Tips for Hit-Makers: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Hollywood

Rethink success and how you relate to your fans. These tips from Hollywood experts can teach small business owners how to maximize audience.

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By Jacob Hall

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While entrepreneurs might not realize it, they face some of the same challenges Hollywood moguls do, like building an audience and breaking into a crowded landscape. In a SXSW panel last week, Hollywood to Silicon Valley: Making a Megahit, experts discussed lessons small business owners can take from the entertainment industry.

Related: What a Theater Chain Can Teach You About Audience

Redefine success
In the modern age, a hit is more than the number of tickets sold or albums purchased. Large networks might need millions of viewers to justify a production, while a Vimeo-based web series might just need to capture a niche. In the modern landscape, calculate the necessary time and energy that goes into your product and determine how you can exceed your own expectations relative to your platform, says Twitter's head of TV Fred Graver.

Go where the audience is
Shift your expectations and examine all potential delivery services for your content, says BBC Worldwide America COO Ann Sarnoff. "The gathering spot used to be the living room, but it's now social media," she says. An entire generation of potential customers watch their content whenever they want, however they want. Tapping into how your specific audience consumes your product and transforming that audience into a passionate fan base will set your project up for a slow-burning success that's memorable and possibly even sustainable.

Related: What Movie Sets Can Teach Startups About Managing Creatives

Find, join and spark conversations
Fans of TV's Orphan Black created the #Cloneclub hashtag, uniting their discussion of the popular science fiction series. Sarnoff credits fans for spreading the word about the show on social media and doubling the series' ratings in its second season. "We used to say content is king," she says, "Now, audience is king."

Graver adds that Scandal, which began as a low-rated midseason replacement, grew into a smash hit by its second season in part due to star Kerry Washington's constant communication with fans on platforms like Twitter, live tweeting episodes and sharing pictures from the set. This strategy let fans feel as if they were experiencing the show alongside her. "The real power on Twitter is people," says Graver.

Invest in your audience
To keep up interest between seasons, Orphan Black asked its grassroots fan base to contribute promotional art for future seasons and regularly thanked them for their support. This approach let fans feel like they were part of the team and fed their dedication, says Sarnoff.

"Understanding your audience is an underrated skill," Sarnoff says, recommending companies take the time to think about potential customers' lives and what they want. Loyalty can be hard-won and power a brand from sheer enthusiasm.

Related: Robert Rodriguez on Building a Kick-Ass Network

Find your angle – and exploit it
Once you know where your audience is and what that audience wants, make the most of it. Knowing viewers are overwhelmed with television options, BBC proudly advertises its brief, three-episode seasons. Similarly, she applauds how Jimmy Fallon makes Tonight Show bits last no longer than four minutes, so they can be easily consumed on YouTube the next day.

Thinking like Fallon is vital for success, says Graver. Millennials, he says, instinctively multitask. As a result, each industry must adapt to technologies that let viewers consume content from multiple platforms at. Future successes, Graver says, will be dependent on just one thing: delivering the right content on the right device to people who can't wait to consume it.

Jacob Hall

Jacob Hall is a writer living and working in Austin, Texas. He writes about movies, books, games and technology.

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