Web Series Creators Need to Get Savvy! Continuation of #WebSeriesChat Conversation

As you may know, I’m the co-host of the weekly #WebSeriesChat on Twitter and each week we chat about the business of “web series” in 140 characters. There seems to be a recurring theme in the chat which is somewhat due to new creators finding our weekly chat and some of the regulars still not figuring out all the pieces. So, I thought I’d share some of my knowledge with you in this post and hopefully inspire you to see the glass half full – not empty.

First, I have questions for webseries creators – are you creating art or do you want this to be your business? There is no wrong answer to this question. But this blog post is focused on the creators who want this to be a business – to get paid, sponsored, and continue to create.

There are several elements to launching any “product” and as a creator you need to have a plan and work the plan. As a professional marketing strategist, I spend a lot of time watching and reading trends in the industry that I work in. (In my career I have launched over 35 software/mobile products from startups in Silicon Valley to Fortune 500. You can read my resume at LinkedIn if you’d like to see more.) I consult with a lot of different companies including TV Shows about using social and new media marketing to engage with their target audience and getting sponsor love.

When I started pitching web shows over 2.5 years ago, I had to have some research to support the reasons why the brand / advertiser should sponsor my site / and shows. This is what some people refer to as marketing “spin” and it works if done well and in a way that makes YOU the trusted source. With that said – here are some questions and answers that might help you with your quest to build audience and get sponsored.

Question 1 – How many people do you need to have watching YOUR content to be valuable to an advertiser?

I got pretty frustrated seeing some comments today about needing a HUGE audience to get a sponsor. Not true. If you believe you can’t do something – guess what, you won’t. If you have a good product, a good presentation, know your audience potential and USE the Internet then you can get a sponsor. Now this does not mean you should not be building an audience while you are writing, filming, editing and producing your webseries. You should be a social media expert – you’re creating on the web – use it. Facebook, Twitter, connect with bands on Myspace and make a partnership where you promote their music and they promote your series (no more garageband music for your opening).

Here’s what you need to know – the value of a fan is worth something to the brand. You have fans. 100 – 1,000, 10,000. They have value – especially if you are talking to an advertiser who wants to reach YOUR audience. Let’s say your series is in the Teen Horror genre and you have 1,000 Facebook fans and your series gets 5,000 views an episode.

Value of A Facebook Fan

Value of A Facebook Fan

You find a sponsor who wants to reach the teen audience, you share with them your “social media savvy” i.e. community that you’ve built from your blog, press mentions, video, distribution, Twitter and Facebook activity. And you use these channels to post messages about your sponsors even asking your FANS to LIKE the sponsors… what’s that worth to the sponsor? There are a number of studies that show the engagement of a Facebook fan being greater than any other social media platform out there.

Additionally, these fans are also valuable to the brand this graphic shows the value at over $136 per LIKE. If you use your social media marketing arm and ask your fan base to LIKE your sponsors – and they get 1,000 LIKES from your community – that’s a perceived value of $136,000. Imagine getting 10% of that to create your season 1 of your series and then having a guaranteed season II when you double that audience and the fan base for you and your sponsor?

OH – and here are a few other things to think about when you worry about “video views”… If you are engaging an audience online – they don’t have to watch the video to talk about YOU and your project.

– 10,000 views translate to 10,000 people watched all or part of your video

What it doesn’t tell is how many places that video is embedded on (benefit of YouTube being easy to embed in reviews, articles, blog posts, social networking sites). It also doesn’t tell how many links to the video are out there with comments about the video, how many people on Facebook have seen the brand name associated with your project as the sponsor. It does not tell how many people were exposed to the brand and your project without ever watching the video or what the quality or influence of the viewer is on and offline.

This is where I use the marketing spin… the unknown can be a positive thing.

Oh, here’s ONE more fact for you: the entire Internet digital video market (advertising revenue) is around $1.1 Billion. Guess where $500 million of that comes from? The premium TV shows found on Hulu.com and other sites. There is $60 Billion spent on traditional TV advertising. We’re just getting started in tipping the digital advertising dollars towards digital web content. This means that video advertising inventory is scarce – and offering a brand a special social media engagement might net out more value to them as they are investing in content – banner ads are NOT content.

Online Video Viewership Growth Fast Facts:

  • 32% more people watched video online (Dec ’09 to Dec ’10)
  • 12% more time watching video content in Dec ’10 – i.e. 14 hours average
  • Watching TV online at the networks site grew 82% (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox)
  • Multi-Screen Viewing Habits are growing TV, Computer, Mobile with 68.2% of US Internet users watching video each month (158.1 million people)

Why you need to get Internet Savvy? The average number of sites that 70% of consumers visit is 20 and only about 16% of Internet consumers are trying new sites… if there are 158 million people watching video online today, you need to start thinking outside of the box to reach them.

Question 2: What’s your genre? Where do people go on the Internet to chat about it?

Fan forums, communities, search Twitter conversations (that’s what the SEARCH bar is for in Twitter) engage with people who are passionate about what your theme is… Start sharing what you are doing, get people to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, your YouTube channel.

Bottom line – don’t wait until you have produced your series to start engaging with your audience. Use the different social media outlets, post photos, story lines, character info while you’re creating your project – get engagement. You need to get on Internet time… and you need to get savvy about the business of online video.

Question 3: Do you know what a Meta-tag is? Do you use them? Do you ask for comments and Ratings? Do you use Hotspots and Annotations?

I can’t begin to tell you how many videos I have watched on YouTube that just have a name as the title – no description and 2 words in the tags. REALLY? No one will find you in search. Oh and Google is the #1 Search Engine with about 70% of all global searches…. and who is #2? YouTube. No one will find you if no one can find you. Put descriptions and links on your videos – to your website, twitter, facebook – make it easy for people to find you. Use more than 2 keywords in the tags! Use the space in the title to tell people what your video is.

Did you know that 43% of YouTube’s top 100 videos are from YouTube partners? Ray William Johnson has six of the top 20 spots. Do you know how he does this? (1) He asks for comments and ratings with specific questions about what you just watched. ShaneDawsonTV has gotten 70K comments because he asked for them. (2) Incorporate your viewer feedback – you can make your episodes longer, improve sound, lighting or whatever the feedback is and your audience will love you for it – in fact why not do what Ray does and give viewers credit for helping improve his content. (3) Use hotspots and annotations: after a viewer watches your video on YouTube guess what – something “related” comes up and it’s probably NOT something YOU created. When your credits are rolling at the end create an annotation and hotspot to drive people to your website, fan page or twitter. ASK and they will follow you – especially if they liked what you created.

This concludes my blog rant… I hope that it has given you some good food for thought and that next week on #WebSeriesChat you come with some tips for the chat about what you’ve discovered that works for you rather than make blanket statements that you don’t have enough views.

12 thoughts on “Web Series Creators Need to Get Savvy! Continuation of #WebSeriesChat Conversation

  1. What a great article. as a web and digital filmmaker, I always have this talks with my colleagues and friends, the majority of them are web series producers and creators, and they just don’t seem to grasp how important marketing the series is, and worst yet, all of them grew up with the internet, like we did, and with social media, and they still don’t grasp the concept of internet marketing, and how important it is to live online and participate, as well as getting your community to participate!

    I am so glad I found this blog. And such a smart post really! I am looking forward to reading more of your views, and be there for the next #WebSeriesChat

  2. Great information. Truth is, you can have the greatest product, series, or movie in the world – but if people don’t KNOW about it, it won’t sell. Just think about all the TV Stars & movie stars who go on talk shows. It’s all about PROMOTING their shows. It used to be someone had to see a promo 7-10 time to make you watch a show or buy a product. Now it’s more like you have to see it 50 times. So we as web creators, have to be Publicity and Promotion People. It’s often harder to do the Publicity than to create and write the series. That’s why people hire publicists. Now that social networking is here – people can do more themselves. For me, I haven’t quite figured it all out yet, so any help I can get is great. Thanks, Stephanie for your great articles. Keep ’em coming. And other web series creators – let’s support each other and spread the word about ALL the series. Thanks and good luck to all. Marilyn at http://www.neverkissafrog.com

  3. All these comments are terrific. The truth is, whether it’s a web series, or a TV series, or a movie or a book – you have to publicize and promote it! That’s what keeps all the talk shows in business. The stars of the TV shows and movies that have to get out there over and over to promote their shows. It used to be, you had to have a person see a “product” 7 – 10 times before they would buy it. Now, they say it takes 50 times seeing a product before they buy. You can have the greatest show in the world – the secret is getting people to SEE it.

    So our job, in addition to writing and producing great web series, is to promote and publicize them. This takes as much or MORE work than writing and producing. That’s why companies hire publicists. As fellow web series creators, we need to help each other get the word out about our work. I am just learning about social networking, and it seems a bit overwhelming. Any help and advice – and great articles like Stephanie’s are always appreciated. Meanwhile – I’ll watch yours, if you watch mine :))Thanks – Marilyn http://www.neverkissafrog.com

  4. “I have a camera and I wrote a script now I am a webseries producer… which is more of what I am seeing than the business of making a webseries.”

    ME TOO! WOW, on the nose accurate statement of the year!

    I have heard crazy budgets discussed, plans for buyers and sponsors, and what appears to be a new psychological condition, The Deluded Web Series Mini-Mogul. Lots of bravado being paraded online with very little demonstrable skill in creating OR marketing anything. Time kills posers, all you have to do is wait.

    I don’t see what you wrote as a shortcut at all, I just see more advice and discussion being about business first and craft second, because the assumption is that the craft already exists and, as we both know, that’s not always the case.

    One question I like to ask web series creators – What else have you written? The answer let’s me know WHO I am talking to.

    • Yes – and guess what Joe, that is what any good studio exec would ask you as well – what else have you written?

      We have lots more topics to discuss and you’re right – “Time kills posers, all you have to do is wait.”

  5. Great post!

    The line between “creating art” or wanting a show “to be a business” is a lot grayer than an either/or scenario.

    If storytellers of scripted shows are designing web series based on demographics and branding and NOT good storytelling, then they are creating a business with a flawed foundation.

    It seems there is an assumption that writers of web series are good writers who have taken classes, written scripts in other mediums and formats and know how to tell a good story. Even some of the most popular web series out there needed a serious rewrite, IMHO. But everyone wants to be nice and supportive and positive, so no one says anything because there is little critical dialogue about craft, it’s all about demos.

    The problem is that people are diving in without story or character development because making a show is easy and there’s no producer or anyone giving honest feedback on the scripts. “It’s a five page script, how hard is that?” is the attitude of many, or so it appears in my personal experience.

    When the first question about a script is demographics and not anything about craft, that’s where the problem lies, again, IMHO.

    If you’ve never taken a screenwriting class or written a script, but you’re first script is for a web series and it’s riddled with demographics, potential brand integration or sponsorship opps, but the story is poorly told, everyone is wasting their time.

    Part of a business plan includes an evaluation of the available assets, like talent. Surgeons take classes, they don’t teach themselves. Writers of web series need to do the same. Take a Screenwriting 101 class before you start typing. Just like actors who THINK they’re talented, so they don’t take classes or learn any craft, and guess what, they don’t book anything because everyone watching them can see the problem.

    Same with scripts.

    • Joe – I completely agree with you. (1) I see no PLAN in place with many of the web series out there but my issue is that they create and complain because they have no sponsor or audience – so, my point is first and foremost – you need to have a business plan. (2) I agree with you on the script – honestly, I have watched many series that are missing a good story – and I have provided feedback to the creators where I feel the story is not quite ready for prime time. I think that your advice on taking a screenwriting class is a great place for people to start and getting feedback on your script – good, bad and indifferent is crucial. Too many feel-good friends out there are afraid to give notes but as any actor will tell you – it hurts to get notes, but if you don’t you won’t get better and won’t be acting in the future.

      (3) I disagree with you on demographics and audience. If you have a storyline and know you’re targeting Tw/een Girls (Twilight Series as example) there are coffers of advertising dollars out there that want to get in front of those girls. Think of Soap Opera’s brought to you by Proctor and Gamble – that is how they started and who funded them and it wasn’t because there was any ambiguity on who the target audience / viewership was. Web Series creators who want to make this a business – are creating a product that they need to sell and this is a fact about business – you need a demographic.

      Create what you want – be an independent creator and be beholding to no one. But at the end of the day – you fall into a category – (a) you are selling your product so you can make more or (b) you are crowd-sourcing money to make it. Neither way is wrong but it is a business decision that the creator/producer needs to make up front and put a plan in place and work the plan.


      • Thanks for responding!

        I understand demographics and why they are important in marketing. I do. And I think we are talking about the same thing, but in a different way.

        I make an Indie TV series with one goal, to tell a story to an audience, but I put in the time to make sure that happens. I have never been a build it and they will come believer.

        My goal is to create an ongoing, scalable, independent production, not to sell the show, not to design it for a sponsor, and because of that, job one is audience. I have walked away from money and deals to maintain this goal.

        I didn’t write a story targeting female viewers, I wrote a story about a male character who thought he had a solution to his problems and he was wrong. Our audience is about 70% female. I didn’t write a story for women, I just wrote a story.

        Here’s where the blindspot is in writing to a demographic, again, IMHO: defaulting to the demographic first, before the story. A lack of skill by a writer may generate a ham-fisted story where everything serves the demo, not the story. Again, this goes back to craft.

        You don’t know how to write a good story, you also don’t know how to write a good story for any demographic.

        Now, if writers are sitting down thinking, “What do women X-age to X-age like?” I think they can potentially talk down to the audience.

        And I am talking beyond the obvious things that might appeal to a gender or age group – Tweens watching Tweens, cars, boobs, dating stories…

        I think writers should write the story they want to tell and that passion will create a good story and will potentially attract an audience, a brand or a sponsor. Crap stories for any demo are just crap stories.

        I have a show riddled with profanity, which serves the story and firewalls us from other opportunities because we are TV-MA. While writing, I could’ve made the decision to cut the cussing, or bleep it, but that would take away from the quality of the show.

        Maybe this comes down to the old saying, “write what you know.” Not every writer can write for every demo. The other part of the business plan is evaluating what the business CAN create in terms of quality product.

        There needs to be more story development, more table reads, rewrite and more time spent to create something good. The apparent gold rush of people diving into web series and talking a good game from the business side and ZERO from the craft side looks like a confidence game, not a career.

        With so much focus on demographics and sponsorship, and little on craft, a sea of bad ideas form that serve neither an audience or a sponsor.


      • I totally agree that you shouldn’t just write for a demographic – then you might as well just write branded entertainment. However, if you are hoping to market and get sponsors then you need to know what the demographic is going to be. You are in a different boat in that you are not looking for a sponsor so that is a different business model. And it goes back to the business model of what are you creating and how are you funding and what are your plans for it.

        Are we going to have to deal with the ratings system on the web like TV and movies? That’s another issue altogether and I hate to even think about it but it could be a reality for us in the future.

        As far as creating a good story – there is no substitute for the best-practices you list above from story development to critiques before you start rolling the film.

        My post is not endorsing short cuts – I am putting on the table that there is a checklist of things YOU HAVE TO DO to be successful and the BUSINESS side of monetizing your content needs to be part of the plan – if that is what you have as a goal. The Writing, producing, acting, editing etc… of the end product also needs to be planned and developed as part of the whole. There is no pick and choose – I have a camera and I wrote a script now I am a webseries producer… which is more of what I am seeing than the business of making a webseries.

        – Steph

  6. Great insight into the what we face each day and the questions that we get from advertisers who are just starting to dip their toes into the world of sponsored/branded webseries.

  7. Thanks very much for writing this. I join webseries chat each week to try to learn things that might help me to make my projects sustainable, and take steps toward having the career that I want. For the most part, the other creators are very positive and supportive, and it’s great to have some of the key concepts clearly laid out for us to review, and for new attendees to see. Thanks again, and I look forward to learning more each week.

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