William Goldman in his must-read classic book Adventures in the Screen Trade (available@amazon), wrote that for everyone presently working on a movie, "that film is really about their next film." I like to to sum up that sentiment by saying "Every day is an audition day."
There are many parallels to starting out in social media (SM) with starting out in Film and TV.
Starting at the bottom in Television or Film means being a Production Assistant (better known as a PA). PA's are asked to set up lunch, block off shooting areas known as "lock downs", sleep in cars overnight so that nobody will park on the street where a production vehicle has to go the next day. Not the most glamorous job in the world. But just like the star of the movie, the producer, the set decorator, the PA's ultimate job is to get another PA job when their current job ends.
Of course the PA (also at the same time) must acquire enough skills and good fortune to become something else in the production world. So while it looks like anyone can do it, a good PA has to be excellent in their tasks at hand, thinking about getting their next PA job and, simultaneously, figuring out how to rise above being a PA.
Here are some ways that PA's and also Social Media newbies can get ahead:
- PA: Be early. Nothing says that you are ready for a 6:00 am call than by being there at 5:45.
SM: Get your posts out first thing Monday morning like Adam Singer does. While others play all weekend, he works and has a post that everyone tweets out on a slow first day of the week.
- PA: Be positive. Everyone knows you're at the bottom. But you can't help smiling. It's infectious.
SM: If someone gives you feedback, thank them and wish them well. People like to be associated with optimism.
- PA: Bring a pen, a pad, a sharpie and small knife - keep in your pocket. Producers and crew members are constantly opening things up and writing things down. Your job is to be a resource and to get to know said people.
SM: Inform people on Twitter by tweeting out helpful resources with whom you have absolutely no associations. On your blog, aggregate content like Seth Godin likes to do every now and then. Again your job is to be a resource. People will notice.
- PA: Pay attention. You learn by watching. Ask questions if you don't understand something, but not too many.
SM: Read bloggers who have a following like Darren Rowse, Maki, Skellie and new ones like Danny Brown and Tim Jahn. Ask a meaningful question on a comment page. They will write back because they started out as a beginner just like you. Don't abuse it. You don't want to be the stalker guy.
- PA: Don't let anyone see you eat. If you're constantly wandering off to the craft service table and stuffing donuts - what do you think that says about you. Yes, you will need to eat. But do it quickly and surreptitiously.
SM: Don't let them see you sweat. If you haven't written a post in a while, don't blog with a apology about how busy you are. Just pick up your old routine and keep to it.
- PA: Don't talk out of turn. Unfortunately the workings of a set are highly hierarchical. Whatever you do, don't (the smaller the set the more important this is) don't make a suggestion to anyone unless they have asked you.
SM: Be careful what you say in comment fields. If you have a strong comment to a post, back it up with facts or interesting analogies. A bad reputation travels fast especially with twitter around.
- PA: Don't bore people about your side DV projects. Today is a work day. If everyone goes out to the bar afterward, then there's an opportunity.
SM: Don't bore the twitter community with tweets about giving your dog a shampoo. Another big peeve: folks that tweet out lyrics that are playing on Pandora or the radio. OK, you like Lionel Ritchie - we get it.
- PA: Offer good ideas on your given tasks. If you have a way that is quicker, saves money, or makes clean up easier... by all means talk to your hiring producer.
SM: Again your job is to make other people's lives richer through stories, analogies, jokes, and information. Accomplish this and you will be Tweeted out immediately.
- PA: Being on set can be a waiting game. Don't do the crossword puzzle. Or do email, texting etc. If there is time to lean - there is time to clean. (You can tell I worked in a college cafeteria). Pick up stuff off the floor, tie up the garbage bag and put a new one in, wrap cable, sweep, place marks on the floor for actors and equipment if no one else is doing it, then, remember at night to clean up those marks.
SM: Don't obsess over your stats or how many subscribers you have or how many followers you have. Your focus should be creating exceptional content.
- PA: Offer to make a coffee run. You will get mad props for this.
SM: Find a funny video that no one knows about. Tweet it out.
- PA: If you break something, offer to pay for it - even partially. Things happen on a set. There is usually insurance but most producers want to see some sort of responsibility being claimed when things go awry. Sometimes the offer is the most important thing.
SM: Sometimes nothing seems to work. No one Re Tweets your Tweets. No one is seeing your best stuff on your blog. Do something different. Go deeper into a subject. Write a post that is contrary to what every one is saying. Ask for help.
- PA: Get everyone's email. You never know who on the crew will hear about the next job. By getting everyone's email you can blast them your contact info the next day and tell them what an honor it was to work with them.
SM: Send out a newsletter based on your blog posts. Paul Dunay does a nice one based on his blog. I met him once. His email newsletter came the next day. Give him your email one time and you'll see his newsletter forever.
- PA: Hand out your card at the end of the day. Make out a business card with your contact info and that you are a PA. But put your aspiration on there, too. Just to plant the seed. For instance: Production Assistant & Assistant Location Scout.
SM: LinkedIn is great for telling people who you are. It's also great for telling people what you wantto be. Chris Brogan shares this strategy here.
- PA: Hand out your card at the beginning of the day. No one on a set does this. It's a ballsy move, but if you're great that day it will be remembered. Think different and see how it goes.
SM: Write your very first post. Mention some bloggers that influenced you. Email it out to them with a nice note. Who knows, you might find a mentor.
- PA: The day after the job is done, check in with the person who hired you. Thank them for the work. Something tells me you will get called again.
SM: After a great blog post that gets lots of sneezes and tweets. Don't rest. That last post was about your next one. Make your next piece even better. Something tells me you'll start developing an audience that looks forward to what you have to offer.