Go backBack to selection

28 Tips on Crowdfunding and Promoting Your Film via Social Media from DOC NYC’s Marketing Bootcamp

(Photo: Hadrian / Shutterstock.com)

in Distribution, Filmmaking
on Apr 23, 2017

Continuing my coverage of DOC NYC’s Marketing Boot Camp (read part one here), this installment focuses on two information-packed presentations dealing with crowdfunding and promoting on social media. First up was Liz Cook, Director of Documentary Film at Kickstarter, who talked about the marketing and audience building and engagement aspects of crowdfunding.

First, some basics. Most people know that Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing fundraising platform: if you reach your goal, you’ll receive all the money raised, minus fees. If you don’t, nothing will be charged to those who pledged, and you’ll get no money. Cook also relayed some interesting stats:

• 30% of backers will be strangers
• One in ten who back a campaign on the site back a documentary
• They have fifteen big categories, “film” is one and “documentary” is a subcategory
• 42% success rate across film category – overall site rate is 40%

Filmmakers must be prepared to put in a lot (edit: a ton) of work in the prep stage of the campaign. Cook advised filmmakers to ask themselves, “Who is this audience, where do they exist online, and how can we reach them?” Filmmakers should “plan a production schedule, like you do with a film,” she continued. Filmmakers must be prepared to do a lot of emailing and social media, but Cook also cautioned mindfulness about how much they’re blasting out.

Press outreach — if, how, and how much — must also be strategized. Filmmakers should be careful about not using a press opportunity now that could be more effectively held for a festival or theatrical launch. It’s hard to get coverage in the same place twice.

While this sentiment is generally true and was repeated by others later in the day, there are exceptions worth noting. When I ran a Kickstarter campaign around a collaborative feature documentary about the Occupy Wall Street movement, I had a few goals beyond fundraising that made press a good idea at that early stage. One, because the project was collaborative, I wanted to let other filmmakers know about it in case they wanted to join in. Two, because there were so many other films being made about Occupy, I wanted to put us out front of the industry, for tracking purposes — I was staking out territory, essentially. So during production I pitched and got coverage (not reviews, of course) in The New York Times, Wired, Indiewire, The Atlantic and many others. I gambled on the Occupy movement being big enough news at that point and having enough staying power to make the film still newsworthy upon release. In our case it worked out, but it was a gamble, and filmmakers should seriously consider the risks of not getting coverage later if they seek it out while fundraising.

Because campaigns take an incredible amount of time and energy, even more press is being solicited, it’s key to think about these sorts of extra benefits they can bring to the table, and about the ancillary goals one might have.

For filmmakers, Cook offered ten added values of running a crowdfunding campaign.

1. Your Project is Made Real
Launching a campaign brings it into the world. It doesn’t just exist in your head anymore, and you become accountable to supporters, backers, and the reality you’ve created to step into.

2. You Take Control of your Narrative.
Cook used Obvious Child as an example. The team behind this Jenny Slate-starring abortion comedy
decided that before anyone else could define the film, they would tell the world why they made it. They set the tone. Their Kickstarter finished a few months before their Sundance premiere, and according to Cook, “The reviews at Sundance sometimes word-for-word took language they had used on their Kickstarter campaign.”

3. You Build and Deepen your Community
A Kickstarter campaign broadens and deeps the dialogue with any pre-existing audience; it allows you to build upon it to reach more people.

4. You Understand your Audience
Every campaign has a dashboard that allows you to gather metrics about your audience. Where are they? Which websites are they coming from? This also helps you steer your campaign. You might spend a lot of time getting celebrities to tweet, but the metrics may then show you that the majority of backers are being driven to your page by your own Facebook posts.

5. You Meet the Press
A lot of Kickstarter campaigns will get press, which Cook said is important for some, but for others it doesn’t lead to that many backers. She added, “But it’s a very good experience and helpful thing to explore: how are you pitching this film? What is your angle? What is it about your film that is going to pique the interest of a particular publication, online or otherwise?” Sometimes press outreach doesn’t move the dial on dollars pledged, but it establishes visibility and relationships with journalists, who you can go back to them later upon release.

6. You Meet the Industry
Festival programmers and others will check the curated sections of crowdfunding pages to see what’s in the pipeline and what others are supporting and recommending. It’s a great way to put yourself in front of a wide range of industry. Kickstarter also has a newsletter that they send out to industry that highlights projects they’re excited about.

7. You Make it More than a Film
Offering creative and interesting rewards is a way of deepening the audience’s relationship with the story.
Cook used the example of Sophia Takal’s Always Shine, a psychological thriller set in the gorgeous environs of Big Sur, California. They brought that element into their campaign by making and offering a guide to the Big Sur area. Cook also suggested including a list of creative inspirations for the film as a way of bringing the audience into the mind of the artists making it.

8. You Build a Home for your Film
The page freezes at the end of the campaign, but with the Spotlight feature, successful campaigns can update the landing page. You can update it with the film’s current progress, screenings, or even add a link to where to donate next.

9. You Share your Process
The project update page allows you to make a timeline/blog where all the different posts can be seen. The documentary I Am Big Bird, about Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird puppeteer/performer Caroll Spinney, used the page to more fully bring people into the process. They updated people with everything that was going on, from finishing the film, interesting anecdotes about things happening with the puppets or Spinney, news on finishing the awards and getting them out, and finally an update on the premiere.

10. You Work with the Kickstarter Team
Cook made the pitch to filmmakers to work with her team of three, who spend all of their time working with filmmakers to improve their campaigns and chances for success. Cook said that people think Kickstarter is a faceless platform, but she urged filmmakers to get in touch for feedback and advice, and noted that one of their team also helps filmmakers work with press. She can be reached at Liz AT kickstarter.com or film AT kickstarter.com.

The other presentation I’m covering in this installment is “Up Your Game on Social Media,” by Kristin McCracken, a social media strategist who works with Tribeca and other festivals and with filmmakers. In 30 minutes, McCracken gave an unbelievable amount of invaluable information for both documentary and narrative filmmakers (especially those starting out or on the DIY end of the spectrum), and I’m going to try to relay as much of that as possible.

Here are some of her do’s and don’ts:

• Create pages dedicated entirely to your project.
• View social media as a community and engage in two-way communication.
• Establish a voice — pick a personality or tone.
• Pick a handle and be consistent across platforms. Maybe it’s your film’s title without spaces, or add “movie, doc, film,” etc. Also establish a hashtag.
• Once you establish your handle and hashtag, put them everywhere: call-sheets, postcards, newsletters, email signatures.
• Keep your visual identity consistent with professional key art. Pair your key image with less than 20% text with a strong logline.
• Consider using an eye-catching title treatment as your profile pic, and your cover photo image should represent your film.
• Keep it fresh with updates, but also spread out your assets over time.
• Join the conversation. Like and follow filmmakers, press, festivals. Communicate with people and issues related to your film.
• Take your time: spelling counts. Your social media represents you, so craft your words.
• Create an account on bitly.com. When you share links, use this to shorten them. It allows you to track opens and see what content your fans respond to best.

• Don’t annoying or snarky.
• Don’t brag.
• Don’t just talk about your film. In addition to sharing photos, stills, screen grabs, on-set candids, videos, deleted scenes, interview excerpts, and clips, also set up Google alerts and share relevant articles of interest, which could be about the subject of your film or the people in it or related topics. You want your page to be a resource for people interested in the subject.
• Don’t be lazy. Don’t set up automatic cross posting between social platforms. You don’t want people to have to do an extra click, and handles and hashtags don’t always translate.
• Don’t forget about updating bios — keep track of how your audience can find you on other platforms, and change all bios to reflect changes/announcements.
• Don’t spend too much time agonizing over posts: say what you have to say, spellcheck it, and send it out.
• Don’t spread yourself too thin. Start small and grow, and honor your bandwidth. Delegate to trusted people. If you do just one platform, make it Facebook.

Fish Where the Fish Are: Platforms


Facebook is the biggie for films. There are 1.13 billion daily active users on the site. Facebook does have an older audience than Instagram or Snapchat (but teens don’t follow brands on Snaptchat anyway). You can add colleagues as admins, just make sure you’re not posting on top of each other (more on that later). And you can only change your page’s name once, so get it right.

Use Facebook to promote big events, share links, and engage the community. You can tag other pages, and on your fan page, any posts you submit come up as from the page, but you can toggle your username if you want to comment as yourself, which can spread a post further.

Post two to three times a week during production, daily leading up to release, and up to three times a day if you have a lot of content. You can also schedule posts, which McCracken says is a lifesaver. So if you know on Monday morning that you want to post three things that week, start a post and instead of hitting publish, click the dropdown on the publish button and schedule it. You can also go back in and edit your scheduled posts.

Facebook ads are a relatively cheap way to expand your film’s reach beyond your own circle. Brainstorm and then use keywords and geo-targeting to increase your visibility. You can also boost posts when you have big announcements, a process which allows you to track how many people see your posts. Even a spend as low as $2.00 will amplify that reach.


Twitter has 313 million active monthly users. 79% are outside the US and 82% are on their mobile. McCracken says that, anecdotally, Twitter seems to have a much more metropolitan userbase.

She advises you to make your handle (@)your name, and create a hashtag (#) for the film. Then use the platform to become part of the community. Gaining traction on Twitter can take time, so don’t rush it — just follow people who are connected to the issues in your film and they might follow you back. Check for mentions and retweets, and reply, like, and engage with these people. She also advises, if possible, to find passionate advocates on Twitter.

Basic etiquette dictates that you don’t tweet all in a row — space them out a bit, but you can tweet frequently. Applications like Tweetdeck can be used to schedule tweets.


McCracken didn’t spend a lot of time on Instagram, but noted that it’s gaining traction with filmmakers. Instagram requires that you have a lot of visual content. Instagram has 500 million users, 300 million of whom are daily active users. Eighty percent of its users are outside the U.S., and they tend to be young. Building an audience takes time, so at first, follow films, filmmakers, and studios. Organic discovery comes from hashtags, so use keywords, cast names, locations, genre, etc. Instragram posts can’t be scheduled, but you can have content ready to go for when you have time.


McCracken noted that filmmakers love Vimeo, but Youtube is where the eyes are, with a billion-plus users. It reaches more 18–34 year olds and 18-49 year olds than any cable network in the US.

She suggests creating a channel with your Gmail account, and letting this be a sort of video resume for your work, with a video playlist of your films, clips, interviews, etc. You can also post videos here from other souces, so if you’re interviewed by an outlet and they post that to YouTube, you can add that to your own playlist. You can share your YouTube videos across all platforms, and again, use keywords to help people find you.

McCracken advised filmmakers to create a Google spreadsheet that your trusted social media team can use to stay on top of who’s posting what, when, and where. You can plan out a schedule of social media posts, track response as you go (using bitly.com), and adjust as necessary. Pro tip: use color-coding to help it all make sense at a glance.

McCracken’s presentation was a whirlwind of information, but all delivered in a way that felt like she was really there to impart her hard-earned and valuable information to filmmakers. I got an instant hit of a genuine person, and my bottom line is that I wouldn’t hesitate to follow a single piece of advice she gave. You can find more tips at McCrackHouse.com.

Audrey Ewell is the director/producer of two widely distributed documentary features, and has also worked as a director/producer in narrative. In addition to bringing on traditional PR for festival and/or distribution on her films, she (previously) spearheaded digital marketing and (currently) runs traditional publicity campaigns on her own and others’ films.

© 2024 Filmmaker Magazine. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of The Gotham