How the Toronto International Film Festival Uses Social to Attract Over 1.8 million Attendees

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The Toronto International Film Festival has become one of the world’s leading public film festivals. TIFF’s year round programming at TIFF Bell Lightbox ranges from Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival and TIFF Kids International Film Festival, to the Toronto International Film Festival in September, which featured nearly 400 films from 29 countries last year—and drew over 1.8 million attendees in 2014. TIFF’s year round programming includes internationally touring exhibitions, as well as retrospectives and series that look at the global history of cinema, and its exciting future.

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TIFF is always on the lookout for new ways to increase festival attendance and boost awareness. “We want to build a strong and engaged film community locally around TIFF Bell Lightbox, as well be a part of the global conversation around film,” says Allison Freeman, Director of Marketing at TIFF. “Our audiences use social media every day, and we want to be a part of those conversations.”

But TIFF’s small team was challenged to:‹

  • Drive ticket sales and promotion for various events ‹
  • Attract and engage new followers to social accounts ‹
  • Source and share promotional content, educational content, and film-related news ‹
  • Connect in conversations across many different social networks ‹
  • Provide excellent customer service, especially during ticket releases ‹
  • Build marketing momentum leading up to the events

This is the story of how TIFF built an engaged community on social media to whom they could engage with about cinema, promote events, and encourage ticket sales.

Attract and engage followers through great content

Festival 2014_Foxcatcher premiere_credit_Courtesy of TIFF

Great content attracts people. By showcasing or sparking discussions around TIFF films or by sharing industry-related content, TIFF engages its passionate community, attracts new followers, sparks new conversations, and keeps the Festival top of mind throughout the year. For example, TIFF programmers are always searching for great films around the world as potential feature films. This makes for great, rich content to share with film advocates and among their online community.

Because sourcing and sharing content can be time-consuming, TIFF uses Hootsuite to help manage content. Using Hootsuite streams and Scheduler, TIFF can monitor for great content and schedule it into the content calendar—this leaves more time to jump into conversations, resulting in a more engaged audience.

“Social media is woven into the fabric of almost everything TIFF does. If we’re hosting an event or Q&A with a filmmaker, we’ll share a hashtag with our audience to encourage community participation. By bringing these experiences online, we’re able to engage a wider audience and share our story throughout the year.”

-Hannah Martin, Social Media Assistant at TIFF

Promote events year-round and drive ticket sales

Festival 2014_Festival Street_TIFF sculpture__credit_Courtesy of TIFF

Attracting and engaging social media communities year-round keeps the Festival top of mind. This way, when it comes time to build marketing momentum for different TIFF events, many of their fans and followers are already paying attention. For example, when tickets to Festival screenings are released, fans are more likely to purchase if they’ve been following along throughout the year.

TIFF fans also turn to social media for information about film reviews, times, and tickets. It’s up to the social media team to provide customer service by monitoring for and quickly responding to inquiries on Twitter and Facebook—to improve customer service.

“Social media has become a necessary space for customer service. For many users, it’s the first destination to ask questions. As such, it’s paramount that we nimbly engage in these conversations and provide answers,” says Hannah. “Hootsuite allows us to see what questions are out there, what’s already been answered, what needs to be assigned, and what customer feedback can be shared with our colleagues.”

Social media has become a necessary space for customer service. For many users, it’s the first destination to ask questions. As such, it’s paramount that we nimbly engage in these conversations and provide answers.

– Hannah Martin, Social Media Assistant

Manage events in real-time

Geoff Gunn, Courtesy of TIFF_10_29_2014_Kubrick_Photocall-91-9

The Toronto International Film Festival has become one of the most successful cinematic events in the world. Every September for 11 days, more than 300 films are played in various venues across Toronto, Ontario. Films are celebrated, stars grace the red carpets, and paparazzi and thousands of fans flood the streets to get a glimpse of the action.

TIFF captures highlights at different venues across the city, monitors for trends, content, and shares the whole experience for fans online. “Social media has the power to underline every element of Festival, providing real-time, behind-the-scenes perspective from the events to our community,” says Hannah. “We employ social listening on Hootsuite to follow Festival hashtags, discover new keywords, understand the customer experience, and crowdsource Festival-goers experiences. Being able to visualize the entire landscape of our social channels through Hootsuite makes managing the online Festival experience that much easier.”

Having a flexible dashboard during the busiest time of year allows them to easily add new team members who can help assign and schedule messaging—without the security risks of password-sharing. “Especially on a busy day, Hootsuite Assignments is a wonderfully handy function,” says Hannah. “It allows us to to keep track of social conversations, be alerted to issues quickly, assign questions to appropriate staff members, and leave comments for other Team Members.”

The impact

TIFF has seen a huge pickup in the number of people through their doors since adding social media to the marketing mix. While it took them three years to gain their first 100,000 Twitter followers, last year they doubled their following to reach 200,000.

As TIFF grows, they’re able to share their passion for film with more people around the world. “The amazing thing about social media is that people can connect with our content from around the globe even if we’re hosting an event in Toronto,” Allison says. For example, they recently live streamed an on-stage conversation with Alfonso Cuarón—a film director, screenwriter, producer and editor—and amplified it globally because of social media.

They’re also seeing significant year-over-year growth in ticket sales and attendance for the TIFF Kids International Film Festival and TIFF Next Wave Film Festival. “With TIFF’s expanding programming offers, social media is a key strategy in delivering growth year over year, which helps us achieve our business objectives so that we can fulfill our mission & mandate,” Allison says.

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