Animation Mentor built an army of evangelists using killer content & an interconnected network of social media outposts
Animation Mentor (AM) is an online character animation school teaching prospective animators the skills needed to succeed in the studio environment. Built by animators, for animators, the 18-month program specializes in character animation taught by animators from studios such as Pixar, DreamWorks, Industrial Light & Magic, and Disney.
Launched in 2005, the school had reached a plateau in growth. AM needed to increase enrollment significantly to meet financial objectives. They hired Bonbon Marketing to create an integrated marketing strategy and Anvil Media to carry out the strategy.
Because Animation Mentor offered its curriculum through an online platform, the marketing focus targeted prospective students through online media and communities. The price point for AM’s 18-month program was substantial at over $17,000, and so convincing students to enroll required an ongoing dialog to build trust, authenticate the value of the curriculum, and validate the credentials of the school, the instructors, and the graduates who had been placed at leading studios.
Plan of Attack
Bonbon Marketing created an integrated strategy designed to generate interest, enthusiasm and participation in a tech-savvy audience. The goal was to create new content and repackage existing articles and videos to appeal to prospective animators who were hungry for information about the animation industry.
Bonbon established four objectives for the social media strategy:
1. Increase the number of student applications and enrollments
2. Increase brand awareness by building a community of animation fans who would start online conversations about Animation Mentor as being “the” place to learn animation
3. Build a niche community within a larger social media network
4. Social media properties rank well for targeted keywords
Based on the outlined strategy, Anvil Media set out to use Animation Mentor’s content to build a community of ambassadors.
Animation Mentor was ripe for social media. The online animation school was targeting a young, computer savvy audience, and Animation Mentor had developed great content: not only a Tips and Tricks ebook but also student videos, photos from events, and the collected knowlege of expert animators.
Although peripheral social media sites were identified and discussed, Anvil focused on creating a community utilizing top-tier social networking sites Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and Animation Mentor’s blog.
Building a niche community within a larger social media community can be extraordinarily difficult. Animation Mentor had an inherent advantage in that the school had hundreds of current students who regularly interacted with social media.
By reaching out and working with current students using an Animation Mentor Facebook profile, Anvil quickly established a friend base. Once this friend base hit the critical mass point – a level that would legitimize the school to the public (no one wants to be someone’s first friend), Anvil launched the school’s Facebook fan page and converted friends to fans (below: Animation Mentor’s Facebook fan page reviews tab).
YouTube was also a natural fit for Animation Mentor – student’s regularly created animation videos, and the school released a student showcase each quarter. Animation Mentor’s existing YouTube videos had over 100,000 views, but there was minimal activity on the channel. Anvil changed that.
Anvil again reached out to the student base, many who used YouTube as a platform to share their Animation Mentor projects. Anvil subscribed to student channels, commented on student videos, and essentially, made AM’s presence known. Anvil also worked on optimizing Animation Mentor’s videos to rank for targeted keyword searches within YouTube search, helping drive organic traffic to AM’s channel. Traffic also increased from related videos.
Once Animation Mentor had established community outposts within social networking sites and the blog, the school sought evangelists to spread the good word.
The first step was to understand what our prospects were reading and where they were going online. Through careful selection of two high-traffic websites, a low-cost banner ad campaign was used to drive interest, excitement and traffic to the e-book.
The e-book was an immediate success. Within 2 days Animation Mentor captured 25,000 new subscribers to the school’s newsletter, 2,000 people signed up for a follow up webinar and 600 attended the online event.
Anvil also utilized an inexpensive StumbleUpon campaign targeted at users interested in animation between 18-34 years old and an Animation Mentor Twitter account targeting users who had tweeted about animation-related keywords to direct traffic to the blog, fan page, and YouTube channel.
The blog and fan page grew quickly. As of December 2008, Animation Tips & Tricks had a loyal readership base of nearly 4,000. And, with over 2,000 fans, Animation Mentor had established a brand following.
The school now needed to connect the communities and influence the bottom line.
Establishing a Communication Network
In order to connect the communities, Anvil interlinked all social media properties.
Anvil directed new friends and fans to the blog from Facebook and MySpace through RSS feeds. Anvil directed users from the blog to the social media properties by creating a blog roll of social media sites (social media roll shown to the left). Anvil also directed users to social media properties with StumbleUpon and Twitter.
The links between social media properties created a web of connectivity. Each property was linked to AM’s homepage, Tips & Tricks blog, and to other social media properties. As a result, Animation Mentor was able to leverage their unique individual communities in separate social media realms into a large community of well-educated evangelists.
The ebook promotion coupled with a strong online community delivered Animation Mentor’s highest ever enrollment for summer term – an increase of 42% from the previous summer term. Fall term results broke summer records with Animation Mentor’s highest enrollment in history, plus sell-out capacity for their newly added Maya Springboard class – an elective that prepares students to join the curriculum and serves as a “feeder” class to the following term.
Since Anvil Media and Bonbon Maketing set out to create an online army of evangelists, Animation Mentor has witnessed a substantial increase in accepted students:
• 60% YTD increase in enrollment (Fall ’07 to Fall ’08)
• 40% increase in enrollment quarter to quarter (Summer ’08 to Fall ’08)
• 700% increase in advanced enrollment (Fall ’07 to Fall ’08)
Visits to animationmentor.com from social media properties from May to December 2008:
• Twitter: 665 visits
• FaceBook: 2,734 visits
• MySpace: 361 visits
• LinkedIn: 313 visits
• Wikipedia: 130 visits
• YouTube: 89 visits
• StumbleUpon: 20,801 visits
SoMē Awards submission by Mike Nierengarten, Account Executive at Anvil Media, Inc. and Kris Larson, founder of Bonbon Marketing