As social media begins to dominate the Internet, it's more critical than ever that your first audience truly loves what you're doing.
Social media has been a part of the media landscape for about 5 years, and it's impact is already being felt in a big way. As we approach the beginning of 2011, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his team have built a cyber-city of over a half billion users. There are probably around 200 million Twitter users and LinkedIn is close to 100 million. These are big numbers in any medium. But what's more important than the numbers is the trend that they represent. People don't have ten times the number of friends that they did before 2005, but for many people the nature of communication within those relationships has changed a lot. And the implications for business are enormous.
This trend is expanding at an enormous rate as social media evolves, and it is extremely relevant to the entertainment business. It used to be that a well-advertised film with a decent cast could expect some reasonable opening weekend numbers. If audiences didn't like it, they might start telling their friends around the water cooler on Monday morning and a negative response would start to develop. But the distributor might be able to adjust the advertising to try to find a different audience and maintain some momentum into the second weekend so that the numbers wouldn't fall too fast.
Now, if audience members don't like a film, they are telling their friends about it while they are still in the theater. If the Friday night crowd hates it, the Saturday crowd never even shows up. Films die in a matter of hours rather than weeks. There's no time to adjust or respond. The verdict is rendered and the sentence is carried out before the weekend box office numbers are even published.
By the same token, if audiences love something enough to tell their friends, it can create tremendous positive momentum. If people are so excited by a film that they start tweeting or posting to Facebook, unexpected crowds of people will start showing up. And those audiences will already be positively disposed towards the film and thus much more likely to enjoy it and tell their friends how good it is, and so on and so forth.
And the same trends are showing up in television and other media as well. Content of all sorts is having its fate decided very quickly. Success or failure can be decided by the time the first episode is over. If a negative buzz develops, it may very well be too quick and too powerful to overcome. But if a positive buzz develops, the rise in popularity can occur literally overnight.
Obviously, this means it's more important than ever, in this new social media environment, to make your films and programs great. But the less obvious lesson is to be sure you are speaking to an audience that will respond passionately and positively. From the moment you start your project, know for whom you are making it, and create and market the project with that audience in mind.
It is critical that the first audience for your work responds positively. You might make a very good film or program, but if you end up with the wrong audience, and they tell their friends they didn't like it, your project may die a quick death. There are not a lot of second chances in an environment dominated by real time reactions.