Over the past few weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with people involved in film & TV marketing about how best to use social media to virally promote movies and TV series online.

There are a few things unique about marketing films and TV shows. Timing is incredibly important – you must build up as much hype in the short space of time leading up to and around the launch as possible. Another unique factor is that films and TV shows, by their very nature, are content gold mines – a huge privilege when it comes to crafting a powerful content marketing strategy for an upcoming film or TV show launch.

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Unfortunately, movie marketing is not a science, but there are a lot of lessons we can learn from those who have successfully (or unsuccessfully) marketed films & shows before us. Below are 17 strategies, tactics, case studies & ideas for creating an exceptional online marketing campaign for your next movie or TV show.

#1 Do Something Remarkable – The Publicity Stunt

Seth Godin, one of the brightest minds in the marketing world, summed it up perfectly when he said “by definition, remarkable things get remarked upon”. I am a strong believer that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. If you want to leverage viral marketing of any sorts, you must begin by doing something worth talking about.

When Game of Thrones marketed their latest series in the UK, they erected a bus-sized dragon’s head, appearing to have been washed up on a Dorset beach.

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When these guys launched Chronicle, they flew remote controlled humans through New York City, scoring free publicity from hundreds of media outlets. Do something remarkable.

#2 Pre-Roll Video Advertising

Pre-roll video ads are an incredibly effective tool for drumming up interest and seeding your trailer online. They’re relatively inexpensive, and you aren’t charged if the viewer clicks ‘skip’ within the first five seconds. Using a service like TubeMogul you can easily have your trailer appearing before related videos on YouTube, as well as sites like IMDB, 4oD, Vimeo, and many other sites.

The important thing to remember with pre-roll advertising is to give the viewer a call to action i.e. something to do right now. This could be visiting the movie’s Facebook Page and engaging in a social game about the film, or entering a competition to win premier tickets, or perhaps just going through to the movie’s official website to watch the full-length trailer. Of course, the more interesting you can make it for the viewer the better.

#3 Be Smart With Press Junkets

Press Junkets are one of the movie industry’s most powerful publicity tactics. Essentially, these events fly as many key journalists, critics, and reporters to a location where, over the course of a few days, the press can conduct interviews with all of the main actors and directors from the film.

Be smart with who you invite to your press junket. Don’t limit yourself to journalists – they’re not the only people who can create buzz around your film. While the main journalists and critics will be key, you may also want to experiment with inviting influential bloggers and fans to the event. One tactic may be to run a ‘mini press junket’ in all of the major cities that you’re planning to launch in. This will open up huge potential to run a social media competition for a number of fans in each city to attend their local press event and meet the cast.

#4 Let your viewers experience the story

The Hunger Games had one of the most forward-thinking digital marketing campaigns of the decade. I’ll touch on various aspects of their strategy throughout the post, but perhaps the most innovative aspect of their strategy was their ‘Virtual Hunger Games’, whereby users could join a district and compete against other districts, just like in the film.

This virtual game enabled viewers to experience what the characters in the film experienced, while engaging with other fans of the film. What was incredibly smart, was how this game also tied in aspects of gamification and social integration to incentivise users to invite their friends, share updates, and ultimately spread the word about The Hunger Games virally.

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#5 IMDB Listings & Advertising

They say that the hardest place to sell a book is in a bookstore, but with millions of people visiting IMDB on a daily basis in search of new films and TV shows to watch, it’d be ridiculous to ignore this site in your film or TV show’s digital marketing strategy.

There are some great posts explaining how to get your film listed on IMDB. My advice is to be as comprehensive as you possibly can when filling out the information required in the listing, and do whatever it takes to drive people to review the film. IMDB is a search engine, and much like Google or YouTube, their algorithm is driven largely by relevance and popularity, so you’ll want to make sure that your film page contains as much information as possible, and is well linked throughout the site.

IMDB also have an excellent range of advertising packages, which are worth looking into. Another tip is to leverage film lists. Try creating ‘top 10′ or ‘top 50′ lists for films of your genre, featuring your film or TV show somewhere in the list. It’s a bit sneaky, but providing your film is relevant and a valuable edition, no one’s getting hurt!

#6 Involve your audience in the making of the film

In the months leading up to the launch of The Dark Knight , Warner Brothers launched the award-winning “Why so Serious?” campaign, which brought Gotham City to life. The video below shows how the campaign encouraged over 10 million fans around the World to visit landmarks around the World in full Joker make-up, creating a huge amount of buzz for the film.

Involving your audience in the making of or promotion strategy of the film is a fantastic way to get some die-hard early fans. There are countless ways to do this, from running a competition to be featured as an extra, to crowd-funding your film or TV show using a platform like Kickstarter, where people are rewarded with exclusive gifts for helping to fund the making of the film.

#7 Go to Town With Your Video Marketing

We seldom buy things that we have not seen or tested in some capacity, which is why trailers are absolutely essential to marketing films & TV shows. In my experience, though, just ‘having’ a trailer is not enough. It must have a great seeding strategy, and be ultra shareable to produce great results. I’d advise that the lower your marketing budget, the more effort you put into the latter part.

For content to spread at a compound rate i.e. ‘go viral’, it must push the audience to experience an emotional extreme. This can be through humour, fear, sadness, enlightenment, anger, lust, or any other strong emotional trigger. Think about any video, meme, or infographic you know that went incredibly viral – what emotion did it heighten? If you can create your trailer in a way that genuinely alters the viewer’s emotional state, you’re onto a winner.

When you have a great video trailer, you need a seeding strategy. I recommend initially uploading your video onto your film’s landing page ONLY using something like Wistia. This will encourage people to share the URL of the film website, and not a YouTube link, for example. Because you control the design of your landing page, this gives you more control over the visual experience, while also raising awareness of your social competitions or other things you may want to promote on your official website. After a week or two, you can then seed your video trailer onto YouTube, promoting it further through pre-roll ads, YouTube playlists, AdWords etc.

#8 Create a visually compelling & functional sub-site

Despite being exceptionally well designed from a graphics perspective, most film landing pages tend to lack in functionality. Typically, film landing pages contain a countdown to the film’s premiere and a full-screen graphic from the film’s artwork. If you’re lucky, the film trailer may be embedded on there.

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As mentioned before, I recommend initially seeding your video trailer via your official sub-site, because you have the opportunity to make it visually exciting, while encouraging people to engage further with your social apps, competitions, virtual games, and other digital marketing initiatives.

Be sure to keep your sub-site simple, while featuring enough interesting content to keep visitors engaged with the other aspects of your digital marketing strategy.

#9 Make your Facebook Page Interactive

When you visit the Breaking Bad, Hunger Games, or World War Z Facebook Page, you’re presented with a huge variety of games, contests, and fun apps to use. On top of this, the updates are frequent and very engaging.

I could write a whole series of articles on Facebook Page marketing in itself, but I want to touch on three key areas: design, apps, and timeline marketing.

First of all, when it comes to designing your Facebook Page, make it visually compelling. So many films and TV show Facebook Pages don’t make use of the huge amount of space that Facebook offer your to brand your page and drive engagement. I’m a big fan of using the cover image in creative ways to attract attention to the app section of a page. Get creative with your design, but keep everything above the fold bold and inline with the film branding. When done well, it looks incredible.

In my opinion, Facebook Apps are what typically make or break a Facebook Page’s ability to prove significant ROI or not. Social apps are extremely powerful at driving engagement, as they can be hooked directly into the open graph to get users sharing and inviting their friends to the film’s page.

While I would advise developing a custom made app, If you’re on a budget there are plenty of affordable services out there, such as Wildfire and WooBox, which enable you to run social contests on your Facebook Page for very little.

Finally, when it comes to posting timeline updates, keep it visual, balanced, and engaging. Photos and videos typically generate the most engagement on Facebook, so be sure to incorporate this into your strategy, while balancing the type of content you post. In terms of frequency, I usually find that two posts per day works well on Facebook. If you’re struggling for time to keep posting updates, you can use a schedueling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to manage this.

#10 Using Niche Social Networks – Vine, Instagram, Pinterest

While Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter will almost certainly be at the centre of your social media strategy, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the smaller platforms, such as Vine, Instagram, or Pinterest.

There have been some fantastically creative film marketing campaigns done using platforms like Vine. The trick is to understand these platforms and create a content strategy that fits the audience who use them. For example, Sundance Film Festival use Pinterest to highlight the best independent films. While they may only have 4,497 followers, many of these followers actively share Sundance’s pins on their own wall – enabling them to spread virally.

Similarly, Instagram is a photo-filtered image sharing platform. The Great Gatsby movie cleverly used Instagram filters to make photographs of the film, actors, and events have an old look, resonating both with the ‘Instagram style’ and the old theme of the movie.

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#11 Auction props used in the film or TV show

This is perhaps one of my favourite examples of film companies utilising the content they already have in a creative way that markets the film.

I first heard about the Breaking Bad TV series through a friend who posted a link to this website on Facebook, saying that you could buy a teddy bear or pair of underpants used in the film for a five-figure sum. Auctioning these generated a huge amount of publicity for the TV series, gaining coverage on Mashable, The Verge, Gizmodo, CNN, and many others.

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#12 Use social competitions & quizzes

It may not be the most innovative way of driving engagement online, but quizzes and competitions are a good balance of low risk and high reward. They virtually never fail to drum up buzz, and providing you get the reward or incentive right, they can work wonders in getting people to share your content with their friends.

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When running competitions and incentivised quizzes, a trick that never seems to fail is offering a large incentive for people who invite more of their friends to join. An easy way of doing this is to set up a unique URL parameter system whereby they receive an extra 5 or 10 entries to the competition for every friend who enters via their unique link.

If you’re using a tool like Wildfire or Woobox to create your quiz / competition, they both have this virality function built in.

#13 Using Celebrity & Brand Partnerships

Whether you’re an independent film or a well-financed Hollywood movie, you will likely have some affiliation with various brands – be it through official partnerships, or unofficial endorsement of certain products. If the latter, make sure you contact the marketing directors of these brands and ask whether they’d be happy to help promote the film on social media – the worst they can do is say no, but as it’s in their best interest, they’ll probably say yes.

If you do have celebrity actors or major brand partnerships, make sure you’re utilising their audiences online. Coca Cola have 74.5m fans on Facebook and 2m on Twitter, which is 30x larger than the total audience of the 007 / James Bond social media accounts. When the two partnered on the launch of Skyfall, James Bond utilised Coke’s social media following to the max, enabling them to drive a huge amount of engagement in a short space of time.

#14 Persona Marketing

Your film or TV show will almost certainly have a character that the audience connect with in some way or another. Many film marketing campaigns have intelligently played on their audiences love (or hate) for certain characters by building a persona around those characters on social media.

The Ted character on Twitter is a fantastic example. With close to 700,000 followers, Ted continues to post funny comments that spread like wildfire. While this has obviously taken time to build up an audience of this size, it’s effectively free marketing for the film now – on any given day Ted can post a tweet reaching hundreds of thousands of people, and driving thousands of retweets.

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Similarly, in the run up to the 2011 Muppets film, the marketing team behind the film decided to host Google+ Hangouts between fans and characters from The Muppets films. This campaign captured the attention of millions of people.

#15 Using Memes & Other Forms of UGC

Memes are becoming a great way of leveraging your audience’s creativity to build highly shareable content that subtly promotes your movie. The benefit of using memes are that they’re easily customisable, extremely shareable, and very quick to produce. To put their popularity into perspective, a search for “Breaking Bad Memes” in Google returns over 18 million results.

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Another similar tactic is to use caption contests, fan art, or other types of tongue-in-cheek user generated content to leverage the collective sharing power and creativity of your audience. The Muppets had a fantastic campaign in 2011 where fans could submit hilarious posters for other films with a Muppets twist – e.g. The Pig With the Froggy Tattoo, and Breaking Prawn.

#16 Using Google Adwords

Every day, there are millions of searches made in Google for film and TV show recommendations. One of the quickest ways of reaching this audience of potential viewers is through Google Adwords. It’s certainly not the most creative or cost effective way to market your film, but it is an option.

One option that could be particularly effective is using AdWords to bid on local cinema based terms e.g. when people search in Google for “Oxford cinema films”, you may want to run an advert promoting your film at that specific cinema. Alternatively, you could run ads on genre terms like “action film recommendations” or “good action films”.

#17 Facebook Advertising

Facebook Advertising can be very effective when done correctly. I’ve written about this topic extensively in a number of places, but the main point is that you must understand what does and doesn’t work on Facebook. First of all, Facebook Ads are a “one to many” form of advertising, where unlike Google Adwords (which is one-to-one), you can pay to show your advert in the timeline of one person, and their interaction with your ad can automatically drive free interaction from their friends. Basically, Facebook Ads are really effective if your adverts are genuinely shareable.

From a technical perspective, I’d recommend using predominantly page promoted posts targeted to appear in ‘news feed only’ on an oCPM for clicks or conversions setting. We’ve spent £10,000s on Facebook Ads and this combination of settings consistently outperform anything else.

Final Thoughts

Marketing films and TV shows is not an easy task. If you want to stand out from the crowd, do something remarkable, be ambitious with your marketing goals, work with experts, and don’t believe the myth that you need a large budget to achieve great results. Money helps, but creativity is the real currency in marketing.

If you have any questions, or would like to talk about your film / TV show’s digital marketing strategy, feel free to get in touch with me here.

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Written by Marcus Taylor

Written by Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor is an award-winning entrepreneur, and founder of Venture Harbour. Marcus also built the World's first scientifically valid 'comfort zone calculator', which he has spoken about at TEDx.

Marcus speaks about marketing and entrepreneurship at conferences internationally, and contributes to Econsultancy, Moz, Forbes, and Huffington Post.

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