Can Social Media Predict Sundance Film Award Winners?

In about 2 hours, this year’s Sundance Film Festival award winners will be announced. In the past week, there’s been over 35,000 tweets with the #sundance hashtag; more than 40,000 people “talking about” Sundance films on the films’ Facebook page or on the official Sundance Facebook page; 1,300 people have checked in on Foursquare at one of the Park City theatre venues; and nearly 4,000 photos have been tagged #Sundance on Instagram.

Will this social media buzz be any indication of who’s going to win awards tonight? If it is, here’s what we should see:

US Documentary

US Dramatic

World Documentary

World Dramatic

Of course, 17% of awards contenders don’t have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, so it’s much more difficult to track social media mentions of those films. And this is only counting raw activity–nothing about sentiment (what if everyone talking about the film on Facebook is trashing it?); and nothing about geographic dispersion (that’s great if there are 500 people tweeting about your film, but if they’re all in Kansas it’s not going to make much of a difference for audience awards). None the less, I’m curious what the next few hours will reveal. And check back here in a few weeks for a deeper analysis of all the social media data around predicting film sales as well.

 

 

 

 

Sundance 2012 & Social Media: What’s a Filmmaker To Do?

Last year, I took an in-depth look at how Sundance feature films used social media during the Festival, and if social media was a good predictor of a film’s critical or financial success. With 9 days and counting until the 2012 Festival kicks off, I thought I’d take a look to see how films might be using social media differently this year. After all, since last year’s Festival, Facebook gained 200 million new users, Twitter toppled a few dictators, folks are uploading a third more video content to YouTube every minute, and Kickstarter quadrupled the number of dollars pledged to new projects.

Last year’s data was compiled about a month after the Festival concluded (and both graphs group YouTube & Vimeo into Video, and Kickstarter & Indigogo into Funding). Hopefully this graph suggests that there are still a large number of films that are scrambling to create, maintain, and master their own social media accounts, not that fewer films are using social media in 2012. In light of that, a few friendly tips about how independent films should think about using social media.

Last year I highlighted a few reasons why you might care about using social media to promote a film:

  • In the absence of a (time consuming to create) website, a Facebook page can be a great place to drive audiences during the festival circuit for more info about the film
  • An audience plugged into (real time) social media probably increases awareness about a film during Festival screenings, possibly increasing attendance at those screenings
  • A large & passionately engaged social media fanbase might be the kind of social proof that tips the scale for a distributor to buy the film
  • The Music Never Stopped has [used to have] a “request this film in my city” section of their Facebook page. Even pages without this function at least know the geographic distribution of their fans based on Facebook Insights, and could use this data to plan screenings.
  • The role of filmmakers and actors on social media to promote films is significant. Though I’m interested in (for example) the relationship between Carol King‘s personal Facebook page and the Troubadors Facebook page–there’s a wide disparity in the number of Likes between the two. [This trend for artists or related media that have their own substantial social media presences appears to be increasing in 2012–see the companies of Bones Brigade and Hit Record, the artists of Ice-T and Ai Weiwei, or the off-Broadway turned Sundance film Sleepwalk With Me and the book turned Sundance film Slavery by Another Name.]
  • YouTube/Vimeo are being best utilized by critics & fans to promote/curate lists of films they love/hate, and need access to embeddable video content from the films.
  • Distributors with a strong social presence have the benefit of time to build a captive audience, but it’s unclear to me how well audiences travel between films (for example I’d be fascinated to see on the Fox Searchlight Facebook page if the folks who interacted with Black Swam content also interacted with Cedar Rapids content).

I’ve also personally noticed the value in using these social media fans to promote the films once they gain wider release (see, Pariah), and clearly quite a few films are realizing the funding value of networks like Kickstarter and Indigogo (more on that below).

But if I had just 9 days and a bazillion other things to finish before opening night, here’s what I’d focus on:

Facebook

Consider Facebook your long-term base of social media supporters and a good archive of all the content you’re posting online. Some films have already been accumulating fans for months or years–throughout the filming, post-production, and festival-submission process. Especially for those films making the indie film circuit, Facebook fans, and as importantly, their friends, can give you momentum as you travel from city to city. And the photo albums and links to press mentions can serve as a permanent content storage system. Even though you have less flexibility in the design and features of a Facebook Page compared to a website, it’s easier to maintain, can get across the same vital information to press, distributors, and the public, and will have far better SEO than your website (try finding the movie L in a google search). And on average, it’s likely that your Facebook Page will have more “likes” than your Twitter account will have followers, true for 79% of the 47 Sundance feature films this year with both networks.

So, if you haven’t yet, I would:

  • Create a Facebook Page
  • Fill out your “Information” tab as if it’s the only information anyone will need about your film–both logistics and the marketing pitch
  • Share the Facebook Page with your friends and with everyone who worked on the film
  • “Like” other Facebook Pages that you share a strong affiliation with–same production company, same actors, similar topics of interest, etc.
  • Consider Facebook advertising. Just to start the ball rolling on getting people to the Page so it doesn’t sit lonely in the far dark corners of Facebook, I’d spend $50 to get 100 new “likes” from people who have an interest in “independent film” (over 2 million Facebook users in the US), in any of the other Festivals the film might be showing at (there’s about 500,000 Facebook users who have an interest in Sundance, Tribeca, LAFF, Telluride, Berlin IFF, or IFC), or based on a topical interest (Note to The D Word: looks like there’s at least 50,000 people with a demonstrated interest in Dyslexia).
  • Consider adding a welcome tab to introduce new users to your Page. PageModo has a great free option, look to Excision, The Last ElvisBig Boys Gone Bananas, or Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie for inspiration.
  • Add a Twitter tab to showcase what’s happening on that network. Involver has a decent free app.
  • Set your Facebook URL to the title of your film. Use that new URL on posters, postcards, business cards, etc.
  • Add a Facebook icon (or other social plugin) to the footer of your website/blog and in your email signature.
  • Get to know the Edgerank Algorithm that Facebook uses to decide which of your posts will appear in fans’ newsfeeds. That means going heavy on the photos & video, posting new content when fans are most likely to see it (not just when it’s most convenient for you–use Hootsuite’s message scheduler for scheduling), and asking friends & family to “like, share, comment” on new content in order to seed the affinity score.
  • Start posting content on Facebook. I’d aim for at least every other day, at least in January. In December, the Facebook Pages of the Sundance feature films that posted at least every other day had 4x more fans, and a higher percentage of those fans were “talking about” the Page, compared to those films that only posted 1x per week.

And remember come January 30, Facebook posting doesn’t stop just because the Festival is over. The few thousand people who have “liked” your Page will want more updates as they happen in the coming months, and as mentioned above, you can use what you know about these people to help plan future releases. Don’t forget to use Facebook Insights to better understand your audience–Facebook has a decent Guide to Insights [PDF].

Twitter

Think about Twitter as the place to give real time updates about you & your film during the Festival(s). Festival go-ers will be following you, lists of all the Sundance films, the critics, and each other, to find out more about Q&A’s, which venues/showtimes are sold out, who has the best late night party going, and which celebrity you just photographed bite it on the slippery streets of Main Street. Having a Twitter account will also help all these folks talk about you (it’s hard to search Twitter and find what you’re looking for with “Middle of Nowhere,” but easy to find the @MiddleNowhere mentions). Though, Save the Date has taken a great approach to this–you could also establish your own hashtag (just make sure you promote it widely):

Here’s what I would do with a Twitter account:

  • Start a Twitter account. Have a username that’s short (10 characters or less is great, your max will be 15) but easy to read/remember. Make sure to include the full name of your film in your bio so people can search Twitter’s directory and still find you. Use the rest of your bio as a one-sentence pitch for the film and don’t forget a striking profile image that still looks good at 16 pixels.
  • Consider a customized Twitter background. Look to That’s What She Said, Filly Brown, The D Word, or Wish You Were Here for inspiration.
  • Download a mobile app to use Twitter on your device of choice–I like TweetDeck, some people swear by HootSuite, even Twitter’s own app is pretty good.
  • Build a list of the other people who worked on the film that also use Twitter. Basil Tsiokos has a great example list of Sundance 2012 filmmakers. Retweet those folks when they tweet something interesting.
  • Start tweeting: let the world know what films you’re watching/digging, keep an eye on @sundancefest for news about what’s happening with other films, hold a Twitter Q&A with the artists you didn’t have room to bring on stage for the post-premiere Q&A, if you check in on Foursquare to a film venue or a public party–send it to Twitter too, snap a photo of the massive line outside the Eccles waiting to see your film, start a hashtag trending just for fun (Jimmy Fall does this nicely each week)–something like #CollegeReunion for Liberal Arts, or #WhatIfRosieTheMaidReturned for Robot and Frank, and respond personally to all the regular folks raving about your film on Twitter–but don’t forget to look for both @mentions and people just using the title of your film (and for films with generic titles, include “Sundance” in the search to narrow results).
  • The debate continues to rage about whether you should follow back every person who follows you (ok, perhaps it’s only raging in a few small circles). I think it’s in large part just a personal choice, but here’s what your peers are doing:

What else?

  • Please don’t autopost from Facebook to Twitter. It’s sloppy, it’s essentially spam, and you’re almost guaranteed to not find a sizable number of followers.
  • Use a (free!) tool like Crowdbooster to track how well your content is doing on Twitter. But unlike Facebook, I’d worry less about the analytics on Twitter and just tweet about what’s on your mind.
  • Do tweet often, especially during the festival. I would aim for 5-10x per day. Use a tool like Twunfollow to know if people are unfollowing your account because you’re tweeting too often. The difference in network size for frequent posters is even more pronounced on Twitter than Facebook:

Video

Don’t worry about YouTube or Vimeo as a social network. Unless you’re posting new videos as part of a weekly series, all of my previous research suggests that you’re never going to collect enough subscribers to make a true network. Instead, think of it as a place to store video–like trailers, interviews, or rough cuts, which other people can embed on their blog, newspaper, website, etc. So…YouTube versus Vimeo? Slightly more of your peers chose YouTube (57%) as their network of choice. Vimeo has a better design aesthetic, more random people are likely to surf across your video on YouTube, but they both offer the same embedding tool. Just as a point of reference–your peers posted on average 2 new videos in December, and on average those videos had 3,220 views each (though that includes videos embedded on other websites that automatically begin playing when someone loads the page).

Website

Websites don’t have to be complicated, time consuming, or expense to produce. In fact, just under a third of all Sundance 2012 feature films with their own website, or their own section of a producer’s/distributor’s website, use just a single web page (see Valley of the Saints for a nice example). That said, it’s probably not how I’d spend my time in the next 9 days if you don’t have one already.  In fact, another third of all Sundance 2012 feature films have some social media presence, but no website. If the main point of the website is to:

  • Provide information to those who seek it –> your website probably won’t rank on the first page of Google, so few are going to find it
  • Have a URL to point people to on marketing materials –> why not sure facebook.com/yourmovietitle?
  • Establish legitimacy –> this reason is probably true, and given how “perception” can play a key role in the sale of your film, may be worth it to build a site
  • Feature content in ways that social media cannot –> also probably true. A few of this year’s films’ website included features like merchandise shops, opportunities for the public to upload their own content to the site, and dedicated areas where only the press can download information.

Of course, not every film needs its own website. Of this upcoming year’s set of films that are featured on their own or someone elses website, most have a dedicated site. A few use a hosted site like blogger (see The Raid), a few share sites with related books or similar (see Slavery By Another Name), and of course many share sites with each other under the same producer or distributor (see Elena and Payback)

Funding

I saw a huge jump in the number of films using funding websites like Kickstarter (and a handful more on Indigogo), likely due to the Sundance/Kickstarter relationship that launched during last year’s Festival. Of the 12 films who sought this social-enabled funding (with 3 still, in, progress!), a few interesting stats:

  • Median goal for money raised was $19,500 (though 1 film raised more than 4x that amount), and every film thus far made its goal, including a “Most Improbable Finish” award given to Mosquita y Mari for raising $35k in their final 48 hours
  • Average film raised $80 per donor, and found 176 people to give some amount
  • The benefit level for on screen credit was all over the map–from $15 to $2,500; but Producer (or Associate Producer) credit typically began at the $5,000 mark

Other Social Media

I was surprised not to find more Tumblr accounts, an experimental Google+ Page, and maybe a Pinterest snuck in there somewhere, although 1 film was pimping their MySpace page, and another filmmaker included a link to his LinkedIn profile in the film’s website’s footer, which might actually be kind of smart.

What’s Next?

There’s a bit of social media on the Sundance website, but based on last year’s data I doubt there’s enough social interaction on the 2012 sundance.org to predict film awards or sales. In general, the number of tweets a Film has received from the Film Guide (9, below) is a decent predictor of how many Twitter followers they have, but the same is not true for Facebook, and there’s just not enough action on the +1 buttons for meaningful conclusions.

That said, a lot could change in the next 9 days. I’ll try to capture another set of data just before the Festival opens, and another set post-Festival, and perhaps a few case studies for while the Festival is in action. Maybe someone will Storify the Festival?

So what did I miss? What other questions or ideas do filmmakers/film marketers have for using social media to connect with audiences? What other data should I be looking at?

High Impact Social Media

TheInkSociety.Etsy.com

TheInkSociety.Etsy.com

What’s working for arts organizations now? “Once someone likes us on Facebook, what do we do with them? How can we use Twitter to raise money? Can Foursquare really enhance the audience experience? How can Tumblr help us make sense of it all?” Yesterday’s half-day seminar, High Impact Social Media, supported by the Bloomberg Philanthropies arts advancement initiative and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, attempted to answer just that by bringing together Gary Vaynerchuk (who, if you haven’t seen him, watched him, or read his books, you’re really missing out) and reps from the big 4 social media platforms for a crowd of a few hundred NYC arts managers. It’s the highest profile gathering of social media folks I’ve seen speak to arts managers, and I was thrilled to join the crowd, in anticipation of the groups next gathering in December where I’ll be speaking and moderating a panel on the same subject.

Words of wisdom from Gary:

  • Social media isn’t a concept, it’s the deciding factor between whether you’re still going to be in business or not five years from now
  • You [arts managers] are in the eyeballs and ears business, and social media has fundamentally disrupted communication. We are in the greatest culture shift of our lifetime.
  • Every 48 hours in 2011, we create more content than in the period between the beginning of mankind…and 2003. You have to provide context along with your content.
  • We default into pushing information out, into talking. But social media is the greatest listening platform every invented. Winning in social media requires you shut up and listen.
  • Single greatest opportunity & tool you have, is the @reply.
  • Social media isn’t easy, it takes time, and sometimes it’s not very fun. “Do you know how fun it is to answer what wine goes with fish 76,000 times? It’s not fun. And it’s not Pinot Grigio either.”
  • If you don’t have enough time to do social media, then stop doing other dumb shit, and hire an intern. But you need enough knowledge about social media to direct that intern’s efforts.
  • Consumer’s bullshit radar is dramatically better than you want it to be.
  • In a Groupon World, it’s easy to acquire customers. Social media impact retention. It’s all about customer lifetime value.
  • It doesn’t matter how many Facebook fans you have if none of them are engaging on your Page. If your Facebook post gets less than 1% fan engagement, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Data tells you what happened, not where it’s going.
  • Everything I [he] love will be ruined five years from now. Marketers ruin everything. You guys should understand better than most how not to ruin this. You care about what’s on stage, who’s in your audience.

A few other funny tidbits–Gary asked how many people in the crowd once swore they would never own a cell phone, and still don’t. When 3 people raised their hands, he was shocked, and said it was the highest number he’d ever seen in a crowd. As a well known user of colorful language, I was more shocked that Gary only dropped six F-bombs in 90 minutes.

Next up was Adam Conner from Facebook:

  • History of the internet: Browse (Yahoo) –> Search (Google) –> Discovery (Facebook)
  • “Facebook gives you the ability to connect with millions of people.”
  • There are plenty of places online where you can broadcast. Facebook requires Pages to accept comments because Facebook isn’t just for broadcasting.
  • “Don’t create a Page if you don’t have the content to support it”
  • Ten tips: Create a voice; Program your page (with an editorial calendar); Create exclusive content; Use visuals; Push & Pull people to the page; Make supporters stars; Engage other groups on Facebook; Get creative with apps & features; Know who your supporters are using Insights; Market your Facebook presence in offline/print materials.
  • Best idea I heard: Publish “thank you” videos to your supporters on your Page

Then Jake Furst from Foursquare:

  • Innovations of the internet: Google (Information) –> Facebook (Social) –> Foursquare (Geography)
  • 3 aspects of Foursquare arts orgs can explore: Merchant Platform (offering specials), Pages (leaving tips & encouraging others to follow you), Platform (building apps on top of Foursquare)
  • Foursquare tips “allow a user to experience the world through the lens of a brand”
  • Foursquare allows a brand to push messages, like Twitter, but at the appropriate time and place
  • Foursquare Stats is like Google Analytics for the real world
  • Special shout out to Foursquare for tailoring their presentation to arts orgs & using arts orgs in nearly every example. No other platform did that.
  • Best idea I heard: Use Specials to give your supporters an awesome experience not just a discount. What if that looked like giving house seats to whomever checked-in first after the house opens every night. They already bought the tickets, those seats usually go empty anyway, what a great customer service experience that would be…

Later was Glen Otis Brown of Twitter:

  • 3 types of parties: Spontaneous, Organized, Artful
  • Think of Twitter as each of those types of parties: spontaneous gatherings of people, a place to organize online supporters, and a place to curate/create art
  • Retweeting is curation with a click.
  • Use hashtags at events, and listed on collateral, to organize conversations
  • Post links & photos. Photos with hashtags get their own media page.
  • Ask questions & call supporters to action. Read & write on Twitter (half of active users only read–you should be too).
  • Experiment. There’s a lot of untapped opportunities on Twitter. Publishing house WW Norton is a great example.
  • Someone asked a question about how to protect your art online. Glen’s response: Obscurity is worse than piracy. (I agree).
  • Best idea I heard: Showcase talent and personalities associated with your brand using @mentions. There are tons of artists, managers, and staff on Twitter now. Why aren’t arts organization’s “official” accounts highlighting more of these people’s personal/professional use of Twitter? More curation and exposure wanted!

Finally was Mark Coatney from Tumblr:

  • Tumblr is the “simplest way to share information and connect.” 94 million people use it every month, 50% of those are in the US.
  • Tumblr “reduces the time between thought & action” in microblogging.
  • 40% of Tumblr posts are visuals.
  • Tumblr community is full of curators and remixers, who don’t necessarily consider themselves artists, but are often creating art.
  • Best idea I heard: Not enough people use the “call in” feature of Tumblr posts. What if audience members could call in post-performance audio responses & your arts org would post them as a podcast each week?

Alan Levine, CIO of the Kennedy Center was our consummate host, and left us with this final thought, “Why is it that so many people spend so much time on social media?” If we can tap into that, the future of the arts won’t be in danger.

Crowdsourced Voting: Modeling User Behavior with Math

The Nonprofit Technology Conference uses crowdsourced voting (plus a panel of experts and NTEN staff) to determine which panels to host at their annual conference. As I was perusing and voting on panels myself this afternoon, I started thinking about the value of a single up vote or down vote, and how we might use math to model this user behavior.

Like that other technology conference I just blogged about, they saw a record number of panel submissions this year–about 450 for 100 or so total spots, and have changed up the voting process a bit from last year. Key points:

  • anyone can vote without having to register on the site;
  • voting is a simple “up vote” or “down vote”
  • voting is persistent throughout the 2 week voting period (in other words, once you’ve voted for something, you can change your mind from up to down, but can’t vote multiple times for the same panel;
  • “vote stuffing” is minimized by limiting voting to 1 IP address (a real bummer for those of us who work in offices where 30 people might share the same IP address)
  • panels are somewhat anonymous–submitters could choose to include their panelists names in their panel description, but weren’t encouraged to do so

I propose there are likely 3 scenarios that motivate people to vote:

  1. A friend asks them to vote for a panel; so they surf over to the NTC website, give an upvote, maybe happen upon a few other panels, but by-and-large stick to the “vote & run” technique.
  2. Die hard NTC fans; so they mull over the pros and cons of most/all panels, end up voting for 20? 50? 450? with a mix of up and down votes.
  3. They have proposed a panel; so they vote up their own, promote it to all their friends, and (maybe) vote down a few of their “competitors”

If our purpose in crowdsourced voting is to really get the opinion of the average member of the crowd, the “value” we might place on a single vote in each of those scenarios is quite different.

The simplest method of course is to just look at the differences between up votes and down votes. In the above picture, I took a sample of the first 200 panel submissions (which were themselves randomly ordered, so I have a random sample of just under half of the population) and plotted up votes versus down votes. The gray box covers exactly half of all panels (with some data points stacked on top of each other). Those are the panels “the crowd” essentially feels lukewarm about. The red box appears to be clear “no” votes–lots of down votes, with very few up votes. The green box are clear “yes” votes, and the yellow box are the “controversial” panels–the ones who polarize voters to either love or hate them.

But I don’t think that tells the real story, or at least, it’s not the best use of our data.

So back to our scenarios. What if we (and by we, I mean, the NTC voting commission) gave less “weight” to those voters from scenario 1 who only voted once? They would seem to be the people LEAST likely to be attending the actual NTC conference, instead they’re just doing a favor for a friend. And I say that as someone who proposed three different panels, and have been encouraging all of my friends and colleagues to vote. What if we also gave less “weight” to those voters who are predisposed to vote negatively, as in scenario 3? Review sites with a stable set of critics tend to do this; it corrects for the difference between a critic who typically gives an “average” movie 2 stars, and when they’re really in love with something 3 stars, versus the critic who gives practically anything carte blanche 4 stars.

It’s possible NTC is already planning for this bit of statistical manipulation of voting patterns. And I’m not saying if they don’t, it was necessarily the wrong call.  But in trying to figure out “what the crowd wants,” the simplest math doesn’t always equal the optimal outcome.

The Case for A New Arts Incubator Model

Next week I’ll  be speaking at Arizona State University’s p.a.v.e. program–the performing arts venture experience, one of the few arts incubators in the country. The program offers “arts entrepreneurship classes,” financial ($1-$5k), in-kind (space & materials), and other support (faculty mentors) for “student initiated arts based ventures,” and lots of speakers, workshops, and symposia open to the public. Any ASU student can apply to the program, typically in cross disciplinary groups of 3-5, and are incubated for 7 months. Funded projects can opt-in to allocating 5% of future revenues to the p.a.v.e. program, but so far most of the funding seems to come from the Kauffman Foundation. Previous seed grant recipients include a film festival by for and about adults with disabilities, the Rehearsal Assistant software product, a web-based comic book, and a mobile app that tags artistic content with location metadata.

I am fascinated by the way the arts and other industries think about developing new products, new ideas, and new teams, and was stoked to be invited to speak at p.a.v.e. because it gives me a great opportunity to write this post, which I’ve been meaning to for far too long now. First, the landscape of incubators, which come in a wide variety of flavors:

Stages of product development:

  • Hackathon–go from nothing to prototype in a day. Foursquare has a global hackathon going on this weekend. Arts examples include CultureHack and (sort of) 14/48.
  • Startup Weekend–go from nothing to prototype + business plan in a weekend. No real equivalent in the art world.
  • Founder Labs–find a team, validate an idea, prepare to apply to an incubator, over the course of 5 weeks.
  • Incubator–take your fully formed team, prototype, and business plan, and prepare to launch a product during demo days to an audience full of hungry venture capitalists, over the course of a summer/semester. Incubators tend to offer greater (optional) access to business services, check out all of the perks offered by TechStars.  Y Combinator calls itself not an incubator, but is by far the most prestigious of the bunch. Instead of a shared-spaced model, Y Combinator offers weekly dinners, office hours with smart people you should know, a demo day to match venture capitalists with start ups, and the most well connected alumni in the known universe.
  • Accelerator–relatively similar stage as an incubator, but greater focus on the product launch phase, and less focus on building organizational capacity. 500 Startups is a model here.
  • Co-working spaces–in theory meant for any stage of product development, but seems to be most useful for teams who have already hit their groove, but may not be large enough yet to justify having their own office space. Value here often comes not just in subsidized office space, but also the networking with other entrepreneurs, who end up integrating your product with their product in novel ways. Dogpatch Labs is one of the oldest (tech) co-working spaces in NYC, and New Work City is one of the newest.

Of course then there are all of the support services that surround the world of incubators–from educational classes at General Assembly, to the mashup of companies spawned by co-working spaces and invested in by Betaworks; from the “Made in NYC” branded community to the incentives to encourage entrepreneurs offered by Venture for America; office hours with famous founders to the insanely engaged commenting communities of Hacker News & AVC.

Sometimes these programs have a defining niche:

No matter their focus, no matter what you call them, or where they’re located, incubator-type spaces share some combination of access to:

  • Serious investors in the short term
  • A network of serious investors and potential partners for the long run
  • Mentorship by other entrepreneurs, founders, and investors
  • Business support services: think lawyers, bankers, real estate brokers, anyone else who helps you get business done
  • A considerable reputation boost via your association with the incubator & their alumni
  • Perhaps most importantly, simply the time and space to sit around for several days, weeks, or months with other really smart, driven, entrepreneurial people and brainstorm together, fail together, learn together.

Certainly the arts aren’t devoid of incubator-like spaces, I’ve in fact worked in some capacity for or with many of them:

But there are a few rather key qualities I’ve yet to find in (m)any of these so-called (and in some cases, not called at all) arts incubators.

Industry Mentorship. The brightest, best, most interesting, most well connected, successful, professional entrepreneurs dedicate their time, free of charge to supporting these incubators. They offer “office hours,” speak at networking dinners, offer advice on prototypes, invite these startups to partner with their more established product for some limited engagement, attend demo days, and generally talk up the startups to all of their industry friends. Where is the incubator support from Barry’s Top 25, or from Diane’s list of artists?

Business Model. Tech incubators tend to take some percentage of equity stake in their startups as part of their revenue model. Most arts incubators tend to charge subsidized rent combined with foundation/government grants as their revenue model. Why couldn’t an arts incubator ask for 5% of all future revenues from one of their “startups”? For an internal incubator, in the model of fbFund Rev, why couldn’t the parent company (Steppenwolf? Roundabout? Actors Theatre?) ask for “artistic equity” in the startup, whether that looked like a commitment of an artist’s time & talent, or right of first refusal on a production, or something else entirely.

Demo or Die. Not launching a new product is not an option for the tech startups, yet most of our current models for arts incubators are “we’re here to support you in however much you get accomplished for however long you’re here”. Sometimes I think we’re too forgiving, too nice. Why aren’t their more project-based arts incubators?

Alumni Network. While I have heard people drop into conversation with me, for example, “I used to be in residence at Spaces @ 520″ I don’t get the sense there is a strong concept of an alumni community once you’ve “left the nest.” Nor does it seem (to me at least) like an arts company gains legitimacy for being in residence at one of these spaces, or that one of these incubators has a distinct brand over any other. While I could certainly be wrong about, or at least ill-informed, on all of those points, why don’t arts incubators list “alumni” on their websites, or host networking events for their “graduates”?

Collaboration Between Startups. Here’s where I’m probably least sure that this doesn’t already exist. Certainly I’ve heard of arts orgs associated with Fractured Atlas for example talk about how getting to know the other arts orgs under fiscal sponsorship helped shape some sort of partnership–a co production or sharing of some other resources. But I haven’t heard much from arts orgs in these spaces that they’re sitting around, trying to help each other solve difficult business problems together. So what could arts incubators do to foster more of this type of collaboration? 

I don’t mean to imply that the arts are doing it all wrong, or that tech incubators are doing it all right. But I’m interested in the idea that the two concepts of incubators between these two industries are so different. Perhaps they’ve evolved to be ideally suited to the types of companies they’re trying to support. But are there any arts companies out there interested in joining a new model of arts incubator? Any funders interested in creating one? Anyone have ideas about how to make this concept better? I’d love to discuss…

SXSWi 2012: Trends & Panels

Voting for SXSW 2012 ends this Friday, and I’ve been racing to scan through all 3, 278 submissions to try to find the gems, to find friends who are also proposing, to find some clue into the future of tech. I collected a bit of data during last year’s panelpicker process, but never got around to using it, so…tada! Last year was the first time that Interactive eclipsed Music, and there is much consternation every year that South-by has jumped the shark, has become too much about marketing, too many startups trying to launch. But this year the total number of panel submissions is up 40%, and the Marketing category continues to dominate–11% of entries last year fell into the Marketing bucket, this year it’s 17%. You can also check out this rad data viz of common words & themes in panelpicker descriptions.

With the massive increase in number of proposals, and decrease in categories, it’s totally overwhelming to browse the panelpicker this year, IMHO, even with the seemingly random, “You Might Also Like” sidebar. So, in the spirit of the zillion other SXSWi 2012 panelpicker recommendation posts out there…In no particular order:

Panels I’m Involved In:

Friends, colleagues, & people/orgs I admire/adore:

Panels I’m Most Likely To Actually Attend:

And a few awards

There are mountains of panels on arts & artists I discovered in my browsing. So many in fact, I predict next year there will be a dedicated category. A longer post delving into the following list will (hopefully! If I can get my act together before voting ends Friday!) follow on 2amt.

The Arts

Not to mention a ton of other lists of great panels you should check out.

Did I miss anything/anyone? Any of you planning on going to SXSW this year? Rock the Vote!

Quick note: I have NO IDEA why wordpress broke my header images. Ignore. Now off to investigate.

App Enhanced, Data Visualized, Socially Optimized, and Soon to be Open Sourced, Theatre

Pepys Inc debuted a mobile app called e-geaux (pr: ego) at the Capital Fringe Festival last month. Advertising for the show promised, “the only Cap Fringe show where you turn your phone ON!” and “Audiences will opt-in to the e-Geaux application with their real Facebook data!” Much confusion ensued: did the Festival sell out an empty Fringe slot to a tech company? Were there privacy concerns around how the app would use your data, in the show, and later? Was this even theatre?

As a self proclaimed data nerd, I’ve been curious about the quantified self community for awhile & apps like foursquare, fitbit, jawbone, and daytum, continue to fascinate me for their ability to passively record, analyze, and shape our every day behavior. The E-geaux app, in theory at least, falls under this same category: with five features driven by the audiences social media profiles:

  • OK-egeaux: discover your perfect match
  • E-breaux: automate your Facebook comments
  • E-Geaux-vention: personalized advice based on your most recent Facebook wall posts
  • E-Geaux Amigo: recommendations for who you should friend in the house tonight
  • E-Geaux Trip: spice up your Facebook photo albums

The reality of e-geaux falls somewhere between performance art and powerpoint karaoke; infomercial and the (possible) future of theatre.  Fortunately, I now work with the amazing folks who built the app and the show, and they all recently sat down with our colleagues to talk about how the whole project developed. Co-creators Joe Price and Amy Couchoud started thinking about the concept nearly a year ago, but all they knew was they wanted some way to combine data and storytelling, and they were interested in exploring the differences between our online and offline personalities. The idea of E-geaux went through a few iterations, until the team landed on it’s final format to begin rehearsals in May:

  • Joe, as the Jobs-esque product demo guy would demonstrate the app’s features
  • Jason & Kat, as the hapless i-Pad wielding assistants
  • Hannah & Chuck, as the data analysts/mixologists
  • Allen, the man behind the curtain who actually built the app
  • Amy kept the trains running & the team focused on making good art, not just cool tech

Since the show has run its course, and this post isn’t intended as a review, I’ll just walk you through the experience of attending e-geaux (or at least what I remember, it was a month ago) and not worry about all the spoiler alerts: walk into the theatre, and you’re asked to “opt-in” to sync your Facebook data with the e-geaux mobile website. The ask happens verbally, but also via an on screen QR code where the house curtain would have been. The psychology behind formally agreeing to participate in a production is interesting: both effort justification (I had to work a little harder than average for this show, so my perception of its value increases) and foot-in-the-door technique (I’ve said yes once already to an easy request, so I’m more likely to say yes to the more difficult task of audience participation) are at work. Audience members without smart phones were invited to sync their Facebook data via laptops in the lobby. House lights were left at somewhere around half-dim, which had the unintended benefit of making live tweeting not at all distracting. The AT&T lack of service however, that was a major bummer.

Next up the data analysts did some fancy footwork to give us pretty pie charts of the gender, age, political affiliation & marital status of the audience, based on our collective Facebook data. And I began to wonder: what would/could we change about the theatrical experience if we (as the art-makers/marketers) if we knew this kind of data in advance of each night’s performance? Technically speaking, these graphs were pretty cool. The backend technology that Allen built meant the data analysts could simply drag & drop these automated Google Charts from a URL directly into a powerpoint.

The remainder of the show revealed the five (aforementioned) features of E-Geaux. Each audience member got “personalized” recommendations, though the literal algorithm is effectively randomly. Achiever badges were handed out. A King (or Queen) of Klout was crowned (based on whomever in the audience was live tweeting with the #egeaux hashtag). And a few Facebook fanatics were outed (those with friend counts in the 4-digits).

When the show concludes, E-Geaux purges your data from their system (privacy FTW!), and directs you to post comments about the show to your Facebook wall (viral messaging FTW!).

The marketing of the production was a bit more…involved…than your traditional Fringe show: a stellar postcard, a Twitter profile, a Facebook page, and TONS of press coverage. A lesson learned: e-geaux is good for puns, terrible for SEO. For those of you more technically inclined, the app was built in Rails3, this show would have been (nearly) impossible pre-Dropbox (to sync the backstage laptop-wielding data analysts, with the onstage iPad wielding performers), and Facebook has the best (among the social media usuals) API for structured data. One last totally rad technical detail is that Chuck built the Pepys Inc website using responsive design techniques. To those of us (like me!) less technically inclined, it seems like magic:

  1. Go to the Pepys Inc website on a laptop/desktop computer & make sure your browser window is expanded to full screen
  2. Begin to collapse the screen vertically (make it skinnier) & notice how the “Buy Tickets” right hand corner banner disappears
  3. Keep going and you’ll see the main image disappear & the remaining text transform to 2 columns
  4. Go all the way, and you’ll watch the page transform into a mobile optimized site with one long column of text

I seriously played with this for hours (maybe minutes). It still blows my mind.

The future of Pepys Inc & E-geaux remains to be seen. The team is looking for limited run opportunities at other fringe shows, colleges, etc (interested?), but first they want to expand the feature set of the app & live data viz opportunities, and then open source the script, technology, and slides. Open source theatre, you say?

Circle Up People, the future of Google Plus depends on it

Forget the debate for a moment on what Google Plus is right now. Let’s assume Google+ has the capacity to do anything, the question is what will it do, and how will users adapt it for their own purposes. Remember when Facebook first launched? No newsfeed. No photos. No search. No finding people more than 3 degrees of separation away from you. No ads. No games. No pages or groups. No grown ups. Forced awkward sentence construction for status updates: “Devon is…going to murder Facebook if they don’t take the damn ‘is’ off of my status update.” And my most-missed feature: “your friend is currently using Facebook at McCarty Hall.” That was a total foursquare premonition. But Facebook, and social media more broadly, has changed dramatically in the intervening 7 years. So let’s play the future history books backwards; what are the likely end-states for Google+ and how did it get there?

  1. Masses flee from Facebook to Google+, giving Justin Timberlake a new toy to play with. But it took Facebook 5 years to grow larger than MySpace. 5 years in which MySpace refused to innovate. Facebook has a pretty incredible history of rolling out new & innovative (most often, too innovative) features. In fact, two of their engineers came out with Circle Hack mere days after Google+ launched; there already exists Social Hangouts, a group video chat for 20 people. Feature wars will benefit users, but won’t be a legitimate competitive advantage for either company.
  2. Users figure out they share different kinds of content on Google+ (in the way I don’t share Instagram photos on Facebook), or they want to have a different social graph on Google+ (in the way my Foursquare graph is 1/20th the size of my Facebook graph), and everyone lives happily ever after, checking  6 different streams every morning, tailoring every piece of content they create to one specific audience, on one specific network. Early adopters might be destroying this possibility already. My Google+ circles include more recent weak ties than Facebook (mostly grad school friends & current work colleagues, zilch random people I knew in high school), but the size of my Google+ network has already become nearly as large as Twitter, without Twitter’s 140 character limit. It’s hard to imagine the “team collaboration platform” option staying on the table for long with that kind of growth, but then again Facebook was able to transform itself from .edu to .world.
  3. Google+ burns bright and fails fast when it comes out of beta next month. The early adopters will get stuck crossing the chasm with circle fatigue, and never bother to draw the early majority into the network. I think we’ll know by the end of the summer whether this is the case (it took the collective wisdom of the crowds less than 3 months to pan Google Buzz).
  4. Google+ finds limited appeal, is adored by the tech elite, and provides just enough use cases to incrementally improve AdWords. In other words, it’s the Gmail of the 21st century. If Google knows you’re you, every time you use one of its many, many products and services, it could significantly improve and expand AdWords. You know, that thing that makes Google 97% of its billions. I’m not yet convinced Google Plus needs to “beat” Facebook, or any other social network, in order to survive. All it has to do is live up to expectations inside of Google to deserve continued resources. Look for AdWords coming to a stream near you.

I’m leaning towards future #4.  But I recently had to put a few additional thoughts together for an internal discussion at Threespot. Maybe you’ll “like” them?

Games for Change Conference

Founded in 2004, Games for Change is the leading global advocate for supporting and making games for social impact.  They bring together organizations and individuals from the social impact sector, government, media, academia, the gaming industry and the arts to grow the field, incubate new projects and provide an open platform for the exchange of ideas and resources. Check out their great Learning Resources for more info.

The 8th annual Games for Change conference was earlier this week in New York. I was stoked to be offered a free ticket (thanks Beth!) and tweeted up a storm along with the rest of #G4C2011. We even storified keynotes by Al Gore, James Shelton, and Jesse Schell. I relished the opportunity to attend the conference as a relative novice–I’ve read a bit about games, but I’ve never made a game, worked on a game, or even been an active gamer. Here’s what I learned:

  • Nonprofits (at least the ones smart/interested enough to be in attendance) are looking for opportunities to connect with game makers (& gamers), but know even less about goals for gaming than they do about goals for social media. Many of the speakers with a strictly nonprofit background made clear to the crowd, “I don’t know anything about gaming, but what you do seems cool and maybe useful, so if you’d like to work with us, get in touch!” Nobody has the expertise across game design & funding & social impact, so partnerships are abundant.
  • The tradeoffs between making a game that “users want to play” and “C-level nonprofit execs will approve of” and “clearly leads to positive social change” and “attract enough revenue during the conception phase to actually get built” are nearly impossible to navigate. Many of the game demos presented were deeply flawed on at least one of those measures. If anything, it seems to be easier to take a “commercial game,” find the aspects of it that tangentially relate to the social good sphere, and build teaching/advocacy materials around that aspect (eg Portal 2).
  • There’s a huge variety of genres of games for change–first person perspective, gestural based, point and click, simulations, Facebook, alternate reality, multiple choice, even low tech board games, and a wide variety of games adapted for smart phones and dumb phones.
  • There’s a huge variety of nonprofit sectors interested in using games for change: we saw examples from city government, cultural institutions, a zillion games in the classroom (enough to form an entire Games for Learning Institute), public media, health care, and many many more. One interesting area of focus for Games for Learning is STEM subjects. Nearly anytime games for the educational sector were mentioned, it was in the context of teaching STEM. There was much debate on Twitter whether games should be about STEM, should simply include STEM principles/ideas, or if games de facto helped teach STEM, regardless of the content or genre of the game.
  • There’s a huge variety of audience demographics interested in gaming: enough stats to make even my head spin–from boys to girls, kids to seniors, developed to developing economies, over represented to under represented communities. Games seem to be more ubiquitous than any other form of media, social media included.
  • Evaluation metrics for games are awesome. Game designers build a game with an outcome in mind, and you can do a (relatively robust) pre/post game play user analysis to test that outcome. Most games have a clear conversion funnel (beginning, levels, end), clear metrics (user uploaded content, made it through this level in 10 minutes, etc). And game makers can test EVERYTHING during the game design process to optimize before launch.
  • There exist gaming engines that you can build a game on top of so you don’t have to create your own software. Think of WordPress as a blog engine–you can modify the look of it, use it towards a lot of different ends, customize certain pieces of it. Unity was the game engine that kept coming up in presentations, but there are at least hundreds out there.
  • Kids these days are WICKED smart. Gabe Newell, creator of Portal, showed an incredible video of middle schoolers taking a field trip to Valve labs and learning to build their own version of Portal in a few hours. Also, of a 2 year old playing a computer game–before the kid could talk he could understand game mechanics. We heard a few times from the demo judges that a game was “too complicated” but the (Twitter) crowd seemed to agree that the end-users (usually kids) would understand the game far better than the adult panel. On the other hand, one of the most provocative questions I heard at the conference was, “What’s the social graph of a 6 year old?”
  • Game maker want to tie in-game action, to real world action. Achievement Unlocked gave a great presentation about their ideas for how to make that happen.
  • An overall trend I noticed was for games to be mashed up with documentary film footage. Which of course is just a subset of the transmedia storytelling opportunities.
  • Just like every other piece of digital content, users want to manipulate the game, change it to fit their desire, they want the game to adapt to them uniquely. Games, more than nearly any other type of digital media, seem to be able to incorporate this desire for manipulation organically into the game.

The conference itself included game play: a networking game called Stakeholdem that crossed LinkedIn with Uno and was the most successful “forced networking” I’ve ever seen at a conference (of which I’ve been in 7 in 2011 alone). There’s also an archive of the live stream that you should definitely check out.

Earning Your Social Media MFA: everything we never get to talk about

I spend most of my time with clients talking about the most basic features of social media, so I was excited that the TCG conference this weekend gave me the opportunity to talk about the exciting future of social media-everything we never get to talk about. From big ideas like Big Data to cool tools like Packrati.us, from staffing models like Y Combinator to events like Museum Next. There are a million opportunities for the nonprofit theatre industry to experiment (check out the #SocialMFA hashtag for more ideas from the crowd). If there are arts funders, arts organizations, artists, administrators, or simply art lovers out there who get inspired by this presentation and have ideas for collaboration, let’s continue the conversation.