From Self-care to Self-promotion: Making your Social Media Marketing Work Better For You - PART I


As part of a series, this column highlights communication strategies for handling unpredictable circumstances and a variety of essential online tools and suggestions for you and your teams to implement in the coming days.

As many productions are currently being put on hiatus, so are the kind of life activities outside of our homes that, now paused by social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, have brought us here to this new and challenging place.

This place, if it does not include addressing health issues exacerbated or caused by the coronavirus, is one that can be filled with opportunities that may not have been otherwise afforded to you before that invaluable and most priceless gift - newly found time - became available.

BUT FIRST, SELF CARE

Not much else is above the care for ourselves, for our families, and for all of whom concern us, during times of crisis. But outside of where health and all other urgent cares are met, as artists, found time also provides the new opportunity to re-evaluate and re-assess. The LA Stage Alliance recently published a guide to recommended assessments and self-care to help provide affirming perspectives and advice during these times.

When you once again can breathe, it might then be time to re-visit that other invaluable and unique gift that is only afforded to you, which can be also best be served by this newfound time - the ongoing maintenance of your own self-promotion.

ARMCHAIR SELF-PROMOTION - A CUP OF COMFORT AND A SMART DEVICE

Self-promotion is not just a tool for self-marketing and networking. As artists in the entertainment fields, it is also sought for and expected by those who seek to promote on your behalf. Having a website to that effect is key, for sure. Having reviews to share are as well. But entertainment marketers who are considering “you” as that star power–the one who is going to make their project shine and bring in audiences - will want more tangible results from your self-marketing which come in the form of numbers.

And the numbers I am talking about are in followers.

A larger number of followers, depending on when an account was opened—and where viewable—shows marketers that you are not just active in your own self-marketing, but active in the engagement of your audience—which they see as their soon-to-be-audience as well. This is tangible. This is sometimes seen as bankable. It is an asset.

QUANTITY, BUT ALSO QUALITY

Follower numbers and social media activity tells marketers several things, both good and bad. Lack of social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all where analytic information is most easily tracked and gained, can tell a marketer that you might not care enough to self-market. With regard to follower numbers on Twitter and Facebook, especially when low in older or abandoned-looking accounts, can signal that as well. In newer accounts, it can look like an after-thought, especially if close to a project's inception date.

A larger number of followers, depending on when an account was opened—and where viewable - shows marketers that you are not just active in your own self-marketing, but active in the engagement of your audience - which they see as their soon-to-be-audience as well.

This is tangible. This is sometimes seen as bankable. It is an asset.

But outside the actual “numbers” of followers, the number of posts, the quality of the posts, the type of content within, and the active, on-going, and regular engagement and conversation, both with and within your audience, is also seen as a tangibly marketable and well-branded tool that someone else can use to promote who is in the business of promoting.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

"Hashtag" in "Comic-Con, the Musical," Sacred Fools {now The Broadwater], Hollywood Fringe Festival, June 2, 2017. ~ Photo by Monique A. LeBleu

If you are completely new to the use of social media as a promotional tool, and not just for casual social and family engagement and communication, here's a handy checklist to review first before you get started.

Because social media self-marketing does take time and maintenance, it is often the thing that gets pushed aside when the plates of creativity are spinning so fast that it might be perceived as just a plastic plate that won't break should it fall. But with time as a new friend these days, along with the additional benefit of just such similarly captive audiences as of late, a unique opportunity is now provided for all creatives and self-promoters to look toward beefing up their social media marketing and making it a priority.

Which and how many platforms you wish to choose and how much time now, and in the future, you wish to spend, is key. Choosing them and determining which are to be in your portfolio and in future up-keep should be based on the benefits they provide, the benefits you want, and the perceived value they have to those who market you best. Consult those people, where you can, to learn where they personally see the highest value to you (and to them) and where you can and should best place your focus.

Then, assess your current social media and marketing strategies that are already in place, begin the work - alone and/or in teams where you can -, pick the platforms that will work best for all, and go forth to create any new accounts. If you have more than three you may eventually need to use a social media management platform that can share between accounts. But as many of these often only link back between platforms, but simultaneously ignore media-rich content in their wake, I suggest sticking with just a few initially and keep things simple. In time, you will see those numbers increase, as well as your brand visibility.

In my next column, I will talk of the TOP SIX PLATFORMS and how, when, and why to use them for self-promotion.


 


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Get Resolved

A new year, and everybody is talking, tweeting, posting, snap-gramming, and insta-chatting about their New Year's Resolutions. I find it ironic that we wait until Dec. 31 to get resolved about things in our lives which obviously need resolving every other day of our year, but are then ignored. When it comes to your craft, you better resolve yourself to make some kind of effort every single day to better your chances of success, or you might as well resolve yourself to a lifetime of waiting tables, babysitting, dog-walking, customer greeting, Ubering, or whatever it is you're currently doing to pay your bills. For that matter, if you have resolved yourself to a life of driving other people around for money while they ask you questions such as: “Oh, are you trying to be an actor?” and “Are you doing that ‘acting' thing?” then you might as well resolve yourself to Lyfting in a city that isn't so damned expensive, and leave Hollywood behind you.

If it takes the new year to encourage you to resolve yourself to making more effort each day to advance your entertainment career, then so be it. Nonetheless, if you want to make it, you are going to have to set a new resolution every day. Every day!

So many of us have taken that “day job” to help us pay our bills, and then allowed it to derail our efforts to make a living through our craft. So many of us get overwhelmed by our “adulating” responsibilities that we forget to concentrate our available time and energy toward at least improving our craft. Every day. You have to do the work to get the work.

You absolutely have to resolve yourself to doing at least one important thing every day toward perfecting your craft and advancing your career hopes. If you want to escape Uber hell, then you have to be constantly working toward that escape - one spoon full of earth at a time, if necessary, to dig your way out of the restaurant server servitude and the like.

While you are reading this, ask yourself right now what you have done today to advance your entertainment career, and then resolve yourself to set an immediate plan to do something more before the day is over.

Resolutions are such a curious thing. The word itself has so many profound meanings. We commonly adhere to the most prevalent meaning: to be earnest in a decision; determined. Yet to resolve also means to separate into parts, or to break up; even “disintegrate.” Perfect. Then as artists it should be our goal to resolve the obstacles in our path to success. Separate them into parts. Break them up, and accomplish them one at a time, every day. Resolve to eventually disintegrate them.

Additional meanings of resolve include: to transform by any process; reduce by mental analysis; to deal with conclusively; to clear away or dispel; answer.

Certainly. If you can't disintegrate an obstacle, then resolve it into something else in order to resolve the problem. Here's the problem with most people – not just artists: They spend 90 percent of their time doing what it takes in order to provide the means necessary to do what they want to do with the other 10 percent of their time. That may be true for you, but it doesn't change the fact that you need to spend 100 percent of your energy toward your goals during that 10 percent of time available to you to pursue your craft.

Listen to plays or books about the craft on tape, or podcasts about your art while you drive around waiting for that next customer who needs a ride. Read a play or a screen play on your breaks or lunch hours. Turn off the LuLoo at night in favor of practicing a new audition monologue, or perfecting the one you have that hasn't been winning you any roles lately. Don't spend time caught in the Flix Net, binge watching the latest series. Watch documentaries about your craft, and the best people who have succeeded in the craft. Learn from them. Here's something they all have in common: they did the work to get the work.

Get resolved.

In chemistry, resolve means to separate into “optically active components.” Nothing could be more clear. You have to be able to actively “see” the components to each and every goal. You cannot reach any point without knowing how to get there, and crossing the countless points in between. That requires seeing the points in between with a clear plan about how to traverse them. When we resolve an image, we “separate and make visible the individual parts.” These principles of optics are important to pursuing your craft - one facet of the spectrum at a time, if need be.

In music we “resolve” a chord, or a harmony section from dissonance to consonance. If you are not resolved to pursue your craft every single day, you have cognitive dissonance about your chances of making a living through your art. Resolve to create some consonance between your dreams and your actions. Get busy.

Work doesn't always have to be work. We are creative people. We can create ways to enjoy doing the work. Instead of inviting that fellow actor friend out for drinks, invite them over for a bottle of wine to share monologues. Perform for each other. Give each other notes. Help each other grow as performers. If you are writers, then share some pages with each other of what you are currently working on. Give each other feedback. Advance the draft just one step further…..Every day!

Cartoon of the Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld. Clockwise, from the bottom left: Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin Pierce Adams, Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. In the background, left to right, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield, and Frank Case, manager of the Algonquin Hotel.

It's 2019 – the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Algonquin Round Table. The new Roaring Twenties are upon us! When you plan that next dinner party, become your own John Peter Toohey, and create your own Round Table of artists. Do acting exercises with each other, play theater games to keep your skills sharp, and read plays or screen plays out loud together. Plan your next production, Perform scenes and monologues together, and for each other, to learn from each other and improve your craft. Write. Share ideas. Work on accents together.

Resolve yourself to host a theme party for your industry friends. Choose a genre of theatre or film to inspire your theme. Choose a playwright, and ask everyone to come to the party prepared to do a scene or monologue from one of the plays. Choose an accent for the evening, or make it a game throughout the night that every hour on the hour someone draws a new accent out of a hat, and everyone has to do their best to maintain it for the next hour.

We can create ways to have fun doing the work, but we must be resolved to be diligent in our continued pursuit of our craft, and we must stay resolved; whether it is Jan. 1, or Feb. 1, or March 10, or July 29, or tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow…


Female Fusion - The Intersection of Art and Activism

Reena Dutt is exactly the artist that this column is named for. She creates art; theater, film, web, and video, that moves the conversation forward. The subject of the conversation changes, the message is sometimes obvious, sometimes more obtuse, but the medium stays constant. Art speaks and Dutt knows the language intimately.

There are so many stereotypes of what an ardent feminist, an activist, a person of color fighting for representation is; strong, powerful, angry. Dutt is quite disarming and funny. She laughs easily and often. She is petite, pretty and slightly self effacing.

She mocks herself at times. Do not let that fool you. This is a powerful, confident and driven person. Dutt was born in New Jersey but her family soon
moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she spent her first nine years. “It was this crazy white picket fences kind of childhood where we were this United Colors of Benetton neighborhood.....it was an idyllic childhood where you just playing.....all of the kids are together and all of the parents would just call each other to see where the kids were and nobody worried.” During this time they also had strong ties to the Indian community and a large extended friends and family network. The next few years involved some additional travel: Huntsville, AL then Dutt moved to India with her mother and brother for school before they finally all settled in Arizona, where they stayed. The South Asian community in Arizona was stronger than in the other cities that they had lived in, and it was here that her lack of belonging became a bit more pronounced. Her parents were not from the same areas, indeed they met in graduate school in Connecticut. Her father was Bengali and spoke Bengali while her mother is
Maharashtrian and speaks Marathi. Dutt doesn't speak either language fluently. They spoke English at home and Dutt enjoyed a very liberal upbringing with Christmas trees, Thanksgiving dinners, foreign students as guests and family outings to the local steakhouse. So, she didn't really fit in with the more traditional South Asian community. Her high school was mostly Catholic and Mormon, with a much smaller population of color. To find a place to belong, Dutt started ice skating, then dancing and eventually found her way to theater, where she stayed. “I was never the other, but I always was different.” She was never discriminated against nor held back due to race and she found her own community in what she did, rather than in her home culture. In fact, race didn't affect or define her until she came to Los Angeles to be an actor, when a casting director, in 1998, “asked me how I speak English so well, that blew my mind, I had never been asked that before...that's literally the first time I felt different.”

Dutt's philosophy and ethic evolved from the juxtaposition of her rather inclusive childhood banging up against the expectations of the rest of the world.

“I grew up feeling supported by everybody around me, which is so lucky, and maybe that's why I get so confused about why people can't or don't understand how to embrace diversity. I have had so many people, from my theater community [in LA] specifically, say ‘well, being from a culture is so different and unique, you should embrace that' when all I want is normalized
diversity like it was when I was a kid.”

As a producer and director, diversity is absolutely at the forefront of Dutt's work. She explains that “representation isn't a THING, it just is.” and that “What you see is what you believe.”

Dutt asks a lot of questions. Every determination is well thought through and important.

“What is the social responsibility of an artist or entertainer? In my mind, that is the big question. We are in one of the most visual mediums ever. How do we use that? Even if it changes one child's mind--oh I saw that one dancer, that dancer looks like me, so I can go be a dancer. So when we start talking about dialogue driven stories where you are hearing someone speak in medical terminology or talk about a business that they started and they look like you, how much does that empower anybody who has a dream that they don't know if they can do because nobody in their family does it and they've never seen it before. SO I do think that art and media...is a social responsibility whether we want it or not and I know that there are a lot of artists who hate calling themselves activists but if you are putting anything in front of someone
else, you are an activist by nature so what is your choice of what you want to present? What do you want to show? You are responsible for that.”

Dutt takes the responsibility of diversity very seriously, both in front of and behind the camera. Production staff, writers, story lines, actors and audiences are all part of the mix and decision making process. Her body of work offers evidence of a well thought out and active agenda.

For example, she associate produced (and appeared in) the web series The Real Girls Guide To Everything Else, which could be tagged as a thinking brown girls' version of Sex and The City. It's fun, lighthearted and tackles much more important issues than shoes (though those are occasionally featured as well).

Parvesh Cheena in Squad 85

Squad 85, which Dutt produced, was an insane time traveling detective mashup starring Parvesh Cheena, now of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The casting was incredibly diverse, but nothing is made of it. It is simply a group of people who don't happen to all look alike and it is hilarious.

In honor of Asian Awareness Week, Dutt directed a series of PSAs called You Should Know This By Now featuring Asian actors saying pretty basic information that somehow gets overlooked. The short clips are funny and uncomfortable and make a point. The first one stars Vincent Rodriguez, who also stars in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Dutt may be a lucky charm!

Vincent Rodriguez in You Should Know This By Now

Snapshot plays with stereotypes and perception in a short film format. It was a finalist for the New Filmmakers LA series.

Check out Dutt's website for a much more extensive look at her prolific career.

Dutt's current project, which she is both producing and directing is Bodies: Place Called Us, A Music Video For Gun Control. She is reuniting with her first love, dance, putting her love of activism and diversity front and center, once again both in front of and behind the camera, and moving an important conversation into a realm where people might not ordinarily have access to the information. “I've put together an incredible team headed by female key crew. Our cast will be representative of all targeted communities in the States.” The video will launch in June, with an accompanying website that will guide viewers to concrete actions, such as voter registration, contact with legislators, and local events, that they can take to fight for gun control reform in their states. The video is being produced in collaboration with CineFemme and SeedandSpark and features Los Angeles singer/songwriter Alex Mackey. (Disclosure: I am the choreographer and a co-producer on this project)

Reena Dutt has a lot to say and a lot to do. She wants to make the entertainment world, and by extension the world at large, a place where a person of color doesn't have to be explained in any given circumstance, they are just there, being. It's both a shockingly simple premise and a huge undertaking. This woman is well on her way to making it happen.