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Social Cinema: What It Is and Who’s Doing It

Social cinema is exactly what it sounds like: film events that debut and play out, either little by little or all at once, on social media. And the genre is developing fast, with original stories being produced for entertainment and advertisement purposes on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and beyond.

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Here are the brands and networks that are making the boldest, most notable, and ground-breaking forays into social cinema.

Shield 5 & Instagram

Perhaps the most buzzed-about piece of social cinema today is Shield 5, the much-anticipated “serialised thriller,” created and directed by Anthony Wilcox (Hello Carter), which will be released on Instagram via twenty-eight 15-second episodes running throughout February 2016, according to Deadline.

social cinema

The first major foray into social cinema on Instagram will include accompanying tangential content with each episode: a photograph that tells an unmissable part of the overall story arc.

Your first thoughts may be: My social team does not have access to a full film production and script-writing team. How is this relevant? How could I even make this work? 

To this I say: Does your team have the budget for a GoPro? Do you have talented writers and storytellers on board, or access to a tad more budget to hire an agency for help? If so, it’s time to take a chance.

You don’t have to produce an entire feature film, but what about a month-long campaign, with daily installments, that tells a digital story to the built-in captive audience of 400 million worldwide monthly active users and 200 million worldwide daily active users Instagram has access to? With the proper use of tagging and hashtag discovery, you can reach more people and add color to your brand identity.

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It’s a bold, hairy, audacious goal and initiative, but a worthwhile one, IMHO — if only for the press picked up and the brand awareness yielded. Shield 5 has almost 9K followers already, and press pick-up in major publications like AV Club and Deadline — and it’s only been alive for three days.

Pro Tip: Want to link out of Instagram to your site with your campaign? Drive web conversions from the notoriously outside-link-adverse Instagram platform by directing people to a dedicated microsite with a link in your profile that features exclusive complementary content. This, in turn, will let you track traffic from Instagram to your site, bringing unprecedented attribution to your efforts.

Nike Women & YouTube

Nike Women’s new Margot vs. Lily series uses its digital site as base camp, but serves up fresh teaser content on the regular on its YouTube channel, as well as posting the web series’ videos there. Here’s the trailer (which has already received almost 4 million views at the time of this post’s publication, in just 48 hours).

Nike Women’s well-reviewed debut in digital programming boasts the following features:

  • Consistency: The series doesn’t stray far from the hashtag that Nike Women has done such a good job of owning: #BETTERFORIT. Learn from this. Just because you’re producing a new, innovative piece of content you’re proud of doesn’t mean you should step away from your brand’s long-term story arc and messaging. Incorporate that long-term messaging into your social cinema instead.
  • A Killer Microsite + Aggressive Social Presence = Love: Margot vs. Lily’s microsite is beautiful and chock-full of content. By making their microsite a wonderful place to be and also releasing the video on social (YouTube), while repping the series on its other social channels as well, Nike Women gets a lot of mileage out of a well-scripted and planned piece of social cinema.
  • AEV (Actual Entertainment Value): Guess what? The Margot vs. Lily series is actually entertaining. It tells the story of two sisters at odds (what woman can’t relate to that?), while also incorporating the kind of fitness content which women attracted to this storyline are interested in diving into more deeply. This really comes back to knowing your audience and acting accordingly. 

Share the Screen & Vimeo

In January 2016, Vimeo made a pledge to support female filmmakers by announcing Share the Screen, “a new initiative we hope will help close the gender gap that is so pervasive in the entertainment industry. We intend to foster equality by investing in female-led programming, educational workshops, meetups, interviews, and more that spotlight and support female voices in the Vimeo community.”

Vimeo announced this initiative in tandem with its release of “SNL” alum Aidy Bryant’s short film Darby Forever via Vimeo On Demand, and has used its social channels to spread the word about the Share the Screen initiative. Lessons here:

  • Cause + Content = <3: If you don’t pick the right cause for your brand, this won’t work. If you don’t invest the time and resources necessary, this won’t work. But if you do both, you’ll see major rewards that last longer than your typical social campaign.
  • Announce in Tandem: Do you have a successful social campaign going on right now with a particular influencer? Then use this as the launchpad for your first foray into social cinema. Keep the flywheel effect going.
  • Debut at an Industry Event: Vimeo announced their new initiative at Sundance Film Festival, a mainstay for indie filmmakers. They could not have picked a more appropriate time to roll their campaign out. Do the same.

Are you looking for ways to tiptoe into digital programming waters without putting together feature length films just yet? Download our Social Video Cheat Sheets below to get started.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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