Connecting the Docs: Community Engagement in the Digital Age

This post published on April 12, 2014

Marylou Wakefield’s OPEN CINEMA story.

photo of Marylou WakefieldCommunity engagement is the holy grail of communications in the digital age. For those of us who work in the field of professional communications, meaningful engagement is what we strive for – a spark, a connection to a new person or idea or maybe even a life-changing story. So, when OPEN CINEMA invited a small group of ‘cyber pioneers’ to explore and push the boundaries of community engagement, I was all in. I love documentary film, social media and innovation, so for me it was a natural and powerful convergence.

We made our first foray into the world of ‘hybrid events (live and virtual) in October, 2012 at the launch of Season 10 with the Canadian premiere of Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary Symphony of the Soil. Our mission was to engage an online audience by bringing the live conversation to them through Twitter, and at the same time, bring the online conversation to the live audience in the room. Suddenly the idea of ‘community’ extended far beyond the physical walls of the Victoria Event Centre in Victoria. It was exciting to think our ‘community’ was now a limitless virtual online world.

All the elements came together that evening – documentary screening, post screening discussion live, and on U-stream, and for the first time, a virtual conversation on Twitter. We watched, we listened, we took photos and posted excerpts from the live conversation – 140 characters at a time. Would we make a connection? By the end of the evening, told us we’d logged 75 tweets and generated 82,366 impressions, reached 7694 followers. At our second hybrid event, Play Again, we logged 179 tweets and generated 190,637 ‘impressions’ that reached an audience of 19,531 followers. The experiment was working !

photo of OPEN CINEMA Connecting the Docs Social Engagement

We’ve come a long way since then. Our hybrid format has morphed and expanded. Our social media team has doubled and we’ve added more layers to our online engagement including Instagram, Flickr, Facebook and Storify. In January, OPEN CINEMA launched the first in a series of Connecting the Docs multi-city hybrid cinema events with the support of the Canada Media Fund. Millefiores Clarkes’ NFB documentary Island Green was screened to a full house in Charlottetown, PEI and Victoria, BC on the same day, connected via social media engagement; this time we had a Twitter reach of 93,000.

It’s been exciting to be on the forefront of this innovative social media journey, to see and hear and feel the community engagement first hand. I’m reminded of the question we started just over a year ago. Will it work? Will we engage new communities? Will it matter? Island Green filmmaker Millefiore Clarkes answers it best.

OPEN CINEMA’s bold use of social media and inventive ways of connecting those social media portals is really wonderful and rewarding …there really is a deeper sense of connection that takes place during the event when a Twitter feed is coming in from across the country, when an event host is Skyping in from the other coast – the audience in the room get a sense of being part of something bigger.” Millefiores Clarkes, filmmaker ISLAND GREEN.


MaryLou Wakefield brings a creative storytelling aesthetic to producing online content and social media communications at Encore Communications. She has written across multiple platforms for organizations in technology, health care, post secondary education and the arts, and is an avid explorer of social media as an innovative communications tool. MaryLou blogs at StorythatMatters and Going Solo.

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