Applying Game Mechanics to Your Film's Website

Online marketing experts will tell you that "gamification" is a very powerful tool for building engagement and a community. The use of the term "gamification" is controversial (legend has it that a cryomancer dies every time a boring business type uses the term "gamification" in a powerpoint), but there's no denying that engagement and community - which are key elements of gaming - are also crucial for online marketing.

I realize that most filmmakers are not web-developers and some of you (in the indie film community) probably hate games. But, in the New World of distribution, you need to understand how the audience will learn about your film online and what tools are available for your core fans to share their enthusiasm for your film - and ultimately attract others on the Internet.

To be a New World filmmaker, you don't need to be a web developer or a gamer - but you will need to tell your web developer what you want to achieve. And some game design insights - strategies employed by game designers to make their online games more engaging, shareable and "sticky" - can be adopted by even the most microbudget of filmmakers as they build websites to market their films online.

To go one step further, in my view, if you're working outside the studio system (i.e., you're a New World filmmaker) you should be excited about the creative storytelling possibilities of designing a website with aspects of gaming.

You don't need to be the person who actually writes the code, as long as you can describe the functionality. And - to your surprise - you might just find that learning a little of the language of games and web design will expand your storytelling powers.

The essential trick of online marketing is to THINK ABOUT YOUR SITE FROM THE USER'S PERSPECTIVE.

For filmmakers, thinking from the user's perspective means identify:
A) Your core audience.
B) What online experience will engage the core audience and get them to participate and share?

If you can provide your core audience a truly engaging experience on your website - something that they'll want to become part of and share - your site will be a success.

A July 15th, 2011 blogpost on Mashable by Craig Ferrara discusses a number of key ways that so-called "gamification" can make your film's website more interactive and engaging. Craig's article - although not specifically aimed at filmmakers - was the inspiration for this post and he is quoted extensively here.

The rest of my post today will focus on four big ideas from gaming that you should consider when designing your film's website (these four ideas are User Generated Content, Sharing, Using Existing Platforms and Social Login). Under each of these four headings there are some specific suggestions for filmmakers, but you're encouraged to come up with your own ideas too. Remember, the one central goal of gamifying your website is to turn passive visitors into active marketers for your film.

1) User Generated Content

Think about ways to incentivize user content creation.


From your own experience online, you probably know that you are more engaged with a Facebook thread once you've posted you own comment to that thread.

If you're like me, you are more likely to return to a site that includes your own comments, ratings or reviews. So building in a space for comments or user feedback - and alerting users to updates - is a great way to encourage engagement and community.

Examples of User Generated Content Include: Twitter Comments, Video Endorsements and User Videos:

Adding a Twitter Comments section - where tweets saying nice things about your film show up on your webpage - is perhaps the easiest way to add user generated content to your site. All you need to do is to install a free widget and after that just spend a couple of minutes a day checking for tweets that mention your film.

Twitter makes gathering all the tweets about your film easy. Just be sure your film title converts to a simple, memorable and unique hashtag (e.g., #thegodfather). You can ask core fans to tweet saying nice things about your film - always including your hashtag and a link to your site.

All you have to do after that is periodically (every day) type your hashtag into the Twitter search window and see if there are any new tweets. Click on "Favorite" beneath the nice tweets. You're done. The widget will automatically load your favorites onto your page. Testimonials that come from customers are considered more trustworthy than what the filmmaker has to say about her own film. Third-party recommendations are a powerful marketing tool - and these Twitter Comments are easy to gather and a great addition to your website or blog.

Harvesting positive comments from twitter is one way to get user recommendations onto your site. You can also add Video Endorsements. That's where you edit together a short video (that plays on your homepage) with prominent people saying how great your project is. Here's a link to the Film Fest Marketing Project homepage, where there is an example of a "What People Are Saying" compilation of on-camera endorsements recorded at film festivals.

User reviews and recommendations can be enormously powerful (“Consumers are highly influenced by the experience of other consumers-far more than they are by marketing professionals.” - John Lazarchic e-commerce expert). If you're selling your film online - it's a mistake to ignore reviews and recommendations.

Besides comments, reviews, favorable tweets, and video endorsements there are also other forms of user generated content that will build even more engagement - although these other strategies will require more work.

For example, if you and your web developer are willing to put in the time, you could create a contest on your site where aspiring filmmakers (your core audience probably includes a few) could post their "response videos" also known as User Videos.

Giving your fans a place to post, share and vote on the best user generated short films is one great strategy for building engagement and return visits.

I know: You're a filmmaker. And it may (at first) sound like a distraction to provide a forum for other filmmakers to post their films. Why should your site become a forum for a stranger's content? And why "gamify" your film's website with a contest for other filmmakers.

I'm encouraging you to consider the marketing ideas presented here, not because you have a burning desire to exhibit other people's work and not because you have an abiding interest in building games: Remember, you are adding user content and gamifying your website to encourage desired behaviors around your film...

To put it simply - if your core audience is filmmakers - holding a contest for the best user generated video could be well worth the effort. That's because "[b]y incentivizing content creation, the user becomes more engaged, thereby making your site richer and more dynamic, as well as improving its SEO." Core fans will want people to vote for their User Video, so they'll link to your site and start the viral spread of your film.

2) Sharing

Be sure that your core audience has the ability to share content from your site. Clips from your film that can be easily shared will help your true fans to share their excitement with their friends. Also, as an added benefit, as links to your site show up on other sites, your site will move toward the top of search results, and you'll get more visits from search engine users.

Please note: many "social networks prohibit immediate incentives for clicking the share button in order to prevent users from spamming their feeds with random content to earn points. One way to work within this system is to have users work toward a larger overall goal or ranking as a result of sharing. Instead of prodding your visitors to “click to share and earn ten points,” sharing can be a means to bring users toward an achievement."

For example, give users a choice of "additional video clips" that you've created (e.g., short scenes that you've shot and edited that extend the story beyond your film). While all the additional clips should relate to your film, only one of the clips answers a narrative question asked in your film. Users who correctly choose and then SHARE the right clip become "story experts." And only "story experts" are eligible for certain prizes (e.g, access to even more bonus content or a drawing for a t-shirt).

3) Harness the Power of Existing Platforms and One-Click Sharing

"The Facebook “Like,” Google’s new “+1” and other reaction buttons serve as both content contribution and sharing tools. They allow users to express an opinion with just one click."

If your website has videos or text relating to different characters or events in your film, think about adding a Facebook "like" button or a Google "+1" button.

Have a web developer make an activity feed - that displays the most popular videos or articles and top user reactions. A visitor to your site might be more willing to click a Facebook "like" button (sharing that content with all of their friends) if that click leads to them showing up in a ranking on your site.

4) Social Login

Social login is the technology that allows users to access a new website (without creating an entirely new login) by using their Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail, etc. account.

You've probably already experienced this. Near a new-to-you site's login area, there is an option to sign in via Facebook. When you click it, you are shown a popup window and asked if you want to login to the new site using your existing Facebook account. Once you have done this ("allow access"), you now have an account for the new site AND you are also able to easily share information from the new site with your Facebook friends.

Here's a link to an introductory article from thedevdepartment about using social login.

As a filmmaker, why should I bother with a social login to my site? Social login brings an invaluable layer to your site: A user’s social graph.

What's social graph? Social graph means all the existing relationships your user has with other individuals online via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, etc.

How can a user's "social graph" help market my film? Just as with GroupOn and LivingSocial, users are motivated to share content with their friends that gives them a shot at a real reward in the real world.

A basic principle in game mechanics states that "users are more inclined to participate if they have some real world benefit." This can be a discount at some real world service or it can be as simple as increased reputation within their existing online community.

So, as a filmmaker with a website, have your web developer build functionality that offers a benefit that is only unlocked when enough people participate.

This real world benefit could be access to discounted tickets to your screening. Or free popcorn (check with the theater owner).

Alternatively, you could do what most websites with a share button do: Encourage each user to share with their social graph - simply because that user shares your ideals or they think your project sounds like fun.

Earning free popcorn or a package of discounted tickets to a screening is one type of reward you can give, but there is ample evidence that people also share content with their social graph simply to position themselves as experts or to build community, especially when the content is entertaining or does a good job of expressing the user's opinion.

As a filmmaker building your website, you want your core fans to engage and to share. Think about the experience of visiting your site from the user's perspective. Why would a user share your content with their online community (via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, etc.)? How easy have you made it for those users to engage and share?

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