The Guardian had this article this week, saying experts fear social networking is actually isolating us from real life. Of course, if you're ignoring your friends, spouse, children and job just so you can go on Twitter or Facebook solely to say you're making a cup of tea or to play bouncing balls, then they're probably right.
But like anything, this issue depends on context: HOW you use it and WHAT FOR. It's hard to argue the fact that people working from home - like writers, but indeed *anyone* - are actually MORE connected by social media. For one thing, it has become our "water cooler": we can gain moral support and communication with others that just was not possible a few short years ago, thus the we are LESS isolated on a personal/professional level.
Similarly, social media has opened up so many other avenues to our potential audiences and readers. It's no longer a question of *just* (!) writing your script or novel and sending it off to an agent, prodco or contest and crossing your fingers, or doing real-life networking (which is not always possible for all). The DIY route in all things writing and filmmaking related has EXPLODED, especially in the last two or three years, as I outlined in this post just last week.
First things first: no one is an absolute authority on social media and how it works, least of all me. This stuff has been around for only a few short years, which means we're all feeling our way on this. However, I think there are simple things we can think about in order to build our online personas and bring as many people "in" on our journeys as possible:
Branding is important. I was unemployed for few weeks after university, so when I first started thinking about creating my own work via the script reading, I Googled my own name. I discovered, despite the fact I had written several corporate gigs and contributed to a bunch of magazines (not to mention participated in various teacher training web initiatives), I was on the SEVENTH page. The majority of pages were dedicated to a long dead Countess of Carlisle and her family tree, also called Lucy Hay. I also discovered the poetry of another Lucy Hay who appeared to think she was Wordsworth way ahead of me in the rankings, too. This was a big problem. How could I "bump up" my ranking? The answer seemed obvious at first: I should change my name! So I went through my baby name books, trying to find the most interesting, Google-able name I could. No good. So back to the drawing board... and then it struck me. It was the BUSINESS that needed a name, then people could search for THAT, instead of "script reading" that turned up literally millions of results. I must have gone through half a dozen crappy pun-based names before settling on Bang2write, which I remain the only one. That's what's important - not whether it's the most witty, the best, the most original. Search "Bang2write" and you get ME and ALL my various sites. End of.
Blogs need a specific focus. I told a colleague roughly five or six years ago I was thinking of starting a blog. There weren't that many blogs around at that time (in comparison to now, anyway) and yet his response was still, "How many diaries of frustrated writers do we need?" This struck a real chord with me and made me think very carefully of how I wanted to present my blog to www.land (as I called it in those days, for those who've been "with" me since the beginning!). I decided I would make the blog *about* my business Bang2write, not least because I didn't actually want to end up writing the same *sort* of things in writers' script notes, over and over again. Instead, I felt it better to refer writers to posts ABOUT the issue they were having in their scripts, so I could "free up space" to really concentrate on the specifics of the issue, knowing clients had the "back up" of the background info on the blog. This seems to work really well and had the added side effect of getting me more and more readers far and wide, when I had assumed at first waaay back my real audience would be just those using Bang2write.
Blogs & sites should have an interactive element. Long before I started engaging with Bang2writers on the likes of Twitter and Facebook, I knew there had to be some kind of chat from me, rather than appear as the "mysterious admin from afar". As a result, I attempted to reply to most - if not all - blog comments and in its early years blog posts had many, many, comments and there were some interesting, vibrant and sometimes heated discussions. In addition, I was always happy to answer commenters' questions as actual posts, though typically I would wait for two or three people to ask the same thing OR observe if it's come up in script notes recently several times (I still do this). As the internet world changed, comments disappeared over to the likes of Twitter and Facebook and the blog now depends on these users for suggestions and questions to bring content back over here, which I'm happy to still oblige on. I'm also very happy to print Bang2writers' own posts on this blog or ask for others going to various courses, seminars, etc to provide notes for us all if I can't make it. View all the guest posts so far here. Similarly, Bang2writers often send me links which I'm happy to post on Twitter and Facebook.
Interacting is important, full stop. Talking to your contacts, friends, followers and fans is a must. Simply trying to sell them your product 24/7 just does not cut it. However, if they like YOU, then they're more likely to buy/buy into what you have to sell or promote - they go from being "people on your page" to ALLIES, who will in turn help you promote your product or yourself. In the best case scenarios, they become collaborators, colleagues and even real life friends. What's not to like there?
Cross promotion is great. We're all trying to do the same here - GET NOTICED. So why not bandy together with others? I'm not saying get together with *just anyone* - find people with a similar ethos, goals or whose work you admire. On this basis then, read the formidable and unstoppable Chris Jones' article about the social networking site Linked In today!
Decide what you comment on. We hear a lot of warnings about procrastination and losing whole days of productivity to social media. I would recommend, when using Twitter or Facebook, someone needs to decide *what* they're willing to comment on and what they will tend to stay out of IN ADVANCE, especially those things not screenwriting-related. For instance, I will comment on feminism and education freely because they form part of my belief system and whilst I'm interested in what others have to say (and would never gag anyone), I'm fairly unshakable about what I think on these two issues. In comparison then, I *tend* to stay away from religion, news and politics in general or trend topics (beyond tag games like making up fake movie names). The reason for this is no great shakes, just very simple: I don't have a lot of time, I don't want to get sucked into - even very interesting! - conversations about religion, news and politics that *could* take over my day. Better I leave conversations then about religion, politics and news to "real life", then.
Decide what part/s of your life is okay for others to discuss with you. Levels of propriety are important in social media. I decided early on when I only had the blog, it was okay to talk about my family. This meant it was a natural leap from there to Twitter and Facebook to talk about them there, too. I tend not to use their real names (though I'm more relaxed with real life friends, even on social media), but I'm proud of them and want to be able to chat about them, it felt like self censorship not to. However I completely understand that others don't want their families mentioned EVER, for whatever reason. Similarly, others don't like their day job mentioned; the fact they're Christians or Muslims or atheists or indeed other things they don't want people privy to. For the record, I always kill specific talk of spec scripts dead - ie. someone asks me what I thought of X's script, because they heard I had read it too? I always respond that Bang2write treats all scripts with confidence - not just for that client, but also for me too as some (especially through prodcos) have NDAs attached. Similarly, if you EVER see me on a social networking site saying a particular script is doing my head in, know that it is a BLIND READ (ie. via an initiative or prodco), it is NOT a Bang2writer's.
Multiple posting is not only okay, it's DESIRABLE. Sometimes I get chastised for multiple posting. "I saw that link on Twitter, Bang2writers and The LSF page" someone might say. And my response is, "So?" I make no apologies for multiple posts - and nor do I apologise for tagging like-minded groups and pages in my own FB posts or adding the #scriptchat label. The whole point of social media is to DISSEMINATE your message - whatever it is - to as wide an audience as possible. Being afraid others MIGHT have seen it already is self-defeating, especially when there's a very strong chance people MIGHT NOT have seen it, when Twitter and FB streams update so quickly in particular. Those who get annoyed about multiple posts will unfollow you ANYWAY for another reason. I've been invited to many, many pages and groups that "promise NOT to bombard me with updates"! The response from me then, is: what is the POINT of this FB page or group?
Make it known what your online persona is. For me, it's all about the ALTERNATIVE VIEW. You're generally not going to get me extolling the virtues of those most celebrated AREADY, such as James Cameron or Christopher Nolan or whoever. I have NOTHING against anyone who likes these guys (though I might get a sneaky tongue-in-cheek jibe in, just. can't. stop. myself! Hey - it's part of my online persona!). As far as I'm concerned though, "variety is the spice of life". I just wish there was MORE variety and I will argue to the cows come home about WHY there should and WHERE there has been inequality, especially when it comes to female roles on the silver screen. I am also keen to point out HOW there have been good ones, as I'm only too aware of only ever talking about the BAD things, there have of course been GOOD things too.
Disagreeing is fine - and desirable.The above is what Bang2writers on Facebook is mostly about. And why shouldn't it be? It's my page. But crucially, if you want to join and disagree with me or other Bang2writers, then please do. However, complaining because you find yourself in the minority over something - wherever you are - is poor show. As writers, we should know it's all about INTERPRETATIONS anyway, there are no ABSOLUTES; these are stories and ways of looking at the world we're dealing with, NOT facts. We all have things we think that others disagree with: I don't know if I've found a single other person IN THE WORLD who agrees absolutely with my own interpretation regarding Ripley in Aliens, for example... She seems universally loved by everyone - except me! But so what? I have no more right to insist my view is *the one*, any more than someone can say to me, "Well everybody else thinks this, so you must be wrong." There's room for everyone.
Remember this is remote communication. Sometimes we read a comment or post somewhere and believe we know its meaning 100% and there is no alternative. Other times we imagine we *know* that person's entire life philosophy and experience intimately simply because they've written a lot online. Neither of these things are actually possible, particularly when our own experiences, opinions and thoughts can create semantic noise and affect the communication transaction. It's very easy to call people out for their own opinions or posts (especially from the comforting safety of the "anonymous" tag or the non-blogger's lair from afar via an obscure pseudonym), but this doesn't mean we actually should without due care. Whilst it's always possible one's intentions are not picked up online - this works both ways. Attacking someone on social media with various labels like "racist", "sexist" or whatever without asking them to CLARIFY their meaning in some way is not only childish, it's actually very poor advertising for yourself, directly affecting the potential branding I mentioned earlier. Of course, there's any number of alternatives one can undertake to pursue the "true" meaning of posts: asking people directly what they mean, humour, wit, mock outrage and well-placed anecdotes illustrating the opposite side of a topic can all do the trick and further the conversation without creating undue conflict.
ON THIS BLOG BEFORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA:
A Twit's Guide To Twitter
Character Types on Twitter
Life's What You Make It (Or How Mr C Prevented Me From Deleting This Blog)