especially appreciated its balance between play and learn.”
Regardless of media, influence has always been a bargaining chip. Nothing has changed from that viewpoint. What has changed, however, are the actors who exert this influence, i.e., new 100% web media outlets, social networks, even single individuals…
The equation may then seem simple in theory: to generate buzz around a work, one would simply need to ‘borrow’ the influence of others. The know-how of an agency like Bigger than Fiction therefore depends less today on its ability to purchase ad space than on its capacity to join forces with a network of influencers and potential partners in an original creative process.
Creating one’s own community?
That is a common strategy invoked when it comes to new media works: consolidate an audience into a community within one of the social networks.
However, what good is there in deploying so much effort to create a new community for a work with such a short lifespan? Many innovative works are consumed only once and their exposure is limited to a few weeks at most. Does one therefore really have the time to develop a strong community?
Most digital creative projects certainly have a Facebook page, but many of these pages aren’t followed by more than a few thousands of subscribers. In most cases, the contribution of these proprietary pages’ audiences will be very limited compared to that of established media.
There are however notable exceptions. These ad hoc communities may prove to be vital for certain participative works or very long-term projects.
It’s the case of a recurrent program such as Datagueule. This program is broadcast on YouTube since 2014 and has more than 330,000 subscribers (as of July 2017) and 100,000 Facebook followers.
Here the community plays a fundamental role in generating buzz around each episode and was highly engaged when the creators of Datagueule launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce a 90-minute independent documentary on democracy. In one month, they raised 243,000 euros.
The make-up of communities is also very frequent in the video gaming world, where works have a much longer lifespan than audiovisual works.
Francis Ingrand, who distributes video games through his company, Plugin Digital, pointed out to me in a previous post that “when we are able to mobilize a community, it’s a real plus! Certain games with very well-identified universes are perfect for this. For example, very dark heroic fantasy games featuring killer whales and goblins…”
Among the means of communication that Plugin Digital uses to distribute its games are influencer marketing methods similar to those used by Bigger than Fiction.
“We use all sorts of community-based platforms, from Facebook to Reddit as well as Twitch, information sites and blogs. We sometimes distribute games with YouTubers and Twitchers who are specialized in certain types of games.”
“We can also identify communities that have nothing to do with the game, but are related to its literary or musical universe. For each game, we internally identify the targeted communities. That takes times, but it’s at the core of what we do.”
Content is king
All of these strategies share a point in common: creating original content. It has become fundamental to envision communication as an integral part of the creation and production process. The success of a digital work will therefore depend on the attention given to its distribution at every step of the production process.
Have the distribution platforms been carefully selected? Does the work itself integrate mechanisms to make it shareable or encourage users to share it? Have the right co-producers, partners and influencers been identified? Those are all questions that cannot be left aside or postponed to the final weeks of project production.