Are Facebook Groups Helping the Film Community or Just Encouraging Non-Stop Promotion?

When I created the Facebook group that would be the online home for Film Bar Monday (FBM), one of the easiest decisions I ever made was that I would never promote my own stuff. Film Bar Mondays has a home on CinemATL. CinemATL and my own projects, well, they were never going to grace the FBM group. The idea that I would create something so I could turn around and pimp myself out was not only repugnant, it would violate the spirit and purpose of FBM.

 photo credit: AD Tech London

photo credit: AD Tech London

Once I had launched the FBM group, a friend immediately suggested I should ban all promotional posts. I didn't want to laydown a blanket ban. While FBM was not a forum for me to highlight my own work, I did want FBM to be a forum in which the members could share their own projects. Instead of a ban, I initially instituted a 3 to 1 post rule. For every three non promotional posts, a member could have one post up that was promotional.

The reason I chose to create the rule was because I didn't want to police what was going up. It's an icky feeling knowing someone is watching every post and deciding if it's acceptable--are you listening MPAA. It also eats up alot of time playing internet cop. 

It's been six weeks since the launch of FBM, and in the last two weeks there's been an on-going discussion within the FBM group about promotional posts. This sprung up after a member asked me if they could post some casting information. Instead of making the choice myself, I turned around and asked the group if it would be okay.

There's a vocal contention that doesn't want to ever see a crew or casting call in the FBM Facebook group. The relaxed nature of FBM they want to keep relaxed and casual. 

On the otherside, there's a smaller group, who are still just as vocal, who don't want to to see them banned. Within reason, they want to keep the opportunity to make promotional posts open.  

As the creator of the group and the event, I've been moderating the discussion, and haven't landed on a decision. In fact, I've been actively fighting making the choice myself. It's not one I want to make on my own. I started FBM to be a community, not a dictatorship of one, so I want the majority of the group to back whatever direction we take.

CHOKING ON PROMOTION

It's understandable why so many in the film community don't look kindly on promotional posts on Facebook. They not only seem to be what dominates, they are what dominates.

Curious, I went into two groups and scrolled through all the posts to create a snapshot. The first group was built around a specific event, so I looked for posts that were on topic, and those that made no reference, or had no direct connection to the event.  In the second, it was more general, so it was difficult to ever be off topic, because there was no specific topic. This is what I found:

Group 1 - Posts since July 23

19 On Topic Posts
99 Off Topic Posts (82 promoting screenings, events, films and companies, 14 Casting Notices, 3 Job Posts)

Group 2 - Posts since August 23

12 Non Promotional Posts
128 Promotional Posts (98 promoting screenings, events, films and companies, 24 Casting Notice, 6 Job Posts)

To be above board, I did count my 5 FBM posts as part of the promotion numbers. I'm not innocent in this.

That means 83 percent of posts in the first group were promoting something and 91 percent in the second group.

THIS CAN'T BE GOOD

Social media makes marketing and promotions viable for filmmakers at a level and cost that are unprecedented. Yet, all this pimping out of services and films can't be healthy for our overall sense of community. When some of the comments under posts are simply "VERY cool, good stuff" or "woow really," that should make us pause and wonder. We should be questioning if we're using these groups to their full potential? We should ask are we getting to know others in the community better? Are these groups helping people break out and explore?

When I scrolled through all the posts about casting calls and filmmakers promoting their screenings, it occured to me how much these groups are echo chambers. It's filmmakers reaching out to other filmmakers. There are no pure film fans who don't work in the industry seeing these posts. While someone from a general audience may stumble across many sites and groups, there's little to nothing that would bring these film groups to their attention. We're not engaging each other very much, if it all, and we're definitely not engaging our audience period. And shouldn't social media be helping us grow the community to encompass fans as much as the filmmakers themselves?

WHAT DO WE DO?

Even as I see that 83 and 91 percent numbers staring back at me, I'm not a fan of banning promotional posts. I still don't see promotional posts as the problem. Promotion has its place.

What I see is the real problem, is that some folks only use these groups as places to promote. If we want these groups to be more, we have to turn these into communication hubs, online community townhalls, and virtual public houses to share ideas, ask questions, and keep each other informed. It's what we add that's more important, not what we take away. Vacuums will be fillled, and we have the power to control that by what we post. 

Here are a few recommendations for making Facebook Groups a healthier place for the film community.

  1. Ask and raise more questions that will prompt discussion
  2. Share links to useful articles and videos (that are NOT your own...or maybe even your friends)
  3. Talk about the movies and shows we're watching
  4. Share relevant film news 
  5. Praise someone else's work and go into detail why you are (just don't B.S. us please)
  6. Don't comment to comment. Respond with something that will keep the conversation going

That's just some general suggestions to get your mind juices flowing.

If we're only using Facebook Groups as glorified Craigslists, we're not tapping into even 1 percent of the potential social media unlocks.

Let's put it this way. Imagine what kind of discussions and conversations the likes of Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater and Francois Truffaut might have had if social media existed when they were just starting out. When they were in the early days of talking about film and then making movies.

A community is only as strong as the collaborations and ideas it generates.