This weekend the first ever SLC Comedy Festival took place. Two days of classes and events, with everything from stand up performances to creative writing classes to improv to this mornings marketing panel.
I was one of four to sit on the panel to discuss making a name for yourself or your brand using social media alongside Jenna Kim Jones (script PA for "The Daily Show with Jon Stweart"), Comedian Marcus (Last Comic Standing), and Paul Draper (comedic magician).
The panel was a little over an hour and consisted of Q &A and tidbits from the four of us. With the four of us having such different areas of expertise and an audience with diverse goals and reasons for attending, it's difficult to get in all you would have to say on the subject. In fact, I'm sure each of us could have had an hour each to discuss exactly how we got to where we are today. Past trials & tribulations, ongoing struggles and some of the fantastic things that happen when you do achieve success.
It was a lot of fun and very interesting to hear what each of these talented and hard working individuals had to say, and what the audience was wanting to learn.
I wanted to put all of what I've learned so far in a blog so that it's out there anytime anyone needs a reference, is curious or maybe needs a dose of inspiration.
Here you go:
I'm a professional actress, a social media personality and a model. My love first and foremost is acting. Theatre, to be even more specific. I knew I wanted to be an actor by the end of high school and I worked my way up just like anyone. School plays, community theatre, college productions, paying productions and professional productions. I eventually joined the union, Actors Equity and have been working professionally as an equity actor for a few years now. My training comes from NYC. I graduated from the Atlantic Theater Co. Acting School and also took courses through Juilliard and NYU's musical theatre program CAP21.
I started uploading to YouTube the end of '07 and became a partner in '08. I decided to start uploading for several reasons. I knew I could deliver a quality video because I was a performer. I could act, create characters and entertain. I knew that comedic videos were what most people will watch (and what will hold their attention) on YouTube. I also knew that not everyone would find me funny, but that didn't matter. I would do what I found funny and the people who did get it would enjoy it. I also was becoming aware of "internet celebrities" for the first time and I was so surprised to find out there was such a thing. How were people making names for themselves online? I figured if they could do it, so could I.
I worked many hours a day in the beginning trying to reach people on YouTube. I went to the channels of "big name" youtubers and started contacting the people who were watching them. I left comments on their pages introducing myself and telling them to come and watch my videos. Now, I later learned that this is called spamming, and not the ideal way you'd want to approach things. But in doing this I did start to spark some interest. I also figured if I wanted people to see my videos, I should do something in the beginning that people would have a chance of seeing. Chris Crocker's "Leave Britney Alone" was still being talked about so my first video was a spoof on his. I could put words in the YouTube tags that people would most likely be searching for. I would also most likely be coming up in related videos when someone was watching his, or various spoofs. I also became aware of a game that was going around on youtube where you made a "5 facts video". Five facts about yourself then you tag five people to do the same, and so on. This was a great way to start connecting with other people.
I also became aware of the fact that YouTube wasn't just a place to see cute kittens and people falling down. There was a community of what I found out later were YouTube Partners. It's both small and large at the same time. It was smaller when I started, so it was probably easier to "meet" each other online. But it's still doable. I found almost all of them to be reachable, helpful and they started to become friends. Also, I kept an eye out for any contests going on on YouTube. I made a video entry for one and that put my video in a position to be seen by anyone who knew about or was viewing the entries. I also spoofed fellow YouTubers. Sometimes to a negative outcome, but I was still putting myself in "related videos" and catching attention. I stopped the random "spamming" and really did start to build a fan base by communicating with those who were watching as well as watching the videos of those I wanted to get to know and commenting, messaging and supporting them.
I was starting to hear people say I should apply for the YouTube/Google partnership program. I had no idea there was such a thing. I asked around and realized that meant that if you were accepted, you could make money when you uploaded your videos to YouTube because ads would run on them. People clicking the ads earns you money per click. I applied and was accepted in March 2008. I know other people with great content and fanbases who were rejected, or who got accepted after several tries (I'm not sure if this is still the case but you used to be required to wait 3 months before applying a second time). I was lucky. They responded about a month after I applied telling me I was in.
Since then I've built up a larger following. I have had friends who were YouTube partners larger than me give me shout outs and that gave me new fans and subscribers. I've collaborated via video with multiple YouTube partners and personalities. I've met many of them. My first (and so far only) YouTube gathering was the NYC 7/8/09 Gathering. It was fantastic and I'd love to do it again. Timing is a factor for me, I stay pretty busy and it hasn't worked out for me to get to another one or to Vidcon yet. But if you have the time and can afford it, that's a great way to go and meet other people who are doing what you're doing, pick their brains and form friendships.
It's bananas. You get viewers coming up to ask for autographs or pose for pictures and they are so nervous they're literally shaking. I've also sent out autographed headshots to viewers (I feel weird saying fans) who have asked. You are in the public eye. You are entertaining them. They do look up to you and you are famous to them. I always say that I never set out to be a role model, meaning I don't want to feel censored in whatever I wanted to do online, but when I've inspired someone? That's the greatest compliment I could ever get.
With a larger following comes recognition for the original recurring characters I've created. Everyone has their favorite or ask for a new vid from them by name.
When creating your online persona, it's a luxury to be able to control (for the most part) what others see and interpret of you. Most who are watching think that is you. How you must act or behave at all times. They truly feel they know you. But they only see snippets. For me, I put out an amped up version of myself or a character. "Deena Marie" online is not who I am at home in real life with friends and family. It's only a part of a personality. None of us are only one thing, or one thing at all times.
Figure out what you want to be. Do you like to be an open book or retain a sense of mystery? Find out what you're comfortable sharing online. There is no right or wrong way.
It may also change as you develop yourself or brand through the years. You need to keep people interested and maybe you want to mix it up and surprise your audience.
A lot of us out there go by a professional name that may or may not be the name we are called by at all times. We also may or may not give various ages depending on the people, the job and the situation.
I use both a facebook fan page and a personal facebook face. My personal page maxed out (stupid facebook friend limit) fairly quickly so I made the fan page. I went through a period recently where I felt like I needed a bit more privacy. There are times when I'd like to share a little more of what is going on in my real life, be more intimate. I removed about half my contacts from my real page. But as it turns out, there was really no point. I kept getting requests and contacted for events and such that I decided I wasn't going to worry about making that page too personal. Instead, I decided to be a little more picky over who I accepted, and those who I didn't choose to accept could go to my fan page. My fan page typically has more action than my personal page anyway. http://www.facebook.com/TheDeenaShow
In the future, I'll make a top secret page that is truly personal and only very close friends and family will be allowed there. It's definitely worth it, to me, to have the two profiles so that you are able to receive messages to one. Facebook is being used more than email, at times. I've had many opportunities come from those who were able to private message me via facebook.
I've gotten a lot of local press over the years. At times it may seem I'm a regular fixture in our local press. I worked hard to spread the word about what I was doing online, as well as working pretty regularly in our local theatre scene and really get my name out there. I've had covers of IN and City Weekly as well as features in the SLC Trib and more. I've been named a Best of the Beehive for SLC Magazine as "The Comedienne", a City Weekly best of Utah in Media/politics and will be in this summer's SLC Best of the Beehive again in the local celebrity photo shoot. Why? It's all about keeping myself in the public eye. Networking!
Let's talk about networking. A lot of people think networking means always being on, always performing. Personally that can make me uncomfortable. And it exhausts me. I find that when I'm on a film set that's when I experience it most. A lot of actor types are always trying so hard to be funny, to entertain, like I said to be on. Other people who work in production in local businesses can also attest to this behavior at times. Like a performer just dropping by to "say hi" but staying to "perform" or "entertain". Some people it works for and god bless them. For me? Well it's not me at all. I've found that people have been time and time again impressed with how I presented myself in the opposite way. I am humble, I am friendly, I am laid back and professional. I'll tell you what you want to know if you ask me or if it comes up. But if I'm doing a job for you, I'm simply doing a job for you. I don't need to tell you to check out all the work I've ever done online and then bust out a character for you on the spot. Be real, make friends, impress upon a client or someone you want to work with your positivity and professionalism and do your job. Don't overstay a welcome, don't overshadow. Be accessible. I'm the perfect example of just being me in real life and not needing to be the "performing Deena Marie" when not performing in order to make a name for myself. I'm often far more interested in who people are outside of what they do. I figured there must be others who feel that way. And there are.
*It was pressed upon us time and time again in school to BE HUMBLE. I love it. Never apologize for your art, own what you do. But don't try to hard. No one likes a show off or braggart.
Also when networking, keep in mind that if you don't establish a personal connection but are randomly telling people to watch your videos (remember my spam story from the beginning) people are going to be frustrated with you. Nobody cares. People are busy. I have learned that knowing who and why I'm contacting is what it's all about. Compliment them! Show them you know their work. Offer them something in return. You want to work with a big name YouTuber or make a connection with another online personality? Tell them why it would benefit them to work with YOU. Offer a trade. Tell them you want to feature them in a video or a blog. Go to them with a creative idea. Spark their interest, make a friend. They'll be curious and take a look at your body of online work on their own, you weren't impersonal or annoying about it and THAT'S when the magic starts to happen.
Network within your own sites and give people a reason to visit your sites. Have strange or funny captions on your daily booth pictures, invite your facebook friends to tweet back and forth with you while watching the finale of a show or an awards ceremony on tv. It's a chance to show off your funny one liners and a chance to be personal with your followers. @DeenaMarie
Make a video to entice your viewers and then tell them the rest is in your blog (see what I did there?).
Social media is a blessing and a curse. You can do it from anywhere, you can meet and collaborate with people from all over the world. You can present yourself the way you want to present yourself. Tell people what you want them to know, and nothing more. But keep in mind you can't please everyone! Not everyone will like you and when someone comments and says something hurtful you can sometimes jokingly give them a zing back, or just ignore them. I've tried to explain myself when someone has said something less than ideal but it never seems to work. I don't have a positive story of when we "talked it out and saw eye to eye" so just ignore, block and even delete. You don't need to let that negativity in and you don't need to spend your time feeding into the negativity of others. There's plenty else to do.
Keep yourself separate from it. You have to have self preservation and determination. We're all human and of course harsh words and unasked for opinions and criticism will happen. But don't dwell on what you know isn't useful information to you or blatantly hurtful to you. Doesn't matter. Keep going. Also remember that to your viewers it's often NOT personal, therefore someone may feel that you are there just for them, for their entertainment. You're not a real person, just a character and maybe you didn't make them laugh this time. And unlike a TV show, they can comment to you with something negative rather than just changing the channel. I'll never quite understand why someone ever takes the time to write something negative to anyone online, it would never cross my mind. I would just not watch but whatcha gonna do? ;)
You may also run into some scary (but manageable) situations with people accessing too much info about you online. Look into removing home addresses and phone numbers from sites that have made them available.
Think of your online life as a ongoing audition. Create the body of work, or stock, for yourself that you're proud to show off and have ready at the drop of a hat to link someone too. Keep your reels (headshots, resumes and portfolios) updated as much as you possibly can. Create the work that shows off you. Take inspiration from others who paved the way before you but don't get caught up in trying to emulate them. Use a few tricks they show you but be you. You'll find over time the parts of your personality that are most accessible and easy to share. Show your humor, your life, don't be what you're not. Anyone is interesting when showing who they specifically are or what they can specifically do, because nobody else in this world can be you. People will watch, I promise. Know your strengths and your weaknesses and be honest about it.
I like to run my online life part promoting what I've got going on, funny things that happen through the day, and snippets of what might go on in my real life. I have found that a key to get people involved in your social media is to appear busy, positive, friendly and accessible. You do want to get to know some of your viewers by name, build some relationships, interact. Ask questions, make a poll as your facebook status. Involve them. Let them know you're appreciative of the support they give you.
It's a fine line, knowing how much or how little to post via facebook and twitter. You really do have to experiment and find your personal niche over time and what works for you.
Learn as much as you can about what you're doing. If you are uploading to YouTube, learn the basics of a camera and editing. I edit almost everything I do. I was once a girl who didn't even know what Myspace was. I've come a long, long way. If I can don it, you can too.
Choose your online name wisely. My main YouTube channel is BeanerLaRue. It's because my nickname, since I was little, was Bean. Bean was of course taken. A friend years ago called me Beaner LaRue and spur of the moment, I went with that. Of course I was hoping and had great faith my online life would take off, but it wasn't until much later I was bummed I didn't just use my name. Or perhaps a show title. Which is why my channel banners (yes, I know have two partnered channels) are titled: The Deena Show: Woman of 1,000 faces.
Update your viewers all about what you are doing, not what you aren't doing. Smoke and mirrors. Make yourself sound cooler than you are, but without being a jerk of course. People will keep coming back if you're clever, fun, good natured, funny even sarcastic but err on the lighthearted side. Nobody wants to interact with a Debbie Downer.
My online life has led to all kinds of opportunities with outside companies hiring me. They pay well and I create a video for them that is funny, clever and promotes their product. It also led to being a Ford Fiesta Agent a couple years ago. This meant that I got to test drive a fiesta for six months. Gas and insurance paid by them, a trip out to training and instructions from a pro race car driver. All I had to do was go on a monthly ford mission, involve the car & upload that to YouTube. They even provided what was needed for the mission.
I've been featured on G4TV's Attack of the Show as one of the hottest women on the web as well as many celeb blogs and vlogs.
My musical twilight parodies have been the most popular and they've spread like wildfire on the internet. One was even played on MTV's, "It's on with Alexa Chung". You never know who is going to see you.
This is my third year of making a weekly video for our local City Weekly webiste. I've been presented with so many opportunities and jobs I never would have known about otherwise. It's paid to put myself out there. One thing leads to another and you find more and more how small our world is. Seriously.
Remember that you are your product. If you want to get yourself known, have the skills to back it up. So work hard, practice, be and look like who you want to be and what you want to represent. I think both quality AND quantity are important, but the emphasis has to go on quality. Spend time and put all you can into creating your art, whatever it may be. Be it vlogs, blogs, comedy, acting, writing, etc. It doesn't matter. You need to get experience, do it as much as humanely possible, create any opportunities and relationships you can. Be an entrepreneur.
There are two schools of thought on pursuing an "unconventional career". One will tell you to have a backup plan. The other will tell you not to have a backup because you'll ultimately fall back on it. Keep in the back of your mind whatever one rings true for you. I found my mix. For me it was ultimately not putting all of my eggs in one basket, but staying WITHIN the performing vein. Theatre, film work (through my agency), my own YouTube creations and modeling. In "real life" I do a lot of straight plays and usually dramas. In my online life, sketch comedy. And I've taken on a lot in between. I wanted to be versatile, a jack of many trades.
*A quick aside about agents. I am always surprised when people say they don't want representation (to be signed with an agent). Having an agent is invaluable even in our smaller scale city. Simply because they'll send you on auditions you would not have known about otherwise. More auditioning, more people to meet, more opportunity, more potential money to make. Be careful when choosing your agents here. A few are great, a few are...not. Never pay them money up front, or to sign. Ever. EVER. If they're legit and doing their job they'll contact you when an audition is right for you. They will not tell you to remind them you are a client and check in. They will not make you pay for pictures or classes.
It was brought up today that sometimes it's a matter of just hanging in there. In this business you'll have your ups and downs, I don't care how successful you are. Some days you'll feel like the luckiest person in the world, other times you will need a break from it all and feel drained. But keep on. Just do it. You'll be surprised by people who "drop out", move away, change career paths or lose interest. Honestly surprised. Don't wait for this, do your thing, but this will happen.
Pay was also brought up. I will never discuss money or actual figures or paychecks, I feel that is private. But people did have questions regarding what performers could be paid, and understandably so. There was talk of negotiating contracts. Now, in the case of YouTube if a company approaches me to hire me to make something for them, they will either tell me what they are paying or ask what my rates are. You can negotiate if need be and be prepared to do so. Experience with being hired for these kinds of jobs will give you knowledge in what is ballpark to expect. I was burned by a business only once and when I was approached again (by a different company) I did ask for half pay up front. If you do this, be very prompt with your end of the bargain. If we're talking acting (and I'm speaking locally only) your agents will 99.9% have the details for you at the time they ask if you can make the audition and will let you what the rate is if you book the job. If you are talking theatre, 99.9% of the time you'll see the pay when filling out your audition form so you will generally know what you're getting yourself into.
Last but not least, don't have a big ego. I don't care if you have 10 YouTube subscribers or 1 million. We're all doing the exact same thing on different levels. Be patient when you see someone making the amateur mistakes you once made. Give them a bit of advice if you can and be nice. You never know who the next big thing is gonna be, who you're going to inspire or who will be able to help you.
I myself still have a long way to go. That's the great thing about this biz. You're never "done". This is just where I am and what I've learned so far.
Recently I've read something that really inspired me and I promise it will do the same for you,
"How to Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon. http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/
He's also one of my favorite twitters to follow. Follow him & tell him I sent you! :) @austinkleon
I'm sure I left a million things out, so if you have any questions please leave them in the comments below and I'm happy to respond!
Also, keep in mind that these are my feelings and experiences and yours will vary. ;)
For a list of all of my links to my various pages, visit my website http://www.deenamarie.biz
Thanks for reading & supporting!