Since launching a film that raised over a combined 100k on crowdfunding, hit #1 in it’s category on Amazon, and sold out of physical copies, I’ve had people ask me advice on how to do the same. I’ve even started consulting on social media marketing and crowdfunding projects for others.
While I could write a lot on this subject, there is one simple principle I’d like to share with you here:
Social media marketing is one idea driven deep, with variations on that theme repeated through daily content.
Let’s break that down.
The One Idea of American Circumcision
Attention on social media is incredibly fickle. People scroll through their feed fast, and forget most of the content that they watch. In order to be memorable or drive action, you have to have a big clear “one idea” in each piece of content. Too much nuance or complexity will be lost on someone scrolling on a device the size of your palm.
If you’re doing a social media marketing campaign, you need one idea at the core of your content.
For my film American Circumcision, the one idea that runs through everything that we do is that circumcision is a “big issue.” Like gun control, the environment, immigration, or civil rights, circumcision is a big issue that every American is expected to know about. We don’t take a side on this issue, but we do present is as important.
This “big issue” frame runs through all the content we create.
When you think about “big issue” documentaries, what images come to mind? Protestors, the capitol building, Washington D.C., experts, scandal, everyday Americans vs. powerful organizations. Remove the words on the signs in our poster, and put the head of the capitol building back on and our poster looks like any other “big issue” documentary. These big issue images are combined with images unique to circumcision that also trigger primal emotions – babies, the circumstraint, the tools used – in other words, children in danger.
Other Possible One Ideas For the Same Topic
While it seems obvious in retrospect, this did not have to be the frame we took in our documentary. The frame “look at this quirky weird fringe” could have been used to explore the same material. Indeed, many great documentaries have been made about the weird and fringe. In this frame, you’d use a lot different images – perhaps a more explicit sexuality, hand-drawn neon fonts, or using loud rock and electronic music instead of traditional film score. However, I believe an issue that affects the majority of Americans cannot be considered fringe, and it would be wrong to frame it this way.
Likewise, you could take a comedic frame. This is the frame Hollywood films and mainstream media often take on the issue. In this case, there might be a lot of images of vegetables being sliced, or thinly veiled dick jokes. But from the big issue frame – would you make a comedic movie about other big issues, like gun violence? About little girls having parts of their bodies removed? We took the frame you’d take with any other hotly debated public issue.
[Side-note: I was tempted to make a parody poster mocking this frame at one point, that had a banana with the tip removed, for a film titled “Hollywood Circumcision Film” with the tagline “A cutting edge issue” and the credit “Narrated by Adam Sandler.” While this is an amusing joke, please no one ever make this film.]
This isn’t to say other frames aren’t possible. Whatever frame you choose, you’ll have to commit to it and be consistent. If I’d done one really comedic or fringe trailer with no “big issue” weight, it might have gotten a lot of likes and shares, but it would have diluted the brand and message. People would have been confused by what the film was about. (Side-note: This is also why I don’t mix issues on our social media.)
It’s also why early on some activist groups were not clear on the narrative of the film. For people who work on the issue of circumcision, it is obvious that this is a “big issue.” Since this is the air they breath and the water they swim in, it didn’t stand out to them as an artistic choice, but as stating the obvious, which anyone familiar with this issue would know. However, most audiences aren’t deeply knowledgable about this issue, and to them it feels very different.
While there have been other attempts to make a documentary on this topic, I believe none have achieved our level of success in part because they lack a clear “one idea” that drives their narrative, or selected a “one idea” that doesn’t have the same appeal.
The Variations On Your One Idea
Note that this one idea – that circumcision is a “big issue” – opens up many variations for your campaign. Circumcision is a big issue… for men. Circumcision is a big issue.. for parents. Circumcision is a big issue… because it impacts our sexuality. Circumcision is a big issue… because it’s backed by powerful medical groups. Circumcision is a big issue… because it can cause infants pain. And so-on.
While it may seem like building your campaign around one idea limits the content you can do, it actually opens up many more possibilities. I’ll bet given this understanding of our “one idea” you could probably generate another dozen angles for content for us. If your branding is consistent, others will begin to talk about you the same way. Not only have many allied groups have also framed the film as big, but even opposition groups, bad reviews, and hit pieces refer to the film as “big budget” and mention it’s scope.
If you look at the memes we’ve created, they all follow this same idea. They might offer differing perspectives on different parts of the issue, but they all frame is as a “big issue.”
One Idea In Other Social Media Campaigns
If you look at the social media content of successful activist groups, they also follow the “one idea” rule.
Let’s look at two activist groups who are also working on the issue of circumcision who both do social media very effectively, but have very different approaches to this issue – Bloodstained Men and Your Whole Baby.
The one idea of Bloodstained Men is that circumcision is a great evil we must end. This theme has many variations – highlighting someone who is succumbing to that evil like a coward, or praising someone for standing up to it courageously. Their language and images are highly dramatic. They describe their protests as a response to a “crisis” and use the image of a bloodstain, but their message is so consistent that even when outside media cover them, they describe them as on a “crusade” or use church choir music to score their events.
The one idea of Your Whole Baby is that you should take home and love your whole baby. It’s a message of holistic parenting (whole-istic?). Their method is to provide gentle education and information – emphasis on the word gentle. Their websites and groups are full aspirational of images of happy babies and loving parents. Even when they’ve expanded to focus on young people with Your Whole Body they keep a similar gentle focus. Many people join their groups just because they know how supportive the organizers are of new parents.
I highlight these two organizations because although they are both on a mission to end circumcision, their branding and messaging could not be more different, yet they have both managed to draw an audience and build a following.
(Also – the one idea of circumcision as a “big issue” appeals to the messaging of both groups. Part of the reason I selected that as a idea is because it overlaps with so many different organizations and groups that might be interested in the film, and is an effective hook for any media, show, or podcast interested in covering the topic.)
One Idea On Other Issues
Every successful campaign can be boiled down to a one idea.
Political campaigns: Trump – “Make America Great Again.” Obama campaign – “Hope & Change.” Movements: Pro-Choice: “My Body, my choice.” #BlackLivesMatter – Literally, their one idea is their name – “Black lives matter.” Nike – “Just Do It.” Apple – “Think Differently.” Even religions: Christianity – “Jesus saves.”
When you look at failing groups, it’s often hard to find their one idea, or their one idea isn’t that compelling.
Social Media Applications
Once you have your one idea, it’s time for the second part of this mantra – driven deep.
There are two ways to drive something deep – repetition or to deep emotional impact.
Only one of these is in your control.
Everyone wants deep emotional impact. They are looking for the one piece of content that will so deeply move someone that they are still thinking about it days later. People have told me our trailers had that impact on them (especially the first one). However, you cannot predict what everyone’s emotional reaction will be. Yes, try to make your content as good as possible, but even good content is quickly forgotten without follow-up.
The key to social media is repetition. The first time someone sees your message, it probably won’t stick. Yet if you see the same message over and over again, repeated through many different themes, it might sink in.
While there are ways to improve your messaging and make it even more memorable, even a bad message or dumb idea can become sticky if repeated enough. “Gang weed memes” are intentionally hilariously bad, yet I’ve seen enough to know that when I see impact font over an image of the joker it’s about to be one of them. This is the worst content possible, but it’s won an audience through sheer repetition, and being so bad as to be memorable.
(Side-note: If you haven’t seen these memes, do yourself a favor and keep it that way. I use this as an example because it shows you can have a “one idea” that is almost intentionally bad, but if you max-out repetition enough, you’ll still find an audience.)
Your one idea has to be consistently repeated on the platforms that matter where the people you want to reach are paying attention. Right now, that is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, plus a few up-and-coming apps. By the time you’re reading this, it could be different, but the principle remains.
That’s it. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Many activist groups worry their messaging is bad and work hard to find the “one idea” that will hook people, but this is only half the battle. How often you repeat a message is just important as the message itself. The best message spoken once to an audience of ten people is less likely to change the world, than if spoken everyday to an ever-increasing audience.
Even this blog post is a “one idea” piece of content. If you read it again, it is all variations on the idea that you need one idea for your campaign driven deep.
What is the one idea of your product, campaign, or organization? How deep are you driving it?
Note: For personal branding, this is slightly different – as a person is likely to have multiple facets and ideas. You’ll notice, I post about multiple topics on my blog. But that’s another story for future blog post. If you want to find out more about this, subscribe here.
If you’d like me to help consult on your project, crowdfunding campaign, or organization, you can contact me here.