When it comes to digital marketing, adaptability is key – we must be open to everything and disregard nothing, says Tilly Walnes

It’s strange to think that only three years ago, at an Independent Cinema Office training day, the suggestion that cultural cinemas and film festivals could include movie trailers and behind-the-scenes videos on their websites was met with surprise – and some hostility. To use moving image as a tool for audience engagement as opposed to words and pictures, and to screen it online rather than under the optimal conditions of a big screen, constituted a shift in approach that some people found it hard to get their heads around.

In just a few years, of course, using online video has become standard practice and the digital engagement prowess of cinemas and film festivals is going from strength to strength. Tyneside Cinema’s website offers multiple ways for audience members to get involved, from rating and reviewing films in the programme to voting for their favourites to be rescreened. And there’s Broadway in Nottingham, which regularly involves its Twitter and Facebook friends in decision making, from what film to screen on Valentine’s Day to what to call the Batman-themed ale served in the bar.

Various film festivals are experimenting with video on demand platforms such as MUBI and Distrify to showcase “best of the fest” programmes to audiences in their own homes. Sheffield DocFest’s blog pulls the curtain back on the working life of a film festival programmer, and the Adventure Travel Film Festival creates hilarious, low budget trailers which make you want to don your onesie and join the party.

These are all great examples, but just like three years ago when online video was not yet seen as an audience engagement tool, I can’t help thinking that we’re missing a multitude of new opportunities. In another three years, things will have changed again so radically that we’ll look back and scoff at our the way we approach promotions via digital platforms now. In fact, I’m already cringing at my use of “digital platforms” – what seems “cutting edge” today (again, cringe) will seem awkward and outdated in no time.

That’s not to criticise current practice. My point is that there is no “best practice” when it comes to digital marketing. Advice on whether to adopt an organisational or personal voice on Twitter changes on an almost monthly basis – the jury’s still out on whether QR codes are on their way in or out; and don’t get me started on the differing schools of thought on Pinterest etiquette.

Occasionally, I like to indulge in a healthy game of ‘What would my current self tell my past self?’ to help fuel answers to the question: what would my future self tell my current self? This is a useful exercise for cultural organisations to play too – it serves to remind us all of the importance of learning, change and adaptability. When it comes to an emerging practice such as digital marketing, adaptability is key – we must be open to everything and disregard nothing.

Far from being a problem, the absence of an agreed approach to digital marketing presents an exciting opportunity for experiment and play. As an active sewing blogger in my spare time, I know the value of ‘permanent beta’ over hard-and-fast rules. To position ourselves at the forefront of developments (which, as cultural and creative organisations, we really should be doing), we must encourage imaginative approaches, be open to taking risks, and adopt the mantra that there are no stupid ideas.

Later this year, the Independent Cinema Office will be piloting a new professional development programme called  Creative Digital Marketing to encourage just this sort of imaginative approach from cultural cinemas and film festivals. We won’t be presenting anything touted as “best practice” – instead we’ll be inspiring, provoking and experimenting, with the aim of encouraging participants to test out new ideas and report back on their findings, including via the Culture Professionals Network. I have no idea what lessons will come out of this project. But I’m excited to find out – and report back to my present self.



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