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A short guide to creating an online following

Deciding to create a documentary was the easy bit. Figuring out how to get it off the ground, that’s been a little harder. But, within all of this I’ve learnt that creating an online following is essential to the success of my project.

[If you're looking to start up your own project (full-time or whilst holding down your day-job) the chances are you will want to use the power of the internet to build momentum, gain support, and get your 'thing' off the ground.]

[In this post Annabel Symington has kindly shared some of the strategies behind her exciting documentary project. Worth getting your head around if you're thinking of making a start on that idea you've got in your back pocket.]

The Guarani Project

A lot of people are slinging around phrases like ‘gone are the information gatekeepers’ and ‘the democratising force of the internet’, and they’re right, the internet has allowed us all to be creators and contributors, the question is how to tap into that and make to work for your own project.

A bit of background….

I am directing a documentary about The Guarani Aquifer in South America. The Guarani Aquifer is a huge underground reservoir that lies under Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, covering an area of land the size of France, Spain and Portugal combined. The aquifer contains enough fresh water to sustain the world’s population for 200 years, and  as water shortages affect us all in the future, the Guarani Aquifer could be a lifeline for millions. But increased commercial interest in the aquifer’s water, and political bickering between the countries that share it, is threatening this huge resource.

It’s a great story. It combines the fight between the indigenous Guarani people and the big bad corporations. There’s climate change in there, a bit of conspiracy theory (George W Bush owns a huge ranch on the aquifer which some activists are interpreting as an American neo-imperialist threat to South America’s sovereignty) and there’s even a celebrity angle to the story: the James Bond movie, The Quantum of Solace, despite being set in Bolivia, is allegedly based on the Guarani Aquifer. But despite all this I’ve managed to get very little interest in the story from the mainstream media. The most common reaction I received from editors has been “why should our readers care?”

So I decided I’d prove the mainstream media wrong and create a big following behind The Guarani Project and fund the first part of the project through ‘grass roots’ avenues.

Creating a big online following is key to the entire process, both to raise the amount of money needed to get the project off the ground, and to be able to go to future investors and be able to say that the project has a guaranteed audience of ‘X’.

Here is a short guide to creating an online following:

1. Be promiscuous

The Guarani Project is on facebook, twitter, flickr, youtube, posterous, vimeo and we have a blog. We’re also going to add Vuvox to the mix. Spreading your project across multiple platforms allows you to tap into different audiences. It also makes you think more creatively about how to present new ideas: would this work best as a 140 character tweet, a short youtube clip or as a photo slide show.

2. Getting the numbers

An excellent way of getting new followers is to message the admins of related groups on facebook and post on the walls of related pages. I spent a morning do that for The Guarani Project and more than doubled the project’s fan base in 24 hours.

Guest blog posts are another great way to spread the news about a project. When guest blogging, its best to tout out good places to blog, get a feel of the site’s tone and then write a piece for them and send it. Its much more likely to be published by a busy editor if you do it that way round than if you spend a lot of time sending emails says “please may I post… I think my project’s interesting because…”. Of course, if you’ve got a personal ‘in’ with a blog then use that as well!

3. Keeping the numbers

In many ways getting a big following is the easy bit. Keeping them interested is the real battle.

4. Have a strategy

Think about how you can keep people interested in your project. Regular updates are essential but its important to make them relevant and make sure that they say something new. The Guarani Project is going to launch a 90 day funding bid through Kickstarter this weekend and to keep people interested in the project for that period (and beyond) we’re are launching a water photo campaign on twitter and flickr called iWater. We’re going to tweet a photo a day, taken by Vasilios (the other half of The Guarani Project) or me, showing how water is all around us and affects our everyday lives. We’re also currently trying to come up with some other ideas to tap into audiences across all the social media channels, so check out The Guarani Project site for more details soon.

5. It’s about the conversation

As you feed out tones of content its likely that people will respond, comment and tell you what they think, whether you want it or not. And, if you want to keep people interested it is really important to reply to their comments and ideas, particularly negative ones. For The Guarani Project, we recently posted two logo ideas and asked people to tell us which one they liked best. We had a big response which was great… but then we received a comment telling us that the logos were all wrong and that we should do something that showed water turning into blood(?!). My gut response was ‘No! The logos are perfect’ but after chatting with Vasilios we decided that it would be better to give a more reasoned response explaining why we didn’t think that water flowing into blood would reflect The Guarani Project very effectively.

6. Be human

Don’t get lost behind all those social media tools! Try and bring a bit of personality to the mix- it makes you a lot more approachable. People also like to share in the process, so blog posts/tweets that say ‘I used to think and now I think because…’ go down really well. It’s another part of the democratizing force of the internet. The omnipotent tone of the newspapers (“I know it all and will share a little bit of it with you”) is gone: its now about the process!

Developing and keeping an online following is a pretty time consuming job, but in my opinion well worth the investment.

For any more ideas, check out The Guarani Project!

@guaraniproject (http://twitter.com/guaraniproject.com)

Facebook- (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Guarani-Project-Documentary/236944903833?ref=ts)

Official site- http://TheGuaraniProject.com

  • http://www.leehughes.co.uk Lee Hughes

    Good post..

    I am doing something similar, well not on the topic but by starting social media interest before I start my trip.

    Av found it quite difficult cause basically am just some guy going on an adventure, we all get bored looking at other people’s holiday slides right? lol

    But it’s good to be on your toes and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I look forward to watching your film and learning something new :)

    Some more links added to the list: http://www.linkedin.com/ very good place to meet new professional types.
    Of course Digg and reddit as well for interesting clips or photos that users can vote.

    Enjoyable post though, thanks :)

  • http://TheGuaraniProject.com Annabel Symington

    Thanks for the tips, Lee! Going to look into Digg and reddit- heard of them but never really used them before!

    Good luck with all your adventures- a unique angle goes a long way in getting people interested! Something like retracing the steps of some historical figure, correcting some misconception about a culture or even just a different style of transport….

  • http://www.lastgreatchallenge.com Justin Miles

    Great post!

    Social media/networking is an area that John and I have worked hard to come to grips with and conquer. I wouldn’t quite say that we’ve conquered them yet, but we’re slowly getting used to facebook and twitter. The next ‘stage’ is to get our youtube channel going with a few short clips of our training and having a general chit-chat, but like anything, we’re not only up against it with having the time to do it, we’ve got to learn how it all works too!

    Having said all that, facebook and twitter have been fantastic tools for us, giving us a more immediate and less formal communication platform – and we’ve had some great fun with them too.

    I’m looking forward to reading/seeing more about the project so please, keep me posted.

    Good luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Protect-the-Guarani-Aquifer-aka-Aquifero-Guarani/135303956503676 Protect the Guarani Aquifer

    Come and join the Facebook page Protect the Guarani Aquifer (aka “Aquífero Guarani”)” at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Protect-the-Guarani-Aquifer-aka-Aquifero-Guarani/135303956503676. This site is trilingual and concentrates in the protection of Guarani Aquifer as well as the geopolitics and strategic implications. Recently we are quite concerned with the US military activity in the aquifer region and we have been searching analysis and valid reasons for such activity. We try to avoid gossips and hoaxes and concentrate in the facts and in objective accusations made by real people. For example, read there that there is apparently an US base in Paraguay just above the Guarani Aquifer whereas in Argentina the US is making pressure for the installation of a military base in Misiones (also just above the aquifer). The goal, according to politic analysts, is supposedly the control of the drinking water of the aquifer. The aquifer being a rich source of Tritium, the main ingredient of the Hydrogen bomb, besides the proximity of electric power of Itaipu hydroelectric dam, also make it an important military strategic point. Read it all and see the documentary videos in 4 major languages. Be aware and participate, diffuse the knowledge and recomend this page.