A couple of weeks ago, I was a participant in an event held by the Talent Managers Association and it seemed my fellow casting directors and I spent as much time chatting about Facebook as we did talking about the new studio proposal to cut the pilot casting minimum rates or how we built our master casting lists! Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone by how enamored I’ve become of the site in such a short period of time, but as my casting colleagues and I agreed, it’s actually helping us do our jobs!

So, you’re an actor and you have a membership at Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Friendster, YouTube, Flickr, and so on. How do you make smart choices about how you use those memberships in order to maximize their networking potential? Ah! That’s where the emphasis needs to fall: on the networking part of social networking.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. For those of you who prefer to keep your social networking sites “fun” and not at all business-related, that’s fine. But even you should read on, because whether you’re using the sites to learn about your potential buyers or not, your potential buyers are checking you out using those very same sites.

Why are we checking you out? Well, part of our job is to keep up with who’s making noise. Who’s about to break out. Who’s on the rise and who’s ready to star in the next big project we hope to cast. We’re constantly making lists of actors whose work interests us, and when we’re hired to cast a new project, we start brainstorming about who might be a good match to each particular role. The “usual suspects” will always be on the lists — those actors whose names we all know and whose attachment to the project will lead to overseas sales, distribution, festival run, spec pilot pickup, etc. But also on the lists are the actors we’ve scouted in plays, showcases, open mic nights, workshops, and — yes — online!

And it’s not just casting directors checking y’all out. It’s agents and managers and publicists and screenwriters and producers and directors and showrunners and development execs. In fact, there are more and more people working in “new media” divisions at entertainment companies around town. Much of their day is spent scouring the Internet for the most popular videos and profiles out there. What’s going viral? What are the opinion-shapers blogging about? Whose videos are cracking the million-hit mark at YouTube? And why? Is it some hamster on a piano or is it something original and funny and castable and — most important to them — bankable?

Of course, an Internet star may not have the same track record of bankability that a recurring guest-star on a top network sitcom last season has, but come pilot season, the actor whose self-produced web pilot got a million hits is on the same list at networks. You’d better believe it, there are murmurs of, “Get this kid in here. We need to see if there’s something there.” Buyers are keeping track. They don’t care where the viewers come from — especially as more and more people are choosing the Internet as their primary source of programming.

So, I’ve talked before about harnessing the power of self-producing and the new business model for the entertainment industry. I even covered this a little bit in a recent interview I did with Musecast TV if you’d like to hear more on the subject. But this week’s piece is about social networking sites in particular. Because you can have that awesome character in that self-produced viral video everyone’s talking about, but if you’re making the mistake of treating something as simple as a status update as “casual,” you could undo all the good work you’ve done, building that fanbase.

The number one mistake actors make is the same mistake they make in choosing headshots, formatting their resumés, building professional websites, editing demo reels, and submitting themselves on projects. They neglect to brand themselves properly. Yep. It’s that whole typing thing again. Knowing your primary type is not enough. Professional actors in a major market must also develop their image accordingly. Your photo, the font you use on your resumé, the tone of your cover letter, the music bed in your demo reel, the colors on your website — all of it — should sell that primary type. It should all “feel” like you. Ad execs and image consultants know this all too well and if you’re your own ad exec and image crafter, it’s up to you to pull together your overall vibe so that there is no doubt what the buyer will be getting, should she decide to become your customer.

This goes for your online profiles at any of the above-mentioned social networking sites. All allow for an uploaded photo (or hundreds) and the average user will post a fun photo and change every now and then to a pet or a niece or a political cause or whatever inspires him. The smart actor user will post his primary headshot. Period. The one that sells his type best. If it’s not a headshot, it’s a still from the set of a project he just worked on. It’s reminding us he’s working — and in that exact type category in which he’s so well-branded.

What’s your screen name on these sites? What’s the unique URL to your profile? Nothing silly or casual, if you’re the smart actor user. Instead, it’s your professional actor name! It’s how we would look you up at IMDb or within the Breakdown Services’ system. It’s how you’re branded.

And if you’re truly a power user, you’re adding friends while building friend categories (or “friend lists” within your full list of friends) so that you can pick and choose what content on your page is visible by your family vs. the industry. For example, in Facebook, you can create a photo album that is visible only to friends in the “back home” group, and that’s where you’ll store your silly non-industry (and perhaps embarrassing) photos. You can make sure the latest headshot shoot proofs or stills from the set are visible to those friends in the “industry” category. (That said, I’d make a case for getting comfortable with even the embarrassing photos coming to light before the industry, because you really can’t control how or when that happens… unless you’re the one putting it out there before it’s a problem. More on that later.)

One of the things that I love about Facebook and Twitter is that I’m learning what’s going on in the lives of actors whose careers I may not otherwise be following. (And it’s not just actors with whom I’m connecting. A game of Word Twist with a favorite manager led to networking with an agent he wanted me to meet. I’ve attended a handful of lunches, happy hours, and open house holiday events with agents, managers, and producers I’d not met prior to joining Facebook, just because we’ve begun keeping up with each other there and found common interests. I’ve even been hired to speak to groups of actors several times via Facebook as well as hiring contributing writers for The Actors Voice: POV! That’s such good use of a few hours of online time!)

Point is, an actor who emails me to say, “Just booked Cold Case,” might not get more than a glance from me, prior to the big “delete button” moment. But an actor who creates a status update of the same nature may actually get a reply comment from me, saying, “Woo hoo!” I’ll almost never reply to an email to share a woo hoo… but what’s a few clicks within my Facebook news feed to share some glee? And that’s an actor who’s now on my radar as working. And I’m now a CD on that actor’s radar, as someone who’s keeping up with her bookings. Networking in action!

Now, let me get into what not to say in your status updates. There’s a bunch, here. “Headed out to sling drinks at my crappy bartending job. Hope the jerks tip tonight.” “Just blew off an audition to go surfing. It’s such a pretty day!” “Augh! My agent pisses me off! Two hours’ notice on a producer session? Thanks, a-hole!” “Drunk by noon. Again. Oops.” “Dammit! My scenes got cut in last night’s episode. Sorry if you tuned in expecting to see me.” “I have the flu again. Send soup.”

Anything negative and you run the risk that that’s the headline we’ll remember about you. (One of the cool things we can do at Facebook is “see more” about people whose updates we love, “see less” about people whose updates depress us. You may not get many chances to teach the industry how to see you. Update wisely. Otherwise, you may just end up unfriended, by those who don’t realize they can simply turn down the volume on your posts.)

Why don’t the above updates work? Well, the first one reminds us that you aren’t enough of a working actor to dump your survival job. Why keep us focused on anything other than your awesome acting gigs? The second one convinces us you aren’t to be trusted with coveted audition slots. Bad idea. Complaining about your agent teaches potential future agents that you’re going to bitch about them, should they sign you someday. Oops. Of course, going on benders mid-day when you could get an audition at any moment isn’t going to fill anyone with confidence about your ability to show up to set without staggering. The “scenes cut” issue is something we all understand. Better to promote the episode before it airs and do like the newspapers do. Run the big story on page one and run that correction the next day on page 16. So, a status update telling us that your episode is coming up is awesome. Save the “ugh, it was cut” stuff for the comments section or a blog post. Don’t make it a headline. Most of us won’t have watched anyway! (So it serves you better to sell the booking rather than the reality.)

Of course, catching a cold, your car breaking down, or having to take your beloved pet to the vet are normal things we all experience. I’m not saying you always have to be positive, but I am suggesting that your status updates be well-thought-out, if your audience includes the folks you’re hoping will cast you someday. Consider your brand. Consider your audience. Consider your goals. Then post. Trust me, this thought process won’t change your every status update. But it will make your messages better crafted for your career goals. When you know your buyers are watching, you make more deliberate keystrokes.

Speaking of what not to say, there is a certain level of interactivity with these social networking sites that requires that you be a smart actor. Or not. But trust that we’ll soon block, unfriend, minimize, etc., the actor who comes across as desperate instead of confident. If an agent posts a status update about taking meetings with clients to gear up for pilot season, your best status update reply is, “Cool! Have fun,” not, “Ooh! Me! Me! Pick me!!” Same with casting directors. “Scheduling sessions for the pilot,” should be met with, “Yay, you!” or, “Have fun!” rather than, “Don’t forget about me,” or, “When’s my slot?” Remember that it’s our job to have you on our collective radar. You telling us how to do our job is as annoying as you posting a status update about an upcoming audition and having an agent post a comment saying, “Don’t forget to pay commission,” or a CD posting, “Don’t be late! And don’t shake anyone’s hand!”

Remember that you’re already on our radar if we’re all doing our jobs well. Your need to pop into chat, comment on status updates, or send unsolicited email reminding us that you’re available is probably doing you more harm than good. If you’re submitting appropriately when we put out a breakdown, connecting with us via substantive interactions, or genuinely expressing interest in what we’re doing rather than how we can serve you, you’re in much better shape.

Similarly, posting your demo reel on the “wall” of a favorite director’s Facebook page is to behave like a telemarketer calling during dinner. Letting us know footage is available on your page is one thing. To post it on our page is to use up our real estate for your agenda. Do casting directors come to your page soliciting work? Think it through. Enjoy that you’ve made the connection and work it smart. Don’t mess it up by being over-solicitous. We know what our job is and we know what you do and where to go to find more info about you. Use your status updates to keep us intrigued. Don’t spam us.

Oh, and on that note… DON’T SPAM US! 🙂 One of my least favorite aspects of LinkedIn and Facebook is that users can send emails or in-system messages to multiple users (up to 50) at once, and none of the email addresses or contact streams is cloaked. So, you include me on a blast about your new demo reel and your second cousin from Baltimore replies-all and now I get to read about her love for you and her husband’s bout with gout. Yay. No, really. This is riveting stuff.

Use the contact lists wisely. Yet again, a reason for applying categories (or friend lists) to your profile. And a reason to use BCC when emailing more than a few people who do not know one another. It’s a way to show respect and professionalism. Yes, you also get your message out. Yay! But you do so without getting our email addresses added to everyone else’s spam lists. Thank you!

Now, all of this may make you think I’m asking you to get really calculated about what you post and who you are, online. Am I suggesting that you guard your soft underbelly and hide some of the toughest issues you face? Am I asking you to hide who you really are? Heck no! My rule of thumb (as someone who has been blogging for a decade now) is, don’t be guarded, but be accountable. Develop a public persona you’re comfortable with and keep the rest to yourself. But even when you post in your public persona, it’s smart to own your damage, because once you’re on the rise, someone will make it their business to air your dirty laundry, if you haven’t already come up with the spin control.

Keep in mind that most of what I’m talking about, in this week’s column, is of a “skimming-level” contact nature. Clive Thompson interviewed the creator of Facebook in a piece for the New York Times earlier this year and he talked about weak ties vs. intimate relationships. Most members of the industry are not going to dig deeply into your page to check out your videos, your photos, your blog posts. They are, however, gonna check out your status updates (because those updates show up in their news feed streams), which is why those headlines need to be well-crafted per your primary type and your career goals.

Some actor friends of mine have created two profiles. One is their personal profile, for friends and family. Another is their professional profile, for industry networking. This is a fine option, but it’s also a complicated one. In the end, you will — assuming you make it as an actor and have a life that everyone wants to uncover — have to be held accountable for everything “out there” about you, should the roads merge. No matter what you’ve deleted, someone out there has taken a screen capture of it. The Internet Archive has cached it. Someone, somewhere has covered it. This is the TMZ-cell-phone-cam generation. That doesn’t mean you can’t be yourself, it just means you have to be ready to be accountable for it.

How about “going private” and just choosing from the beginning to shield a certain amount of yourself from the world? Well, that’s all well and good, but it also means you’re somewhat unreachable by members of the industry who want to reach you (or at the very least, to check you out)! And if your goal in having an online profile is to be available to your potential buyers — to cement your brand — that means you’re shutting off a steady stream of those who could become your fans (or at the very least put you on their next casting list). Think it through. There should at least be a parking space for your professional profile. Your own website, your IMDb page, your Actors Access profile, something. But if your buyers are hanging out on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, so should you.

Watch out for “favorite-ing” videos at your YouTube channel that reveal you have a particular fetish that might scare buyers off. Your faves should be your reel and your clips from projects you’ve shot. And maybe motivational scenes from shows you want to be a part of, interviews with actors who motivate you, not boobies or bug crushing or *shudder* worse. 😉 Remember that everything is Googleable. Expect everyone to judge what we see “out there” about you. It’s gonna happen. Be ready!

My favorite recent story is that of JefBot comics. A wonderful actor friend of mine also happens to draw a weekly comic strip. I got to know him as an actor way before I knew he drew. Well, he’s been drawing his hilarious strip for over a year now and he’s not looking for pay to do it. (Well, maybe he is. I haven’t asked. My point is, he’s an actor, and this is his “other hustle” going on, here. We all have that.) He’s been churning out excellent content, well-branded, on a site that sells him as much as an actor and voiceover artist as it does his comic-drawing self. And suddenly the likes of Wil Wheaton goes all “fan boy” on him and that’s enough to propel Jeff Schuetze‘s survival job (which he loves) to another level. There could be speaking engagements, there could be book deals, there could be a series. And none of it has to do with Jeff’s actor self, outright. But because Jeff “gave” his talents up twice a week, every week, for over a year to get on the radar of the buyers (or maybe not for that reason, but that’s what happened), he’s showing up on more casting lists than ever! Because he’s, “hey, it’s that guy!” And sometimes that’s enough.

So, not to say you can’t brand yourself doing your survival job — and doing it well. Of course you can! But put it out there regularly, and for free ’til the buyers show up wanting to pay you for the voice you’ve cultivated. Nothing wrong with that! And sometimes it’s your actor dream come true!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000968.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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