Action. Animated. Documentary. Experimental. These are four of the categories that film festivals program in their schedules. But they’re also apt descriptions of the Twitter narrative that film festival organizers are weaving into their filmgoer engagement and marketing initiatives.

Leslie Feibleman, director of special programs and senior programmer for the Newport Beach Film Festival, said Twitter is similar to the film industry in that it’s “dynamic, continuously emerging, and is infused with new talent, technology and ideas — a place to discover and be discovered.”

I connected with organizers, programmers and social media strategists working for the Newport Beach Film Festival (April 22-29), Phoenix Film Festival (April 8-15) and Wisconsin Film Festival (April 14-18) to gather insight into how they engage filmgoers and drive them from Twitter to theater.

Action: Inspire Interest and Attendance

“We find that followers respond well to giveaways, promotions and visuals,” according to Feibleman.

Robert Aldecoa, marketing director of the Phoenix Film Festival, has used Twitter in a variety of ways to reach and expand the festival’s audience.

“The largest efforts were initially geared toward announcing film screenings and directing users to the appropriate ticket page,” Aldecoa said. “We tried to include a useful hyperlink in as many tweets as possible in an attempt to engage our followers beyond 140 characters. You really do have to provide consistent, useful information. It also helps to give your followers a reason to participate in your efforts — whether it’s to win some movie passes or see their name and user pic on a big-screen in the party tent. If people have a great time and talk about it, their friends wonder what they’re missing and we’ll see even more of their happy faces next year.”

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But does all the content-sharing, contests and click-through opportunities result in a higher level of attendance? According to Gregg Schwenk, CEO and executive director of the Newport Beach Film Festival, the answer is yes. “The Festival has seen a 10 to 15 percent increase in pre-festival ticket sales between 2009 and 2010 due to social media, including Twitter,” he said.

Animated: Have Fun and Show Personality

Most festivals screen more than 100 films over the course of a week, so they have a lot of content to talk about and share on Twitter. Equally important to some organizers is the ability to share a smile and showcase the festival’s true essence.

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“Bring your sense of humor. Make it personal, not corporate. Respond,” said Meg Hamel, director of the Wisconsin Film Festival. “Don’t make it seem like you’re only doing this only to sell tickets. Don’t make it seem like you’re doing this because somewhere you read that social media was the next big thing. And here in Wisconsin, people really do care what you have for breakfast, as long as it involves bacon.”

Documentary: Tell the Real Story

People want to hear the true story. Hamel strives to integrate an authentic, insider approach for her followers, giving “the people reading those messages a realistic and unfiltered view of what it’s like behind the scenes.”

She continued:

It’s helped those people interested in the Festival understand that this is an event assembled by real people who are passionate about what they do, work crazy hours to make it work, encounter unexpected obstacles and invent ways to move around them, and care deeply and authentically about the audience experience. The Wisconsin Film Festival is not an event organized to capture the attention of film industry people far away, it’s homegrown specifically for the people of our state and for our friends and neighbors who want to enjoy an April weekend watching cracking-good motion pictures.

Experimental: Create and Pursue Opportunities that Add Value

For film festival organizers to transcend the expected and reach avant-garde status in social media, they understand the need to experiment with what they offer.

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Kelly Strodl, a social media consultant for the Newport Beach Film Festival, provided an overview of how they plan to do this.

“We plan to utilize a number of tactics — hyper-syndication, mainly — on our several blogs, our Facebook fan pages, and other posts. [These include] geo-location tagging, promos, retweets of filmmaker posts, video posting to 12seconds.tv, which posts quick clips to Twitter, and posts from YouTube,” she said. “We’re also going to try and connect filmmakers already on Twitter in possibly a tweet-up or simply an impromptu sit-down discussion of how social media, namely Twitter and Facebook, have influenced their ways of filmmaking and promotion.”

The Phoenix Film Festival recently showcased the filmgoer conversation in visually compelling ways that brought the conversation to life.

“We’re doing something pretty cool right now,” said Aldecoa. “There are two big screens in the festival tent and an LCD in the VIP area that display a social media feed along with our sponsor ads. Each time a user mentions @PhoenixFilmFest on Twitter or checks-in via Foursquare, it shows up for everyone in the tent to see. It’s pretty neat for festival attendees to [be able to] provide instant feedback on the films they see, and the fun they have at the parties.”

There’s one additional film category that matches Twitter’s communication style: Short. While film festival organizers and programmers are limited in characters on Twitter, they’ve used the service to reach reach moviegoers who may be new festival followers and attendees. For the Newport Beach Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival, Wisconsin Film Festival and dozens more, Twitter has emerged as a valued “reel-time” communications and promotions platform.

Twitter is now playing at a festival near you. Do you have a favorite film festival on Twitter? Share it in the comments, and follow some of the festivals listed below.

21 Film Festivals to Follow:

Atlanta Film Festival
Boston Film Festival
Chicago International Film Festival
Dallas International Film Festival
Florida Film Festival
Hawaii International Film Festival
London Film Festival (British Film Institute)
Los Angeles Film Festival
New Zealand Film Festival
Newport Beach Film Festival
Philadelphia Film Festival
Phoenix Film Festival
San Francisco International Film Festival
Sonoma Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
Sydney Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival
Vail Film Festival
Vancouver International Film Festival
Wisconsin Film Festival

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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