By writer-director and author Brendan Foley (NUJ/WGGB) www.filmfoley.com
Like many of you reading this, I have a Facebook page with a smattering of friends and acquaintances. I also have a Twitter account languishing with not a single chirp, tweet or utterance to its name. I’ve even been dubbed the ‘Facebook groundhog’, for emerging once a year to say Happy New Year before sinking back into my offline burrow.
My reasons for not posting more have been to do with getting asked to read too many people’s screenplays; also not feeling my lunch ingredients are cause to alert the global media, nor being overly interested in the equally dull minutiae of others.
So when seeking someone in the entertainment world who has used social media to great effect, I decided to start with the person who called me a cyber-groundhog – my nearest and dearest, social media queen Shelly Goldstein. Shelly is a writer, performer and pop culture commentator. She is very funny and has a mighty online following.
Why do you think most people in media and entertainment don’t make more use of social media?
I think most of us start out being a bit afraid of it. We don’t want to look like the idiot describing their lunch in lavish detail, and we don’t see how social media can in any way relate to our professional lives. But over recent years, I’ve discovered the opposite is true. Social Media is like broccoli - it’s not as bad as its reputation and it can be good for you. If you serve it up right, it can even prove quite tasty!
You use Facebook and Twitter. Are there other media that you choose not to use?
I don’t do much on Linkedin. As a concept it seems well intentioned but most requests I get on it are from people who live on the other side of the planet who seem to be phishing. That’s not to say it mightn’t be useful for some. Social Media is not a single glass slipper. Different sites are more of a perfect fit for different people. Facebook and Twitter work best for me.
So tell us about Facebook in terms of its usefulness to you.
Building a base on Facebook takes time and energy. You have to decide to allocate that time daily as opposed to doing something else to generate enjoyment or income with the same time. But Social Media is also a place where you can measure progress. It started paying off for me within days of my starting regular posting. People came out of the woodwork who I had not heard from in years, including many fellow professionals in entertainment. It really is awe-inspiring software in terms of its ability to create matrices of people with shared friends or interests.
But isn’t that more like a social use as opposed to a professional one?
To use social media well, you have to shake off some of the old definitions. It may be that your professional work will benefit simply by more people knowing about your interests, talents or character. Just as most of us who are freelance do not stop working when a whistle blows at 5pm, not everything has to be divided into work or fun. Hopefully most of our lives can involve both.
Yes, but you can’t pay the mortgage with funny-money, grumbles the Groundhog. Tell us about how interest translated into progress in your working life.
I have different facets to that working life – comedy writer, performer, pop culture pundit and avid news-junkie. I started posting various things: thoughts on news of the day, humorous observations, commentary on pop culture.
As a professional writer and comedy writer, I have to do this sort of thing anyway. I simply began making more of my observations a part of my Facebook page. Other people joined in the conversation. People began sharing my thoughts on their FB pages and re-tweeting what I’d been saying. Word of mouth started to factor into things. People recommended their friends to friend me. More people, more perspectives made for more interesting conversations. I got my first professional job offer via Facebook about two weeks after my page went up.
And it’s not just performers who can benefit. Here’s a terrific example of an author who has found a way to use social media to help promote her first book – which has sold half a million copies.
So why do politicians and journalists not have the most friends then?
I’m not running for office. I’m not doing critical analysis. I’m a pop culturist and comedy writer. Any insights I have come from a comedic perspective. I don’t think anyone wants to be preached to online. People want to converse. People want to share opinions. People want to laugh.
I hope I offer them a place to do all of that and I get as much out of it as the people I communicate with. Facebook makes it easy to see when you’re getting through to people – and when you’re not. People join in or they don’t. They “share” your comments or they don’t. You can buy shares in companies, but can’t buy ‘shares’ from one friend to another on Facebook. You earn them based only on what you write. It’s like an instant Nielsen rating - or people voting with their mouse.
Any of us working in media and entertainment these days have to have a profile. We have to be seen in order to reach an audience and also to reach more potential employers on the other side of that audience. A job interview today involves being Googled. Producers, directors, employers check your work online. These days, people know you - or what they think is you - long before you meet in person. We all have the power to impact what people see or learn about us online.
Give us an example of how a single post can end up contributing to your working profile or income.
It’s usually a cumulative thing – people deciding you are consistently funny or observant or whatever, based on multiple small examples. But to give one in real time, I just read about the very talented comedy actor Fred Willard being arrested for, er, allegedly pleasuring himself in an adult movie theatre. I posted and tweeted that arresting the guy in a porn theatre for being horny was like arresting someone at McDonald’s for being fat. Within minutes that line was heavily re-posted and re-tweeted.
But does that really translate to income?
Honestly, if I only did this in the hope of getting paid, it would be a lot less fun. I am a performer. Writing and posting is as much of an outlet for my performing as is being onstage. I live the life of a freelance. Every single day it seems like I’m working for someone different. And I can point to at least a dozen of my employers in the past year as coming from people who either befriended me on Facebook, followed me on Twitter or saw my videos on youtube. This runs the gamut from being hired to write a single original lyric for somebody’s cabaret act to writing an episode of a TV show, to being asked to bring my show to a brand new city.
Find the ways social media can best represent what you do. For example, I write a lot of comedy satire material including new lyrics to old songs. My first cabaret show was called, “Gay Man Trapped in the Body of a Straight Girl.” I’m passionate about marriage equality and wrote a parody of the Mary Poppins song “Supercalifragilistic…” called “Super Callous Homophobic Hateful Legislation”. A friend of mine with a video camera shot me singing it. We had one light. The production took less than two hours.
Within two days, the video was on my Facebook page. A friend of mine sent it to a political pundit who linked it to his blog. The next day 5,000 people had seen it. It was embedded on over 1,100 different Facebook pages. Within a month it had been viewed in more than 17 countries and had over 50,000 views. Without FB that never would have happened.
So there is an economic basis, albeit an indirect one?
Bottom line: social media is a fantastic way to get your work seen. Now there’s also a huge amount of online chatter and static that you have to break through, but if your work is good and you work hard to get it out there online, you can get further, faster than any time in history. Despite all the difficulties, I think there’s never been a better time to be in the entertainment business.
What is also true is that the American Idol Illusion of being discovered the first time you sing a song or crack a tweet is a ridiculous myth. In reality it takes lots of work on a daily basis to gain a following and a professional online profile. But if you are willing to put in the time, social networking lets you connect with your potential audience and potential employers.
Is there a difference between the sort of responses or results you get on Facebook and Twitter?
Twitter has much more immediacy. I’d suggest using Twitter for very of-the-moment comments on news or gossip. On the night of the Academy Awards, instead of making a comment to the person beside me on the sofa, I tweeted my thoughts about the people and the movies in real time. And that brought the biggest response I’ve ever had on Twitter. People know I write a lot of ‘special material’ for similar shows, so they decided to join me on the virtual sofa. It was fun going back-and-forth.
It all feeds into an overall online presence, and for people who want to follow that in detail, there are sites like www.klout.com, which quantifies your overall reach on the internet through a mysterious algorithm of all your online incarnations.
So, are there any downsides to the Brave New World?
Absolutely. The first is that you have to put in a great deal of time, thought and energy to maintain a connection with so many people. But you have to do it. It is no good thinking it is a one-way street, it is a direct relationship with a friend-base and sometimes an audience-base.
And another downside is that the more successful you are in raising your profile online, the more you open yourself to nasty anonymous comments. You have to just shrug it off as some modern form of jealousy and insecurity.
If I ruled the world anyone could be as mean or nasty as they liked, but they would have to have the guts to put their real name to whatever they said, not as ‘knobhead666’. Anonymous postings always pander to cowards. It is very important not to respond to idiots. However, I did break my own rule of ignoring one troll who objected to my being in favour of marriage equality and posted a comment calling me a “F%$&ing dike” (sic). My response was to point out that since he’d called me a “dike” he wasn’t making an (incorrect) assumption about my sexuality as much as he was making an assumption that I retained water.
Any last words for people seeking to get serious about their online presence?
Don’t post anything you’d be embarrassed to see on a poster on your high street. It will be out there forever. Don’t post drunk, and don’t post things just to be mean. That’s just dull and depressing.
But on the bright side, the online world really is your oyster, and it is a shame not to use such an amazing asset. You don’t need to let it take over your life, just fit it in to a routine and enjoy it, rather than worrying if any one tweet or post is going to bring you fame or fortune. And my last word? Hope you’ll friend me on FB (Shelly Goldstein) and follow @groovyshelly on Twitter.