(This is the third in a series of articles on social media basics, legal issues, online safety, and building a social media following for child actors and their parents. The first post in this series. deals with the basics of social media for actors — including why it’s an essential part of a beginning actor’s business — and the second post in the series deals with three social media legal issues you can’t overlook.)
Recently, a young actress who had worked with my grandson in several films graduated from high school and moved to Los Angeles to begin her professional career. She was very talented, but when it came to finding an agent or manager, she kept hearing the same thing: “If you don’t have at least 100,000 followers, you’re not ready to compete for roles in LA.”
Luckily, her parents were able to afford the services of a social media agency that specializes in building an online presence for its clients, and she built her social media footprint and landed both an agent and a manager in less than a year. For many of us, that’s a long time to go unrepresented while paying California rents and living costs.
Whether you plan on moving to LA or New York, or building your acting resume in a smaller city like Dallas, Austin, or Atlanta, it’s just good sense to build your social media profile over time instead of paying thousands of dollars for an agency to do it for you at the last minute. Here are the five essential steps for actors building a social media following.
Where to Start: The “Big Three”
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the “big three” social networks that agents, casting directors, and managers look at when it comes to evaluating an actor’s social media presence. So when you’re building your social media following, start with them. You can always add additional social media platforms later.
Instagram is the place to tell a visual story with photos or very short videos. Twitter is the place where actors can network with their peers and others in the industry. (DON’T immediately contact industry professionals you don’t know about hiring you. It’s social media — it’s a place to share, get acquainted, and build relationships. Sending personal messages to people you don’t know is equivalent to running up to a director in a restaurant and shoving a resume and business card into their hands, then running away. Don’t do it.) Facebook is where actors can engage with fans, friends, and peers over a long period of time — it’s the most searchable and timeless of the social media networks.
Step one is making sure that you own your online identity and your social media profiles can be found by anyone searching for you by name. This was covered in the first part of this series — if you haven’t read it, here’s a link. Avoid social media profile names like @therealdebmcalister, or @actressdebmcalister if you can. The celebrities you see using them often do so because they didn’t register their “real name” or “stage name” before someone else did.
Yes, you can get verified and let people know that the name you are using belongs to you, but until you are very famous (or become president of the U.S.), there will still be fans and potential business contacts who aren’t sure which of the “competing” social media profiles is the real you. So, if you can, make it easy for people to find you by using the name that’s on the resume you submit to casting directors.
Step two, once you’ve determined the name people are most likely to use when searching for you, is to determine what kind of account you are going to set up. On Twitter and Instagram, that’s fairly easy: all you do is create your account, fill in the form for your description, and upload the photos you want people to see when they view your profile.
On Facebook, you need to determine whether you are creating an individual profile or a fan page. Fan pages can have an unlimited number of followers. Facebook profiles can only have 5,000 friends. Your Facebook profile is where you discuss topics you’re interested in, post updates for friends (in the industry, or in “real life”), and for child and teen actors, a Facebook profile should always be private, and accessible only to trusted friends.
A Facebook fan page is where you promote your “brand” — that is, where you create the image and following that casting directors want to see. So that’s the one to focus on if your goal is to build the kind of following that can help your child or teen actor get hired.
Facebook limits each individual to a single profile. Your child actor’s Facebook profile is intended to be used for individual, non-commercial use. Facebook profiles must represent an individual person and be held under an individual name. Up to 5,000 people can “friend” a profile, and businesses or individuals can “follow” a profile. The difference is that friends see everything you post unless your post is set to “private”, while followers see only public updates in their news feed.
Children can’t get Facebook Profiles until they are 13, but you can set up a Fan Page for a child actor of any age by linking it to your profile. Once you do this, you can’t later link the page to your child’s profile, but you can give them administrative rights to manage their own page if you want to do so once they have a Facebook profile of their own.
Facebook Pages or Fan Pages look much like Profiles, but include analytics and other tools that help a business, brand, organization or celebrity connect with people who are interested in them. Profiles are managed by the profile owner, while Pages are managed by “admins” (administrators) who have profiles. Here’s one thing to understand: anyone can create a Page about your child or teen actor, and post content about them. Pages aren’t separate Facebook accounts; they’re “subpages” on the administrator’s account, and you may not know who the admin on a page is.
Facebook users can Like a Page, and liking that page allows them to see updates to the Page in their newsfeed. Admins can determine whether someone can post to a Page or not. Here’s a link to a good tutorial for actors on setting up a Facebook Page.
Find Your Affinity Groups to Build Your Following
Once you’ve set up your accounts using the name people are most likely to use when searching for you, the second step is to begin friending or following people in the industry. You belong to a number of “affinity groups” long before you start building your social media profile, and these groups of people with similar interests are where to start begin building your following.
What’s an affinity group? It’s people you already know, such as students in your child’s acting class, their acting teachers, and the videographer who films taped auditions for you. Don’t forget all the people you’ve met on sets.
The biggest affinity group is probably your child’s agent (the agency and individuals you work with) if they are represented. (If you don’t have one yet, get a list of the SAG-franchised agents in or close to your hometown, and follow their public Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter pages.) Following or friending an agent isn’t an excuse to start spamming them with pleas to represent your child. Virtually every agent has a page on their website that tells you how they want to be contacted by talent looking for representation — and I’ve yet to see one that says they want a slew of personal messages on Twitter or Facebook as the initial point of contact.
Don’t forget to friend/follow other actors represented by your agency. In your profile, you’ll list your child’s occupation as “Actor represented by (agency name)” or “Actress known for playing Harper in the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place.” That description tells those you follow or send friend requests to how you are connected to them (same agent, work for the same production company), and that makes them highly likely to friend or follow you back. If you reach out to these affinity groups, you can wind up with several hundred followers very quickly — and as their friends and followers see you on their friends list, or see you interacting with them on their newsfeed, they’ll start friending and following you, too.
After you’ve established your pages and profiles, and sent friend requests to your affinity groups, building your profile is a matter of creating content that people want to read – and interacting in a positive fashion with the friends and followers you have. It’s social media – if all you do is promote your own “brand”, you won’t get a lot of followers. So make sure to share your friend’s content, link to their profile pages, and comment positively on the news and links they publish.
And, of course, when someone within the industry follows or friends your child’s page, make sure you friend or follow them back. Note that there is no expectation that a celebrity will friend or follow someone who comments on their Page – but doing so every now and again can make someone’s day.
Create & Schedule Your Posts
The most common types of posts on an actor’s social media Profile or Page are:
- News about their acting career – roles, awards, honors, new head shots, and so on. Make sure you are allowed to post, and aren’t violating any contracts before you post.
- Industry news – public casting notices, events such as classes, workshops, seminars, or film premieres, and articles or videos on the business of acting.
- News about friends & projects – links to trailers and promos for projects you or a friend worked on, shared posts and information about your friends and followers.
- Public activities you’re involved with – charities and not-for-profits you want to promote, industry events such as a film festival or industry gathering.
- Responses to other people’s posts — it’s about building relationships after all! Make other people look good, and help them share their good news, and most of them will respond by helping you do the same.
Actors who have a blog, Facebook channel, or frequently updated website should definitely use social media to drive traffic to those sites. Piggyback your content so that one piece of content – such as a new headshot, or a screen capture of you in a new role with a link to news about the production you’re in – is shared through all of your social media channels. This not only creates traffic, it helps the search engines identify your content as valuable, and boosts your page rank.
If you rotate your posts between thesefive major categories, with approximately equal numbers of each type, you’ll keep your audience interested and engaged. Star Trek actor and political activist George Takei is one of the most successful actors on social media, with more than 2.5 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a huge mailing list who receive weekly email summaries of his posts. He has “only” a million followers on Instagram, because he added that social media channel several years after the others.
Takei manages to post controversial topics and opinions on his page without alienating followers and fans who disagree with him. How? By using humor and always keeping the dialogue polite and upbeat. Few people can match him when it comes to this kind of political post, and for beginning actors, I think it’s best to steer clear of politics and religion altogether – but if you do decide to take a position on these issues, you could do worse than to follow Takei’s writing style.
It’s important to remember that the reason you’re building a social media following for your child or teen actor is to encourage people to hire them. So keep your content positive, and avoid negative comments about anyone or anything.
Timing Matters – Schedule Your Posts for Maximum Reach
To be successful in social media marketing, you have to have three things:
- Interesting content that gives people value for their time.
- The ability to write interesting, attention grabbing short copy.
- A way to deliver your message at a time your audience is there to hear it.
To rephrase Ecclesiastes (and the Byrds), “To every purpose, there is a season…” – and for every social media post, there is an optimum time to post it. For many working professionals like the casting directors, agents, and industry “insiders” you want to reach, social media has become a kind of “adult homework” – something to pay attention to when they have time.
That means millions of people read Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram and other social media posts that aren’t directly related to our jobs early in the morning, after work, while eating lunch at our desk, or on the weekend.
Facebook posts can be scrolled through at any time. So you don’t want to clog someone’s newsfeed with four or five Facebook posts that are all posted when you have time to write them. A fairly large percentage of your friends or fans (about 35%, according to Facebook’s most recent algorithms) will eventually see your Facebook posts.
Takei estimates than only about 10% of his followers see any of his Facebook posts, so he sends out a weekly newsletter via email that includes links to all of the posts he’s made on Facebook during the week. This gives those who missed it the first time around a second chance to see the content, and also builds an email list he can use to market products (such as tickets to the Broadway play he produced last year), or raise money for a cause he believes in.