So last week I promised, after a good bit of griping, to offer some constructive criticism and advice for how movie studios can optimize what they’re doing online. Let’s get started.

Tip #1: Acknowledge the neighborhood

Movies are probably the third most popular topic being discussed on the internets (porn and politics being #s one and two respectively). So why do studios think that their official websites are the only places that contain information? The Internet Movie Database, Yahoo Movies and other sites all provide some combination of complete cast rundowns, hosted trailers, publicity stills and show times at local theaters. And that’s not counting the scores of blogs and fan sites that cover movies in general. Yet the official sites continue to be put up that seem to pretend they’re the end all be all for data on the movie.

Now I’m not saying that the studios should abandon creating official sites all together. Far from it. They should keep doing what they’re doing (well, not entirely) but at the very least acknowledge that what they’ve put up is not the only game in town. If a site was granted a set visit link to the story. If someone from the production was interviewed link to it. Link to the IMDb and Yahoo entries for people looking for more information.

If keeping a manually updated list of links sounds like too much work then consider utilizing an outside resource like Technorati or IceRocket, which monitor blogs, to aggregate a list of blogs contributing to the discussion of your film. (More on this later.)

Tip #2: Encourage your neighbors

It’s unrealistic I know for marketing people at any one studio to be aware of and build a relationship with every blog or website runner out there. Some are better than others and a lot drop off pretty quickly. But there needs to be some effort to make information available to those who are looking for it.

Take me for instance. I not only write this column but have a whole blog devoted to movie marketing efforts. And I’ve been doing the column for almost two years and the blog for one. I’ve built a somewhat solid reputation with a number of other journalists and writers. You would think studios would be falling over themselves to send me swag that’s created as part of the marketing push. Quite the contrary, though. I can count the number of studios that have reached out to me on one hand. Hell, Homer Simpson could count them on one hand. Now some of this stuff is already being sent to mainstream journalists to butter them up for good reviews. With me it would not only butter me up but I would critique it on its own merits. That would be a good thing, right?

But it’s more than just me. I know a lot of people in a number of industries who are just longing for contact from companies they cover. There’s still a mindset, though, that sees websites and blogs as beneath their notice. That means they’re ignoring a large and highly motivated audience. And they’re doing that at a time when box office numbers are down and there seems to be a revolt under way by the middle-tier movie-goer that is revolted by crap like The Pink Panther and yet can’t get to art-house releases.

That, in case you were wondering, is dumb.

Tip #3: Use RSS

Not sure what RSS is? Simply, it’s a way to deliver data in a way that is similar to email but without a Nigerian president’s wife asking for help with her $7 million bank account. Whenever a page is created or updated data is sent to what’s called an RSS reader or aggregator that alerts the user that there’s new content to read or explore. The nice thing about RSS is that is a tool that allows you to read or skim through articles at your leisure, not the publisher’s. Think of the time-shifting advantages of DVRs and apply them to internet reading and you have a pretty good handle on RSS.

Now RSS was initially popularized by blogs since it allowed for simple and cheap distribution for their content. It’s slowly but surely been adopted by mainstream media websites. Corporations have found that RSS combined with blogging has given passionate customers a way to receive information they find interesting to them on the user’s schedule and allow for a free flow of data, some of which winds up getting republished on someone’s. It’s enabled word of mouth on the part of the consumer in a way not previously possible.

Movies studios, though, have not hopped on the RSS bandwagon. Considering how much work they put into their websites you would think they’d want people to know what’s new there. Most sites have a “sign up to receive email updates” option but I’ve found these to be spotty efforts at best. Plus, the point of RSS is that the link I get in my reader (most of which are free and web-based, just like email) is to the updated or new page, not just an email saying something is new. That allows me to link on my own blog directly to the new content. That’s called user empowerment and is an important point because…

Tip #4: Realize you’re no longer in control of your brand

Notice I use the past tense here. This is not something that needs to be relinquished. The loss of control happened a while ago and it won’t be coming back any time soon. The reason? Consumers have access to more information then ever before. That means they’re not being swayed by the opinions of mainstream journalists and critics. They can go online, find any number of sites or blogs that are pro or con on any given subject or movie and make up their own minds. It used to be that the critic in the consumer’s local paper and Siskel & Ebert were the two main sources of info or opinions. Now there are thousands of such sources.

What that democratization of information has led to is a world where the model that had communication going from the company to the press and then to the public is losing its impact. Now companies of all types have to talk to the consumer directly and – and don’t miss this point – make a good product. Word of a bad movie will spread like wildfire but word of a good one can lead to a tremendous groundswell of support.

The important thing to remember is that the consumer today can see through spin and flowery corporate language. That’s why the traditional 30-second commercial is losing traction and word-of-mouth is gaining in influence. And that’s why it’s important to…

Tip #5: Know what’s being said

There are multitudes of ways you can track what is being said online about a variety of topics. Some are better than others, some cover only a subset of the conversation and some just suck. There are a few tools that cost nothing that can bring you a better idea of what people are saying about your movies.

One of the first one’s I’d recommend is using Technorati, a free online blog search engine that can search in ways that are a little different than a traditional Google or Yahoo search. With Technorati you can run a search for not only keywords but also for links and tags. So for instance you can run a search for the link to the movie’s official site as well as the IMDb entry for a movie you’re working on. Most bloggers will include that link whenever they discuss your movie and by consistently searching for it, or setting up an RSS alert for that search that will update automatically, you can be instantly informed when a writer has weighed in with an opinion.

Likewise you can search by tags. Tags are just what they sound like and are an effort to add some organization to the internet. On my MMM blog, for instance, I tag – again using Technorati – most of my posts with not only the phrase “movie marketing” but also the name of the studio producing or distributing the movie. That way all those posts will go into that category. Think of tags like online file folders. You can also setup RSS alerts for tags, so setting up such alerts for the name of a studio or lead actor/actress isn’t a bad idea either. Of course traditional search engines are also useful but in different ways. As usual the right thing to do is combine a number of tools to achieve positive results.

Knowing what’s being said is, of course, only half the job. The other half is responding when appropriate and encouraging when appropriate. Most times when someone puts up incorrect information it’s an accident and they’re more than happy to correct it – but you have to let them know it’s incorrect and provide them with the right info. Otherwise it just sits there, misleading everyone who sees it. On the other hand when you see someone doing consistently good work it would be great to drop them an email and start a conversation with them. Then they have a resource to run anything questionable by.


The main point I’m trying to make is that consumers are not only consuming, they’re creating. And their creations are affecting the results of products that cost tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars to create. If I were running a cereal company and I knew that someone was standing outside the door of every grocery store bad-mouthing my product I’d sure want to know about it. Ignoring the situation is simply not an option. And if he’s doing so based on wrong information my first reaction would be to correct him. Movie studios need to adopt the same thought process. Failure to do so will kill them and it will be considered suicide since they could have changed course themselves.

Next week I’ll highlight what some studios are doing right in terms of internet communication and where there’s still some room for improvement.

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