So, unfortunately, the time has come when I have to concentrate hard on making shows, and less on writing about them. As such, things are going to go kinda quiet around here for a bit.
I may sometimes do a drive-by article, but they’ll be irregular. Best way would be to subscribe to my Twitter or the RSS feed here to get notified when they appear.
On the publicity product I was talking about a while ago - that may or may not happen. I’m not seeing a huge amount of demand for it, and it’d take a lot of time. If you’re really, really waiting for it, do comment or contact me, since that will affect whether or not it appears!
Anyway, see you on the flipside, with a cool new series.
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OK, it’s practical, actionable advice time. By the end of this article - IF you actually DO IT, not just read and move on - you’ll have a New Plan to get more of whatever you want - comments, fans, viewers, money - for your show or film.
So, let’s get started.
Note: this is a practical tutorial. As I say above, you need to do more than just read here. When I tell you to write stuff down or do something else, if you want to get more viewers/fans/comments/Crunchie Bars, you need to actually do it. Do so, and I virtually (see the end of the article) guarantee More Good Things.
Job The First: Get Very Specific
OK, you presumably know what your broad goal is for your show. (If you don’t, some guy not too far away from this keyboard wrote an article on figuring out your show or film’s goals a while back).
It’s easy to get paralyzed on publicity. Often we’ll end up with really broad-strokes stuff, try a bunch of different things once, and get disheartened.
So, the first job here to get things going is to get very, very specific about what you want.
You want comments? From who? What sort of comments? Do you want “this is awesome”, or “I didn’t understand BLAH” or even “I think it would be better if you’d dropped 3 beats from Scene 2”?
You want money? How much? In what quantities? Regular or one-off?
You want viewers? Great. What sort? You just want massive numbers on YouTube, or you actually want repeat viewers? Do you want people who will stick around for the series, or one-time drivebys? Do you care if they leave nice or nasty comments?
Seriously, write this stuff down, now, then come back and read the next bit.
Job The Second: List Your Assets
Not your ass. I don’t want to know if you own a donkey. Unless the donkey’s key to the series, in which case, stick it down.
Here’s where you list everything that’s of interest about your film or series. I do mean EVERYTHING. It’s very easy to assume you know what will make your series stand out - but you probably don’t know everything. Did I realise that because I cast someone with a very non-Receieved Pronunciation accent in BloodSpell, I would end up with a small but enthusiastic Liverpudlian following? No I didn’t.
So. What’s interesting about your show or film? What’s the story about? What challenges do the characters face? How is it different from every other YouTube vid? Is it funnier? Prettier? Covering a different group of people? Who are your characters? What characteristics of theirs would people like? What hobbies do your characters have? What accessories are they seen with? (Seriously, this stuff matters. Google “Smallville Cars” and look for the Lotus Enthusiasts’ Forum - the Superman show got free publicity from a wide variety of sportscar enthusiasts because one of the characters is super-rich and so drives interesting cars. And more publicity because another character runs a coffee shop. And rides horses. And so on.)
What’s unusual about how the show’s made? What’s unusual about the people in it? Or the people making it? Or where it’s made? (Never underestimate the power of local press).
And so on.
You should end up with PAGES of material - if you haven’t got at least one page’s worth, keep going.
Job The Third: Combine The Two Lists
You’re probably starting to see where we’re going with this one now.
There are actually two mini-jobs here. First of all, you need to look at your “stuff I want” list, and turn that from stuff into people. Who would be likely to do, give or leave the things you want?
In contrast to everything so far, you DON’T want to be too specific here - just get a general idea. Most importantly, you need to know your dealbreakers. For example, if you want constructive comments, you don’t want people who never comment, and you don’t want people who leave “LOLS TIHS SUXXXX MNW3 PWNS NOOBS” comments on YouTube. If you want money, to quote Naomi Dunford, they have to have some money, and they have to be at least theoretically willing to give some of it to you.
You should end up with a paragraph-ish long description. For example, if I was looking for more repeat viewers for Kamikaze Cookery, I’d be looking for people who want to be entertained, are at least vaguely interested in food, who watch video online, who aren’t totally turned off by science or geekery, who have the time to watch every week, and who have an attention span of longer than 30 seconds.
Note that I’ve not said they HAVE to be interested in science or HAVE to be geeks. I’m keeping my field broad here.
Now, it’s brainstorming time. Turn off the critical part of your brain. Accept that there is no such thing as a stupid idea. And get ready to write a LOT of ideas down.
Now, look at your assets list, and write down any route you can think of that would let you contact people who fit your criteria and would be attracted by, interested in, or feel fellow feeling with something on your assets list. ANY route. No matter how daft or impossible-sounding.
One of your characters wears hats? Great! What type of hats? Maybe you could find a forum for people who like that kind of hat! Maybe you could find shops that sell that kind of hat and get them to give you free advertising, or a mention on their blog, or just get the shop owner watching. Maybe you could do an Ebay auction of the hat and link to your show. Maybe you could contact a celebrity who also likes that kind of hat. Maybe you could invite hat shop owners in your town to a free screening. Maybe you could start a Twitter account for the hat and look for other people mentioning hats in their Twitter feeds. Maybe you could get people to stick adverts for your show to the side of their hats. Maybe there’s a hat blogosphere? And so on.
Again, you should end up with PAGES of this stuff. If you can’t get started, start by writing down stuff that would definitely not work, and see if that sparks any ideas. Or just concentrate on one part of your asset list, or one item. Or free-associate from a word (“Blue”, for example - could you make a news story about the hat turning blue? Could you make a blue movie featuring the hat? And the guy in the hat? Could you contact Blue’s Clues about the hat?)
Job The Fourth: Do Eet Now.
OK, you have pages of ideas.
Turn your critical faculties back on. Look for the ones that seem the most likely to work to you. Make a shorter list of them.
Try and find a grouping of 4 or 5 similar ideas - for example, if you’ve got 2 great hat-related ideas and 3 pretty good ones, go for those. Don’t stress about quality too much - you don’t know what ideas are good yet. Do bear in mind cost (if it costs more than you can afford, you can’t do it) and time (If it takes longer than you can afford, you can’t do it). Also, look for ideas with certain results (posting on a forum = definitely going to do something. Contacting a news outlet = more of a gamble) and wide scope (Forum with 50 readers? Definite but limited scope. Oprah? Unlikely but HUGE if it works) and try for a balance between certainty and potential impact.
Put those 5 on a list.
Congratulations, you now have a new marketing plan. Your job now is simple. Do Them.
Then, once you’ve done them, look back and see how well they did. Well? Keep doing more things like that. Badly? Do something else off your massive ideas list.
Keep doing this, and you WILL build your viewership up.
And that’s it!
OK, so, here’s the deal. I hear a lot of people getting quite despairing about publicising their work. And I know it’s hard - but I also know, from a lot of experience, that if you follow this plan it WILL work.
So - if you try this, and have ANY problems at all, from “I don’t know what I want” to “I can’t think of enough ideas”, to “I tried it and nothing worked”, comment below, and I’ll help out, and keep helping out until you’re actually getting more viewers in.
Seriously. I want you to succeed.
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Apologies for the recent silence here - it’s been crazy busy at Strange Company Towers.
I’ll have a new post up tomorrow, touch wood - however, posting may be a bit erratic for a while.
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Oh, ye gods. What a horror.
I watched an episode of “The Apprentice”.
For those who don’t know - “The Apprentice” is a UK reality TV show where a bunch of alleged experienced businessmen and women compete in a variety of allegedly business-related tasks to become the “apprentice” to alleged business guru (and, to be fair, successful tycoon) Alan Sugar.
It’s horrifying. “Normal” business practise is presented as a mass of sniping, backbiting, and bullying from Lord Sugar on down. The tasks bear about as much relation to actual business as that dude in the bear suit at your local mall does to an actual grizzly.
And the contenders are both spectacularly odious - sexist, overbearing, pretentious, backstabbing - and incredibly stupid. Stupid to the point that a team of seven of them, in an entire day, couldn’t figure out what a “cloche” was in the context of a posh hotel. (To be fair, they weren’t allowed to use Google, which would have put my personal time on that task up from 30 seconds to, ooh, about 3 minutes).
And yet these guys and girls are all very successful in business. One had made 70k a year whilst studying at the same time. Another ran a not-that-small company.
And this got me thinking. If you forced one of these morons to run a web series, would they do as well at that, in spite of their deficiencies?
Quite likely. Why?
If you’re smart, sensitive and empathic, as most web series creators are, it’s very easy to assess the risks. Very easy to get into other peoples’ shoes and figure out what they might think of our little web series. And so we’re “realistic”, and focus our efforts on stuff we have assessed we’ve got a good chance of succeeding at, and avoid things that are doomed to horrible failure or serious embarassment.
Meanwhile, if you’re dumb as a post and cocky as something that can’t be mentioned on primetime TV, your first reaction to “How do I publicise this series?” is “Call the New York Times and tell them it’s awesome!”
And actually, that’s a very, very good idea.
I’ve been working very hard in the last few years on differentiating between situations where I’ve got no chance at all, and situations where I’ve got a pretty small chance, but a good chance of feeling embarassed too. The latter are very, very easy to mistake for the former, because it gets you out of scary stuff.
Scary stuff like seriously pitching the New York Times film section about your web series - not sending a generic PR, but actually calling them up and saying “I’ve got this thing and it’s AWESOME!”. Like taking your dream cast list and actually calling their agents. Like phoning a major theater chain and saying “Hey, guys, fancy showing the pilot of my series as a trailer to Pirates of the Carribean 4?”
Now, you’re probably sitting there thinking “yeah, but there’s no chance that would ever work.” Wrong. There is SOME chance that would work.
I’ve been featured in the New York Times. And on CNN. Entertainment Weekly. About half of the UK’s national newspapers. And various other places. It’s doable. Hell, I pitched one of the biggest name casting agents in the UK the idea for a World of Warcraft fanfilm and she agreed to work on it. And subsequently a whole bunch of very famous people also agreed to be in it, thanks to her. (Joanna Lumley. Brian Blessed. Jack Davenport. Anna Chancellor. Think they’d agree to be in a tiny webseries? Turns out, yes they would.)
Does this mean that I’m awesome? Not especially. It just means I made a bunch of phonecalls that I thought had almost no chance for success, and it turned out my risk assessment wasn’t as good as I thought it was.
What stuff could you do for your web series (or hey, I know we have non-webseries readers, your film, or your iPhone app, or your ebook) that would totally revolutionise its success? Which ones are clearly stupidly impossible?
How confident are you that they’re impossible?
Confident enough that you’ll take 10 minutes of embarassing telephone conversation over the chance for an A-Lister as your lead actor?
Confident enough it can’t happen that it’s not even worth TRYING to get the Hollywood Reporter to cover you?
Are you really so sure that you’re right?
Or can you pretend to be dumb enough that you believe it might work?
Smart’s good. But sometimes, to achieve remarkable stuff, you’ve got to pretend you’ve got balls of steel but a brain of lead.
P.S. Oh, and don’t just do it once. Hollywood Reporter told you to shove it? Engage dumb-but-cocky mode again. They’re clearly morons who don’t appreciate your genius. Time to phone Variety.
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No lengthy post this week, because I’m travelling - just a quick tip. There seem to be loads of times when you want to be able to track how many people LEAVE your site - whether it’s to a Feedburner RSS feed, an email list, or an affiliate product. So how do you track clicks off-site with Analytics?
It’s actually surprisingly easy. Assuming you’re using the latest tracking code (see Google’s guide to how to tell which version you’re using), you just need to add a bit of code to any link you want to check.
After the “a” in your link, add the following code:
You can replace “/goal/feed/about/” with anything you like - it’s a fake website path that Google will record, so use whatever’s easy to remember. I tend to be using this functionality to track conversions of some kind on a page, so I use “goal” followed by the goal, followed by where it came from.
So, the end code should look like this:
And your fake URL will just start showing up in Analytics - after about 2 hours, in my experience.
So now you can track which of your posts get you the most subscribers, or where an affiliate link is best placed to make you money, or any number of other uses. Enjoy!
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Another test. Sorry if you’re seeing this.
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Hey, people! Ok, today we’re going for a fairly back-to-basics column - it’s pretty clear that the number one issue in the web series community at the moment is cash, the getting of it, and the using of it to fund projects. It could be funding, it could be an exit strategy - but, put simply, we all want to know how to make money on YouTube. Or Vimeo. Or wherever.
Now, of course, most people immediately leap from “make money on YouTube” to ads, and the YouTube partner program. Unfortunately, it’s reasonably well-understood that unless you have truly insane traffic, ads from a third party you don’t control, choose, or even profit more than 50% from are one of the worst ways to make cash from content. In a previous column on making money with webseries, I’ve suggested that you need to be in the million-views territory per month in order to earn a semi-reasonable living from it. That math is still right.
Fortunately, there are better options - and better ways to execute them, too.
In the mainstream Internet Marketing world, affiliate sales are probably the most common and also most successful way for marketers to start making money. They don’t require much effort, and they can earn very nicely - there are a significant number of people out there earning in the thousands or higher with affiliate products.
What’s an affiliate product? Probably the best known example is Amazon’s Affiliate program. When you provide a link to anything on Amazon, you’re also given a code to incorporate with that link. When readers or viewers follow that link and buy the product, you’re credited with 10% or so of the sale price.
Amazon’s actually a pretty awful place to earn affiliate cash. The payout percentages are tiny - 5 or 10% - and many products don’t convert (sell) as well as you’d expect. There are exceptions to the rule - I’m reliably informed that home appliances between $50 and $500 convert like crazy - and there are people out there who are making a lot of money from Amazon, but there are sites with far higher payouts - 50% or more of the purchase price in many cases.
The biggest pain in the ass with affiliate products is finding one that fits with your audience in the first place. Again, I’d strongly recommend following your audience’s lead - look at and ask about what they’re interested in, then find an affiliate program that matches it. If, for example, you’re making a show about wannabe models, it’s fairly likely that many of your audience will be interested in modelling or becoming models themselves. From there, you’d head to E Junkie, Comission Junction, ClickBank, and Amazon, and search for relevant products. Find the most promising ones, get a copy (either buying it or asking the producer for one), and if they’re the kind of thing you’d be comfortable promoting, tell your audience. (There’s an excellent more advanced guide on evaluating ClickBank products in particular on the otherwise terrifying Warrior Forums.)
How to do that’s an article of its own, of course. You could use an old-fashioned “Show Sponsored By” message with a URL (remember, you can use Bit.ly or similar to shorten unwieldy affiliate URLS), you could use YouTube’s Promoted Video feature to add a clickable ad to the bottom of either the episode or another seperate video (which you can then link to using Annotations), you can email your list (if you don’t have a list, watch Get Crazed Stalkers to find out why you should do) or you could simply spread the word via Twitter and other social media. Many affiliate programs will also let you put together a “special offer” package, offering your viewership a discount if they buy through your affiliate code - a very good way to get people to follow up.
Either way, the math on affilate sales is pretty good. If you get a 5% conversion rate from your viewers (and most Internet Marketers reckon that, if you’re selling to an audience that wants what you’re selling and trusts you not to peddle crap, you should be looking at 20% conversion rates or more - this assumes your audiences trusts you, of course!), selling a $25 product (either ebook or physical), with a 50% affiliate commission, you’re looking at $625 per 1000 viewers. That’s about 100 times more revenue than Google ads! Obviously, that’s an ideal case, but certainly revenues of 10-50 times more than unoptimised ads are possible.
(It’s only fair to note that there are plenty of people who have tried and made $0 from affiliate sales, too. If your calls to action don’t work, if your sales copy sucks, or most commonly if you’re not promoting something your audience will be excited about, it’ll all go south. The reason this stuff makes more money than ads is it requires more skill and more acceptance of risk to execute - but the skill isn’t rocket science, and the risk is, if you’re smart, very managable.)
Last tip on Affiliate Sales - remember, if a vendor doesn’t have a program, there’s nothing to stop you calling them up and asking for a commission if you promote their product!
Merchandise - T-Shirts, DVDs, etc
Merch is probably the first alternative to ads most people consider. And it works well - as Burnie Burns mentioned to us a few weeks ago, Red vs Blue essentially survived on T-Shirts for the first few years of its release.
Of all these options, DVDs probably monetise the best. However, even here, it’s important to consider the primary rule - does it actually contain something that people want? A DVD that’s just copies of the episodes in the same quality you can find them on YouTube doesn’t offer new value to its buyers, unless your episodes are particularly hard to find. Red vs Blue took the latter approach, as did Dr Horrible, but unless you’re deliberately “retiring” your episodes off the Web, you’ll need something else.
If there’s no compelling value proposition in the DVD, you’re essentially asking people to donate. That’s OK (see below), but you’ve got to be aware which strategy you’re persuing. If you intend to offer the DVD to your viewers as an actual valuable item, make sure it’s got something on it that you can’t get elsewhere. Commentaries are an easy option, but don’t appear to be too popular (although I don’t have solid numbers on this). Making Of documentaries are, again, fairly minority offerings. On the other hand, blooper reels are good if lightweight, and most compelling of all is to offer extra episodes - maybe one or two episodes, mini-episodes, or something tangential to the main storyline of your show (if it has one, and if it’s drama). It’s more production work, but a tangible and credible chunk of value on the DVD will dramatically increase sales.
As for other merchandise - ask your viewership what they want! The most common - and one of the most expensive - mistakes made by any starting businessperson is creating a product then looking for a demand, rather than the other way around. Chat to your fans. Ask questions on Facebook. Watch what products they’re Twittering about when they’re not talking about your show. For some audiences, T-Shirts with witty slogans on them will kick ass (Penny Arcade shifts a horde of them). For others, you’ll be looking at MP3 players (it’s surprisingly cheap to aquire show-branded electronics products), and for others yet, you might be looking at information products - which brings us back to affiliate sales, above!
Yep, we’re back to the tip jar. Most people - including me - had given up on donations until recently, but they’re actually a remarkably powerful way to monetise your show - if you do it right.
The key thing to remember with donations is that you’re still selling value in exchange for cash. It’s just that the value proposition is different. Instead of saying “pay me X and you get this nifty T-Shirt”, you’re saying “Pay me X and you get this nifty sense of pride at supporting a worthy cause”.
So, you’ve got to make it seem that the cause of supporting your show is worth your viewers’ money. For starters, if you’re going the donation route, it helps to be 100% specific about what you’ll be spending the money on. Paying cast and crew, buying or renting equipment, catering - let your viewers know what you need. I’ve seen a lot more donation campaigns be successful when they’re targetting something very specific, like website hosting, than just a general “give cash” sign.
(Note - it doesn’t necessarily matter if what they’re spending on isn’t bottom-line stuff. There’s a reason a lot of sites have a button saying “Buy me a beer” - it helps solidify and contextualise exactly what you’re doing when you donate. Uncertainty’s a killer for donations - if you’re not sure how much to donate, or why, or what it’s for, that’s an unpleasant sensation. On the other hand, the idea of buying the creator of your show a beer is something you can visualise, something you’d like to do - it’s suddenly a valuable act for a set price.)
You also need to offer something else of value. Often, this can just be recognition of their efforts. People like to feel important. Wikipedia, for example, has a supporters page, listing all major donators. The Open Rights Group in the UK gives every supporter a unique number, meaning that people can be proud of being close to the start, or closer to the start of the organisation than others. (And, of course, this also means that if you stop supporting, you “lose your spot” - meaning your spot has value you’ll consider when you think about stopping paying.
You’ll probably notice that a lot of the advice here is similar to the advice I gave last week in “3 mistakes that might be killing your Kickstarter or Indiegogo Campaign”. There’s a good reason for this - one of the most effective ways to monetise donations, at least up to a break-even level, is to run a Kickstarter campaign to fund your series in future. It offers your viewers something of value (more of the show), it’s a well-understood and well-established model, and it’s probably one of the best ways to at least ensure you’re not losing money on a web series.
So here’s what I want you to do now:
If this article gave you some new ideas for making money from your series, whether on YouTube or not, hit the ReTweet button below to share it with others.
And if you found the article useful, consider Subscribing to Guerilla Showrunner to get more handy information on running a web show or web series every week.
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So, it’s new project season here at Guerilla Showrunner Towers, and as you may have seen on Twitter, I’m considering working on a more detailed manual for show promotion than I could offer in a blog post.
Now, I’ve made the mistake of developing something big without checking it’s needed before, and it just wastes everyone’s time.
So - would you be interested in buying a complete guide to promoting your online film or series? It’d basically cover the same strategies that I used to get BloodSpell 100k+ viewers and exposure on CNN and a whole bunch of other places, Kamikaze Cookery featured all over the ‘net, and so on, plus a whole bunch of new stuff I’ve learned in the last couple of years.
Topics I’m currently thinking to cover would include:
How to network outside the web series community to get your show wider exposure
How to make sure from Day 1 that your show has a large audience who will watch it.
How to use sites like Reddit, Digg, and Stumbleupon to drive the viewers you want to your film or show
Offline press - how to approach them, how to win them over.
How to use search engine optimisation and article marketing with your videos to create steady traffic streams.
Advertising - what works, what doesn’t, and where to get it at affordable rates
How to cut trailers, and how to use them
So - sound interesting enough to spend a bit of cash on? And if so, what topics would you be particularly interested in seeing covered?
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Crowdsourced funding - it’s the new revolution! Just start your Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign, call your mates, put it up on Twitter, and bingo! No problems, right?
Actually, it looks like there are a lot of problems. Funding is funding is funding, whether you’re talking to a major studio, a rich investor, or a crowd from whom you plan to source. You’ve still got to persuade them that they should give you money - and that means sales.
I’m seeing a lot of Indiegogo campaigns making the same mistakes - mistakes that are pretty obvious if you’ve got a background in sales and Internet Marketing, but probably not at all if you don’t…
No social proof
This is the big one. There’s an old saying that Venture Capitalists don’t invest in the product, they invest in the team. Although your smaller investors might not conciously realise it, all humans operate on similar principles - we always look at the human element of any plan. Trust in people equals trust in the plan.
The primary question any potential investor will probably be asking is “can these guys make this happen?”
Your Indiegogo campaign will benefit massively from ANY information you can give investors about your team. For starters, they need to know who you are as project creator, and what experience and other assets you have that will make this project a) possible at all and b) awesome. Do you have other filmmaking experience? If so, share it. Link your best work or your showreel. “I worked on X large movie as Y, and am taking that experience to making my own unique projects” works really well.
Let everyone know about other impressive people you have on board already (and if you don’t have some, go out and try and recruit them!). This doesn’t just mean actors, although of course well-known actors really help - it also means crew, producers, effects guys. Anyone involved with serious experience.
If you possibly can, add some video of you and the cast/crew talking about the show. Keep it short, but seeing a human face is extremely powerful for sales. Internet Marketing types report 40% or more increases in “conversions” (translation - people who buy their stuff) with video pitches - it’s the new big thing in the IM world. We’re filmmakers - use that to your advantage.
You need to do two things for your investors. You need to persuade them you can make this thing happen, and you need to get them involved and excited about the process.
You can do both by sharing your plan of action in as much detail as possible.
Don’t just say “we need $20k, which we’ll use for cameras and crew and cast and stuff”. Break down your timeframe. Tell people when things are going to happen. As much as you can without breaking contracts, tell them where the money’s going to go. It’s no coincidence that many of the most successful Indiegogo and Kickstarter projects are very specific about what they need the cash for - color correction, prints, marketing, even catering.
People respond well to numbers - particularly non-round numbers. Get your estimates as precise as possible. Tell your investors that it’ll take 13 days to shoot the film, and 27 days to edit and color correct. Explain why. Be real here - “working around my day job, from past experience I’ll be able to edit the first episode in 17 days from shooting”. Include stuff that non-filmmakers might not think of, like catering, M&E;, legal and accountancy costs. Make it sound credible and real.
Investors are stuck between two poles - hoping that the project you’re pitching could be awesome, but afraid that it’s going to fail. Will they look like idiots if this thing disappears? Will their friends laugh at them? Indiegogo projects tend to do well at the hope side of things, but badly at the soothing fears aspect. Don’t make that mistake.
Oh, and when you’re doing this - eliminate or explain all jargon. Have your mum read it over, assuming your mum isn’t an executive at Columbia or something. If a normal person can’t understand your pitch, they won’t invest in your project.
No Call To Action
It’s a simple thing. But it increases the number of people who take the action you want by, in some cases, orders of magnitude.
I’m talking about a call to action, which regular readers are probably sick to death of me banging on about.
Short version: if you want people to do something, tell them to do it. Nicely, but tell them. So, for your indiegogo campaign, your pitch should end with something like “Contribute to the project now!” or “Claim your perk on the right of this page to make this project happen”.
Ideally, you want to build a benefit into the call, and make it as clear as possible what you want them to do. “Support us”, for example, might seem perfect but research shows is too vague. You want your readers to give you money, right? Then ask them to do that. “Fund PROJECTNAME now!”
At the same time, if you can reference the reason they’d be doing that, it makes it even stronger. “Start MAIN CHARACTER’s journey by funding us now!”.
And if you can build a time limit in, it becomes stronger still - “Our campaign closes on Thursday, so start MAIN CHARACTER’s journey by funding us now!”
It’s a very simple thing - so simple that you might think it wouldn’t work. But nearly a hundred years of marketing (I’m not kidding - calls to action are referenced in my copy of “Tested Advertising Methods”, pub. 1932) show that they do work. And well.
**Was that article useful to you? If so, please retweet it - and if you’d like more tips on polishing your crowdsourced campaign, comment below! **
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Heya, and welcome to the final part in our series on creating websites for your web show or series.
This week, we’re going to be talking about running one final test - but it’s a test you really want to be sure your site can pass.
Hoping your series will go viral? Or pitching to sites like Digg or major press outlets? Then you need to make sure that if you get that sort of exposure your site doesn’t let you down.
Checking your site is Digg-proof
Load testing - testing how well your site will cope if a whole load of people suddenly want to read it - used to be a pain in the ass if you weren’t a techie. Does “ab [ -A auth-username:password ] [ -c concurrency ] [ -C cookie-name=value ] [ -d ] [ -e csv-file ] [ -g gnuplot-file ] [ -h ] [ -H custom-header ] “ sound like your idea of a fun afternoon?
That was a problem, because normally the first sign you’d have that your site might not be ready for a big traffic surge would be when a large site mentioned your series, and your mood went from “woohoo!” to “Oh, god” in seconds flat as your site became totally unresponsive. It happened to me in the summer of 2006 when my show BloodSpell was mentioned on the huge blog BoingBoing - five minutes later, all that could be seen of the BloodSpell website was an error message.
(There was a happy ending - we managed to dive into the website code and fix it before we lost too many visitors, and the site subsequently stood up under a whole load more press attention as BloodSpell became remarkably successful. But I digress.)
Why does a perfectly functional website suddenly go pear-shaped? Well, there are a number of reasons, and they all boil down to inefficiencies that you might not notice when the site’s not getting many visitors, but that become extremely obvious as soon as the traffic mounts up. Most notably, Wordpress websites do a LOT of database calls, and there’s only a fixed number of those that your server can handle a second. Much more traffic = many more calls = overloaded server = badness.
(That’s why we added a cache plugin in part 2, for those of you who have been following along.)
Fortunately, these days it’s easily possible to simulate a major traffic surge, thanks to the free service provided by a site called Load Impact. These guys started in the Hacker News community, and the service they provide is very cool. For free, they’ll simulate up to 50 simltaneous users hitting your site, and show you whether it holds up. (They also offer a paid service that will simulate a lot more, but unless you’ve got J J Abrams directing your series, you won’t need those sorts of numbers.)
Running a test with LoadImpact is simplicity itself - I recommend you start one now if you already have a website. Just open a new tab, load up the Load Impact website, type in your URL, and hit “start free test” on the next page. It may take a little while to get going, but it’ll get there.
What do the results of the test mean?
50 concurrent users might not sound like a lot, but it’s a lot. A few weeks ago Guerilla Showrunner was featured on the front page of Hacker News, one of the bigger traffic sources out there on the Internet right now. We had something like 10k visitors inside a day - a number that is pretty comparable in my experience to the numbers you’ll get from the front page of BoingBoing or Digg, or other major showcase sites. I’ve not been featured on Reddit, unlike the others, but I believe you’ll get about 7k from them. In short, you’re not going to get a lot more than 10k visitors from any single traffic source - unless your series becomes genuinely newsworthy for sites like the New York Times, a 10k bump in a day is about the most you’ll ever see.
That 10k bump works out at… wait for it… about 8 concurrent visitors at any one time if they’re spending about 3 minutes on your site. In order to get up to more than the 50 concurrent visitors you’re testing through LoadImpact, you’d have to either be looking at more like a 50k bump (and there are NOT a lot of places that can drive those numbers), or visitors staying for 15 minutes or more.
So, in other words, for most series, if your site performs fine at 50 concurrent visitors it’ll be fine for anything.
So, what’s a reasonable load time? According to Jakob Neilsen (who has some critics, but is as good an authority for this particular metric as anyone), less than one second is optimal, and less than 10 seconds is vital. From my personal experience, I’d say that a site should load in under 5 seconds to avoid losing impatient viewers. If your LoadImpact test is showing your site as well below that benchmark, you’re golden!
What if my site’s not performing?
There are a hell of a lot of reasons why a site can run slow, but here are some of the most obvious fixes you could try:
Install a cache If your site has any dynamic content (content that’s being served up with code, rather than just a straight HTML site), you really need a cache - it’s a program that stores common user requests and runs them much faster than if the program was just running each of them one at a time. If you’re running Wordpress, this is pretty simple: download the plugin HyperCache and install it. If you’re running a custom site, talk to your developers - it’s very easy to add caching using both Ruby on Rails and PHP, two of the most popular coding languages for the Web.
Check your cache is running This one bit me when I was putting together the test site for this series of articles. If your site seems to be running slowly, check your cache is working. For Wordpress, go to the Admin panel, then Settings, then the Hypercache tab, and check there are no error messages there. Most likely you’ll have set your file permissions wrong - when I fixed this, it reduced my load times from upward of 10 seconds to 2 seconds.
Talk to your hosts. Most webhosts are more than happy to look into speed issues - frankly, if they ain’t interested when you say “erm, my site’s slower than a snail superglued to a tin of molasses”, you should look for another host. There are a lot of tweaks that they can probably implement to speed your site up - ask about your web server config in particular.
If all else fails, prepare a simple static HTML page containing your latest episodes, contact information, and a link to your RSS feed. If you do get a traffic surge, rename that to “Index.html”, rename whatever your current index file is, and stick your new “index.html” in the main folder of your website- it’ll act as a new, simple front page and handle the load better.
And that’s it! Now, you either know that you can handle a Happy Event, or at least you’re on the way to figuring out what’s slowing you up!
Any other tips for making sure your site’s ready for a serious Digging? How have your sites handled major traffic in the past?
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