What Businesses Can Learn From @ThatKevinSmith About Social Media

Kevin Smith (who uses the name @thatkevinsmith on Twitter), the indie film director who gave us Clerks and Dogma is on the cutting edge of utilizing social media for marketing and business owners should follow his lead if they are serious about growing their business cost effectively.

At first glance, it may seem odd that small businesses would look to a Hollywood director for marketing advice.  That is until you look a little deeper at what is currently happening in Kevin Smith’s career currently.

Here is a little background if you are unfamiliar with Smith and his career:

In 1993 Smith made his debut film, “Clerks” for just under $28,000 of his own money.  That film was purchased by the Miramax in 1994 at the Sundance Film Festival.  This was the beginning of a nearly twenty-year filmmaking career within the Hollywood system.  Smith went on to write, direct and edit 10 films for Mirimax and other major Hollywood studios.

While Smith will be self-deprecating about his prowess as a filmmaker, he will tell you that he was successful at managing a budget–all of his films made money for the studios that released them.

By all accounts, “Red State”, his current movie project is a departure.  Unlike his long list of movies, this isn’t a light-hearted comedy. “Red State” is hard to fit into a box–but most people label it a horror movie.  As usual, Smith was mindful of the budget while he produced “Red State” completing the project for under $4 million.

When “Red State” was getting ready for distribution, he was aware that this hard to define movie would be difficult to market.  He knew that the studio system would want to spend millions of dollars on marketing that would more than likely miss the mark in reaching an audience.  Smith also knew that he had a direct line to his most loyal fans that would not cost him a dime–social media.

Smith is an avid user of social media and has cultivated a large following on Twitter and Facebook of his fan-base (more than 1.8 million Twitter follower and almost 600,000 on Facebook).  He has always been an early adopter of technology.  He was one of the first Hollywood personalities with a web site and he was active on the forums on his website for years interacting directly with his fans.  Then as the technology advanced and social media replaced chat rooms and bulletin boards he jumped into that space and has been holding forth there ever since.

He has realized the marketing potential of this medium.  He publicizes all of his live shows and he breaks news to his fan base about all of his upcoming projects there.  Fans know that if they want Kevin Smith news they can go straight to the source for the information by following his social media accounts. For example, fans started to learn about “Red State” while he was still writing it because he would blog about it and tweet about it all through the development process.

So it was only natural that Smith would decide to throw out the traditional Hollywood business model when it came time to release “Red State” and decided that instead of weighing his film down with exorbitant marketing costs, he would just take to social media to get the word out about his film.

He was eschewed by critics and traditionalist.  People wanted to paint him as washed up or a failure. They tried to paint him as unable to release his film in the traditional manner–so he went this “odd” way instead.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Smith made a conscious, calculated business decision.  He saw the value in social medial and word-of-mouth advertising. He knew that he had social capital invested in the time he spent cultivating his audience online.  They were his most loyal fan-base. He knew that he had a strong following of people online that were interested in his product and all it would take was an expenditure of his time to devote to publicizing his project online and his followers would help him by amplifying his reach by broadcasting that message themselves to their followers.

And guess what? In little more that six months time from the time he announced his plan Smith had covered all of his expenses for the film and he was in the black–without spending practically a dime in traditional marketing or publicity, without a PR tour or press screenings, without billboards or gimmicks.

So what can business owners learn from Kevin Smith when it comes to social media? A few things: First, you can be untraditional and be successful at marketing.  Second, you can cut out the middle man (and all of the associated expenses) when it comes to marketing and pubic relations, and speak directly to your real fans (aka customers). And third, you can “monetize” your social media efforts.

However–there are also some very important caveats.  It isn’t automatic.  You can’t just hire an intern to sign up for a twitter account and expect to see cash start rolling in through the door.  As with any business venture, you need to invest in it; grow it.  However, this isn’t a cash investment.  You need to invest time.  You need to cultivate a following online by being earnest. You need to connect with your customers online and engage them.  Give them a reason to follow you by offering them engaging content…entertaining, informative, interesting content that makes them want to read what you have to say.  If you do that and spend the time developing these relationships they will pay dividends.  People will support your business if you are giving them something in return.  If you interact and are proactive they will recognize that your company is worth supporting and reward you for getting it.

Kevin Smith loves to talk about Wayne Gretsky–and how he was taught by his father that you need to go where the puck it going to be instead of chasing after it. Successful businesses need to learn that lesson as well.  Don’t chase the social media puck–go where the the puck is going to be in the future. Be creative in social media, innovate!

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