A Chicago native, Puja Mohindra is an actor & writer who lives, plays, & does the actor hustle in Los Angeles. A recent graduate of the MFA Acting program at A.C.T., she was last seen recurring on the CBS dramatic series, “Three Rivers.” On screen, you can catch her next in the comedy “I’m Not Like That No More,” starring Paul Rodriguez. On stage, she’ll next be performing as part of the New Short Fiction Series on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. For more details, check out: www.newshortfictionseries.com. Puja is also a writer and is in the middle of writing her first screenplay. Aside from acting, she has a passion for politics, community activism, beach side bike rides, and–most recently– changing the world one tweet at a time. Follow her at @pujamohindra, where continues to post actor tips and musings on life, acting, and how to stay inspired & have fun along the way.
As actors, we spend years training our mind, body, voice, heart, and emotional range in order to be sharp, flexible, and accessible on stage and screen.
Needless to say, none of this training involves a computer!
But proficiency with technology (and specifically social networking sites) has fast become a requirement in the skill set of the professional actor. Facebook and Twitter are now integral industry tools for marketing, networking, & business development.
How do you make social networking work for the development of your business & career as an actor? What are some effective dos & cautionary don’ts? While there are no hard and fast rules, I’ve developed a set of guidelines that have ultimately helped me book work, improve my representation and stay connected to other artists. These tips don’t require being an expert in technology, but they do require some judgment, consistency, and entrepreneurship.
Consider applying some of these tips to your own actor hustle and invite technology to open more doors for your talent.
Get Your Industry News. Follow the trades on Twitter or join fan pages & groups on Facebook for trade publications such as Variety, Hollywood Reporter, IMDB, as well key industry players that are important to you & your career (your favorite directors, producers, & even your own representation).
Twitter is especially great for this, as the word limit sets up the site so you get headlines & the link to the story if you want to read more. A quick scan of the headlines takes just a few minutes, but will quickly give you the day’s (or moment’s) news, as well as people’s reactions to industry news.
Follow up. So you’re following @Castingabout on Twitter for the latest in casting news. They announce that “Liz Shoai is the new casting associate for Tracy Lilienfield.” Great! Now what do you with the news? Follow up! Send Liz a postcard at her new office congratulating her on the move, along with some of your recent news.
Or you get a tweet from Variety that a director you worked with years ago doing off-off-Broadway theater in NYC is now executive producing a new pilot for ABC. Great news! Follow up by telling your agent about the past project and your working relationship to help get you in for an audition. Or perhaps send a Facebook message to the director re-connecting and even expressing interest in in the project.
Keeping up with news is important, but take your marketing & business development a step further, by taking action with the news you get.
Announce Performances & TV/Film Appearances. This seems so obvious, but so many actors don’t tell people when they’re going to be on stage or screen. Every time I see someone I know on TV who has my email or is a friend on Facebook, I wonder why they didn’t “announce” that they were going to be on.
“I’m bad at promoting myself,” “My part was really small,” “The play’s not that good,” “I’ll tell people when I have something bigger.” This is what I often hear as to why an actor didn’t market their work.
My response is: Who cares if you were the waitress with a 3 lines on “NCIS” !!! Maybe someone catches the appearance & decides from that quick scene that you have just the right look & feel for his or her feature film with the lead character of—yes, a waitress!!! Crazier things have happened in this town.
Furthermore, my manager, Joan Sittenfield often says: “Your work is only as good as the people who see it.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that and would have shy actors consider this the next time they doubt their work deserves an audience.
Whether it’s through a tweet, Facebook status update, or an event invitation on Facebook, it’s fast, easy, and cheap to tell people what you’re up to & simply share your successes with your friends & followers.
Keep in touch with collaborators, mentors, fans & friends. One of the best ways to keep working is to keep in touch with people who have hired you in the past or other actors you’ve worked with on other projects. Seems like a no-brainer, but with so much to do, many actors put their focus on quantity rather than quality when it comes to relationships. Strengthen the relationships you have by keeping in touch about your work, as well as supporting the work of other artists & collaborators in your own online community.
Seek guidance & advice. Need a headshot photographer? Looking for a director for your next project? Looking for a great place to take class? Why not post it on Facebook or Twitter? Again, these two sites are online communities & modern-day “water coolers.” There’s so much to learn from the other people in the community, so why not take advantage it?
Furthermore, these sites give you the opportunity to go straight the source. What I mean by this is if you have a question about the theatrical world, why not ask @agentadvice, who’s a theatrical agent on Twitter & a resource to actors. He/she’s constantly posting valuable advice for actors on his/her Twitter profile.
People on Twitter have volunteered to make themselves accessible to the world. So, if you’ve got a question or need some help, these sites are full of knowledge people who have an answer for you.
Be a fan. Build Relationships with people you want to get to know & work with by connecting online. Did you recently see a great indie film at a film festival that you loved? Why not Facebook the director & send them your praise? Mention your favorite scene or what you loved about the film. Introduce yourself. And if you would love to work with them–don’t be shy! Say it! It’s as simple as saying, “I saw “Divided We Fall” at the LA Film Festival. Loved it. I’m an actor in LA and would love collaborate with you in the future. Let’s keep in touch.” Honest, sincere, & simple!
Post your materials. I know friends who’ve been called in to audition for network TV shows through Facebook. Sometimes, it’s because it’s a last-minute call over the weekend. Sometimes, it’s because the CD knows you. Or maybe your representation changed, and it’s easier to just contact you directly.
I also know of an actor who booked a job on an HBO pilot after one of the producers saw one of her sketch comedy videos on Facebook.
Post your professional materials, including your reel, links to work, headshots, link to your website, & a link to your IMDB profile. I’ve seen people include videos of commercials they’ve done, sketch comedy videos, stand-up, production photos on set & stage, and even photos of people in full costume waiting in their trailers or backstage. All of this makes it easy for a CD, producer or director to just click, see your work, & call you in . Better yet—they can make you a straight offer.
Add value. Facebook & Twitter are online communities of sorts….so, get involved, contribute, & participate! Give people a reason to want to follow you. Give people a reason to want to get to know you & your work. Do you always post the funniest videos? Are you known for top-notch movie recommendations? On Twitter, I follow Mindy Kaling because she makes me laugh. I follow Tony Robbins & The Dalai Lama because they inspire me. I follow Bonnie Gillespie, Brains of Minvera, & Dallas Travers for great actor tips. What do people follow you for?
You may be thinking, “Well, I’m not sure I have something to offer’.”….Not true! The easiest way to contribute is to post recommendations & referrals. “Just shot with the awesome headshot photographer Dana Patrick! Love her work!” “Found the best restaurant for sushi in the Valley—you must try XYZ Sushi!”
Or simply contribute & add value about what you know about most – acting!!
“Just saw a brilliant performance at the Odyssey Theater! Check it out for some great performance!”
“Jeff Greenberg’s casting workshops are so insightful! Definitely worth the time & money!”
“Sent in my photo to Linda Lowy, & she called me in the next day!”
These quick tweets or status updates offer generous feedback & info for other actors, giving them a reason to follow you, get to know you & learn from your own experiences, & as well as support your own work.
Remember it’s public. Not everyone wants to use their Facebook page or Twitter for professional purposes. Completely understandable. But if you do choose to use it as a professional tool to market yourself, then keep it professional. Post photos & video wisely. Anything you post to your profile or Twitter page, should be something you’d be OK with a potential employer seeing….meaning maybe what happened in Vegas, should stay in Vegas—and off your Facebook page. ‘Nuff said. Furthermore, consider the info you offer about your background. Listing your age, race, marital status, graduation dates, political affiliations, etc. all provide information that will either inform or limit your castability, depending on the situation. Consider how much and what personal information you want to share.
Use your stage name. Again, if you want to use Facebook & Twitter as a marketing tool, people need to be able to find you & recognize you by your stage name. I know more than a couple actors whose stage names are different from their names on Facebook. Yes, this is great if you want to use Facebook strictly with friends & family who know & love you as “Pujee” instead of Puja Mohindra. But, if for any reason, a producer who met you an industry event & didn’t get your card wants to quickly find you on Facebook…..well, you just won’t be found.
Use a of picture of yourself in your profile. Your profile pic doesn’t have to be a professional headshot, but it should be recognizable photo of you–as opposed to a picture of your dog or an artistic shot of Santa Monica beach that you took. Especially if your name is a common one and you don’t want to be confused with the other Liz Lemmons of the world. So many times when you meet people at auditions, industry events, parties, or especially while working on set, it’s easy to say, “Facebook me.” Having your picture up makes it easy & convenient for to find you.
Build up a fan base. Yes, you have fans! Whether you’re just starting out, you’re a star-on-the-rise, or you’re an A-list Oscar winner, at any and every stage in your career, you have fans—even if it’s just your Mom & Pops! The people who support you, come to your shows, loved working with you on that indie that went to Sundance, or read about your work in your hometown newspapers, they’re part of the club and may include people you know or people you don’t.
For fan-building purposes, Twitter is awesome. If people are following you on Twitter, they are already interested in you & your work. Look at this group of people as your “fans” & your “audience,” and communicate accordingly, whether it’s thanking them for tuning into your episode of “CSI: Miami” or giving them a heads up that your recent film is coming to town on the festival circuit….The people who follow you have volunteered & want to get news & updates from you, so do just that, do it consistently, and watch your followers & fan base grow and grow.
Use your judgment, especially when contacting people you don’t have a relationship with. Twitter seems to be more geared towards connecting with people you don’t know but want to build a relationship with. But I wouldn’t recommend befriending people you don’t know on Facebook. This leads us to:
Distinguish between sending a message and becoming a friend.Most people I know only want to be friends with people they’ve actually met & have a friendship or at least an acquaintance-ship with. However, If you do “add” someone you don’t know or haven’t met as your friend, be sure to include a personal message as to how you know them or why you would like to keep in touch. Or if you need to communicate with someone you’ve never met—say a casting director or producer or director—consider sending them a message, rather than adding them as a friend. They may not want to have a “committed friendship” with you on Facebook, but a message is a non-committal way to receive the communication without having to consistently receive your status updates & photos.
“But, I see that April Webster is friends with John Doe actor on Facebook,” you may say. Yes, there are CDs who have friends who are actors, but in most cases, these CDs have a relationship with that actor or have hired them or even know them so well, they are actually, indeed, “real” friends who stay in touch.
Furthermore, consider the nature & frequency of your communication—especially with industry you don’t know. If you’re going to communicate with industry that you don’t have a relationship with, make it short & keep the message about the work (i.e. going to be on “How I Met Your Mother” next week!”) Again, use your judgment, be conscientious, & respect people’s boundaries.
Have fun, be generous, and showcase your personality. I love when following someone on Twitter or getting status updates on Facebook give me a better sense of who that person is. Whether it’s the tone they write with, the video or photos they post, the articles they share, their opinions & observations, these people are generous with themselves. By following them or friending them, I’ve gotten to know them better….their sense of humor, their interests, their causes, their point of view, & their personality. I can tell you who’s smart, who’s political, who’s spiritual, who’s quirky, who’s sentimental, who’s a travel junkie, a foodie, a movie expert, etc. You can be professional & still have fun & personality. And, you should!
Avoid “Bitter Actor Syndrome.” I first heard of “Bitter Actor Syndrome” through casting director Bonnie Gillespie whose weekly columns are featured on Showfax.com. The term seems to capture a mental trap that some actors can easily fall into:
So, you’re posting away on Facebook and Twitter, and so are your actor friends. You get a status update from one of your actor friends that reads: “Just booked a Guest Star on Grey’s Anatomy. So excited!”…… For many actors, it’s easy to start feeling depressed, bitter, & down on when your friends are working on something exciting, and you’re well….not. Or at least, you’re not in that moment when you get the tweet, update, or message. Take care of your minds & hearts, people. Let other actors’ good news serve as inspiration and avoid feelings of bitterness, jealousy, and insecurity to that can quickly clog your mind & affect your creative energy. As my good actor friend, Jamila Webb says, “Stay positive.”
Don’t Mouth Off. Be conscious of your criticisms. This goes back to the fact that Facebook and Twitter are public. Tweets can be forwarded to countless other strangers without your control in a quick instant of one click. So before you write “Tonight’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy was so boring!” or “XYZ Casting office is so disorganized & rude,’ think twice. Shonda Rhimes & XYZ Casting just might be reading your tweets.
“Well, Shonda Rhimes & XYZ are not following me!?!” you might respond. That may be true, but you don’t need to follow someone to view their tweets. Either someone who follows you may retweet your tweet to their followers—which may include XYZ casting & Shonda Rhimes. Or XYZ Casting or Shonda Rhimes may come across your profile & view your tweets only to find your criticisms. You’ll never know, but I can tell you one thing: you may not be going back to XYZ Casting anytime soon!
Don’t waste time. Easy to say, hard to do. As valuable as they may be for marketing yourself, these sites can also be the biggest timesucks ever. Time is perhaps our most valuable commodity as actors & business people. Be careful of wasting it with nothing to show for the investment.
I’m still figuring out a system to monitor myself, but what helps me is avoiding the applications for games and “giving out hugs” & the quizzes like, “Which Hollywood icon are you?” And though I may make frequent visits to these sites in a day, I keep each visit short. I’ll usually go on Facebook once a day to “surf” and “see what’s going on” and hear what people are talking about. I keep this to 10 minutes. After that, I only go to specifically communicate to particular individuals for a particular reason.
I still fall into the trap of wasting time here and there, but better to have a system that none at all. I recommend experimenting with finding a system that works for you that’s effective & tweaking it as you go long.
Don’t drink and Friend. What I mean by this is don’t “add friends” recklessly. Consider and define friendship for you & respect other people’s boundaries for friendship. As I mentioned before, I wouldn’t recommend “friending” people you haven’t met. No one’s saying don’t message them or communicate with them. But adding someone as your friend is kinda a stretch and seems creepy if you haven’t met them before. And if you really want to be in touch with 100s or thousands of people you don’t know, then get on Twitter. It’s much more conducive to having & keeping in touch with a large “circle of friends.”
Don’t publicize details on deals. I was shocked when one of my agents recently sent out a letter to all clients to not post details on bookings & deals on social networking sites. Seems like a given, but I guess not for some actors. These particular clients listed details on deals, contracts, & compensation much to the annoyance & anger of ad agencies, casting directors, producers, & their own representation. And, in some cases, these actors have lost the job as a result. Deals, contracts, and compensation should be confidential between you and your agent.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg as to how to build relationships and promote your work through Twitter & Facebook. Ultimately, social networking etiquette is the same as live, in-person etiquette and simply comes down to being respectful, conscientious, sincere, & professional. If you wouldn’t behave in a particular way in person meeting an casting director, produce, director, or fellow actor, it probably isn’t something you want to do online. And, more importantly, as my friend writer/director, Bill Swadley says, “Online is forever.” It’s writing in permanent marker, so when in doubt, let that serve as a handy compass as you surf the social networking waters.
And here’s my list of who I like to follow on Twitter, in no particular order:
@Castingabout — www.castingabout.com, resource for casting director assignments & addresses
@ActorsAccess — www.actorsaccess.com, aka Breakdown Services
@DallasTravers — author, creative career coach, & actors’ advocate, Dallas Travers, www.dallastravers.com.
@BonnieGillespie — casting director, Bonnie Gillespie, www.cricketfeet.com
@Variety — www.variety.com
@BrainsofMinerva — You’re reading it!
@SundanceFest — Sundance Film Festival news & updates
@LATimesEnt — LA Time Entertainment section news & updates
@ScreenActors — SAG — www.sag.com
@Commeagent — Mark Measures, commercial agent for Abrams Artist Agency
@agentadvice – an anonymous LA-based theatrical agent’s advice & actor tips
@Shondarhimes, Exec. producer & Creator “Grey’s Anatomy” & “Private Practice”
@Oprah — media mogul & international inspiration, Oprah
@TonyRobbins, self-help guru, Tony Robbins
@Variety_TV — Variety, specifically TV-related trade news
@BitterActor — An anonymous established actor’s unique & brutally honest observations on the biz
@TalentAgentLA, anonymous LA talent agent’s actor tips & advice
@GaMarsh, Gary Marsh, founder of Breakdown services
@NYTimes, The New York Times
@JackPlotnick, actor & acting coach, Jack Plotnick, www.jackplotnick.com
Who do you like to follow? And what are your dos and don’ts? Post a comment & let’s add to the list!