Q&A: How the Sundance Film Festival Uses Social Media

By Jennifer Moire 

The Sundance Film Festival launches this week in Park City, Utah, so what better time to interview the Sundance Institute’s social media manager, Royale Ziegler, about the role social media plays in helping independent filmmakers extend the reach of their films?

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 17 through January 27 this year. According to Ziegler, the Festival will live stream events from its site and post content through its YouTube channel, which currently has more than 7.5 million views. The following is the result of our email exchange late last week.

What is the Sundance Festival’s approach to social media and how has the strategy evolved over time?

The Sundance Institute has always been a launchpad for independent artists, creators and their ideas. Each year the Festival kicks off a fresh and unexpected cultural dialogue that continues to influence and shape the world, and that is truly because of the artists who share their work with us. Social media helps us amplify their work and connect it with new audiences.

We don’t chase new bells and whistles unless they serve as platforms that tangibly help us help our artists.

Which digital media platforms does the staff favor and how are they used?

Any platform that helps us connect audiences with the work of the artists we support is a platform we’re open to using.

How many people handle social media during the Festival, versus the Institute’s work the rest of the year?

Generally speaking, Sundance Institute staffers are very active across social media, and we encourage everyone here to share their experiences during the Festival as well as our Labs and other year-round work. Collectively we’re telling the story of Sundance Institute. Officially, our social media team is small and mighty: Me and our Director of Digital Initiatives, Joseph Beyer.

How has social media changed publicity and promotion for films that appear at the festival?

We believe every project or film we support is audience-worthy. Social media helps our filmmakers connect with audiences broader and bigger than they ever expected – “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” for example. More than that, social media connects our artists with audiences who are hungry for independent film, new voices and untold stories. That’s powerful stuff.

What impact has social media had on independent filmmakers in spreading the word or telling their story? Which channels tend to be the most popular for filmmakers?

As far as social media channels that have helped filmmakers share their stories, I’d say the most impactful have been Vimeo and YouTube. They changed everything forever. While not always thought of as social networks, both platforms have empowered their users to share video content they’re inspired by with the people they are connected to.

How do you see social media strategy evolving for independent films? Which platforms or new technologies do you think will be popular in the future–both in film production and in promotion/communication?

For Instagram, 2012 was really a banner year with the service hitting the 100 million-user mark in September. I believe the community of visual storytellers that Instagram is cultivating lends itself naturally to the filmmakers and artists Sundance Institute supports. Photo editorial is totally expressionistic and (more importantly) open to interpretation, right? Artists love that.