Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pressing our noses to the window

I am not, nor have I ever been, an “expert” in social media. By all accounts, I’m a novice to the field. Been on Facebook since it was restricted to @.edu accounts, been on Twitter for 18 months or so, LinkedIn for over a year.

But I could pretend to be an expert. Look, it’s easy:

How to be a social media expert in six “easy” steps

1. Build your audience.

2. Listen to people.

3. Give them valuable content.

4. Listen to people.

5. Ask questions.

6. Listen to people.

Here’s what the real secret is: it’s all a load of shit. And that’s the biggest fault I find with so many social media “experts” out there today: they assume the route I’ll take to utilizing social media will be the same as the route they took.

That’s not possible anymore. The social media universe is hyper-saturated by people just like me, ambitious twenty-somethings who can write a lick and have had a computer at their fingertips since before they knew how many fingertips they had.

The reality is that there was a window during which those lucky few earliest adopters of these technologies realized that common sense should prevail over industry hesitation. Those folks experienced a meteoric and lightning-quick ascendancy to social media stardom. In gratitude for their success, they’ve tried to teach their disciples how to do the same.

But what nobody is willing to say is that we can’t. That window slammed shut when that common concept of do-unto-others became widespread. And the social media influencers that made it through the window before it closed keep beckoning to those of us inside, waving us on to Never Never Land without seeing that there’s a pane of glass in the way.

I don’t need a social media Buddha who’ll tell me the only way to become an expert is to be one. I don’t need crazy analogies to how successful marketing is like a box of business cards. I can’t crowdsource a problem when I can’t develop a crowd. And it’s awful easy for someone with 25,000 followers to tell me to “listen to my audience”, but I struggle to assemble more than 150.

I don't want a pep talk.

The trail is jammed and not enough people make it through, so I must forge my own path with a machete and my own guile. The only way to alleviate hyper-saturation, after all, is to do things completely differently.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Community Theatre's blessing, curse, and unfortunate necessities

The last show I'm going to do for a long time ended this past Sunday as Fiddler on the Roof in Wellesley closed. It still hasn't really sunk in yet. Maybe it won't, cause I'm planning on cheating a bit: I'm going to jump into the crew for Spelling Bee in Newton if my schedule will allow, and the director for Wellesley's EMACT festival show has been operating on the fait accompli method of persuading me to join their crew, too. (Not to mention I'm expecting to be directing again this summer at Summer Scene.)

But I realized during the show's run that I had fallen again into the trap of only really talking to people during tech week and performance weeks. Show after show, I'll make friends with lots of cast members during the rehearsal process, but it's completely superficial. "Hey, you work there, that's interesting." "Hey, you're coming to rehearsals from that town, what route do you take?"

It's bullshit. I don't even know why I do it - is it because I spend so little time with these people during the early rehearsal process that I don't really care? Is it because the course of a show is so short from start to finish that by never getting close to people, I never really lose any friends? Is it because the theatre world in eastern Mass. is so small I can run into people a year, two years down the road, so never getting close doesn't even matter?

Whatever it is, that subconscious strategy gets blown to hell during tech. With so much more time and close contact, not to mention cast parties and outings, longer conversations and deeper histories follow. How is it I don't learn until the show is nearly through that one castmate speaks eight languages and nearly went into the seminary? How is it I don't learn until then that another castmate lost his partner very suddenly last year? That another has been with his wife for fifty years and writes musicals of his own? Another is returning to Los Angeles to pursue acting for a career, another is a well-respected cardiologist...it goes on.

It seems to me almost a crime to not know anything until it's too late for it to be meaningful. Even after I've learned these fascinating details, there's so little opportunity to make it into a conversation that it's safer not to bother.

Only on rare occasions does a friendship or relationship surpass the restrictions of a show. I'm dating someone I met through a show. Two close friends were in Oz with me. Another was in Godspell with me and suffered through Beauty and the Beast auditions with me two years ago. But other than that? Nothing real.

It's community theatre's blessing and curse. It's not a huge commitment to do a show three nights a week for eight weeks and on the ninth be kinda crazy and then be done with it all. But by the same token, three nights a week for eight weeks is no basis for a friendship. It's just not enough non-rehearsal interaction.

Job description: make it up as you go

Considering how long I went having few real job leads and fewer close calls, the last three weeks proved to be a very strange situation for me, as I ended up with two offers in only 10 days.

The short version is I'm now a working schmo.

After a very brief tenure at a Boston-based news repurposing and SEO agency (I won't call it a news agency), I joined Nine Technology, a startup disaster recovery firm in Middleboro. My official job title is "Marketing Associate", but in reality, I'm going to function as the social media go-to guy and factotum for content generation.

But that's kind of an interesting situation in and of itself; not really having a set list of duties, but kinda making it up as I go and just trying to be a brand evangelist. It's quite the opposite from the Boston company I was with for seven days, where I had a very specific set of goals each day. I had this many articles to write, I had this much sourcing to do, etc. Here, it's quite a bit more free-form: help us find ways to get the Nine Technology name out, help us create compelling content across all media, and help us make sure we're on top of social media strategies.

Although there's something to be said for the comfort and routine of having that specific duty roster, I do like not quite knowing what the day will bring when I get in the car on the way to work. It's much more exciting this way. Admittedly, I'm nervous about building a social media career when my background isn't in traditional marketing, but that may be a positive. I don't have an old-fashioned paradigm that I need to break out of in order to be effective. I just go with what makes sense, what would grab me and make me hang out on the site.

So hey. I'm 23 years old, I was unemployed for nine months, and now I'm working full-time in social media. Not a bad turnaround, huh?