Facebook is my friend, except…

A couple months ago, I wrote a column on using the social networking tool Facebook to promote your artistic practice. I myself use Facebook quite often to promote plays I am doing publicity for. One of my current clients, Metamorphoses, is no exception. They are a brand-new company, and don’t yet have a website, so we are using our Facebook event page as a kind of website, with links, photos, etc.

The play (which, by the way, I think is going to be fantastic), is a modern retelling of 10 of Ovid’s Myths. The primary image that we are using to promote this play is this lovely photograph, courtesy of Pink Monkey Studios.

I uploaded this photo to the Facebook page, but today, it disapeared, and I received this email from the fine folks at Facebook:

Vaughn Jones as Eros the God of Love in Metamorphoses
Vaughn Jones as Eros the God of Love in Metamorphoses

You uploaded a photo that violates our Terms of Use, and this photo has been removed.

Among other things, photos containing nudity, drug use, or other obscene content are not allowed, nor are photos that attack an individual or group. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page at http://www.facebook.com/help.php?topic=wphotos.

Now, when I uploaded that photo, it never entered my consiousness that this photo might be controversial. And, to be fair, I did violate their terms of use, which, to be honest, I have never read in great detail. They own the site, it’s their call.

Looks like Facebook is your friend when it comes to promoting your artistic endeavor. Except if there’s a photo of a bum involved.

So, I got to thinking… if nudity is at issue here, where is the line drawn? If I am a painter of nudes, would the Facebook powers-that-be consider that to be deletable? How about a photograph of a naked, pregnant woman? I’d love to hear if anyone out there has had a similar experience with Facebook, and what it was about their art that violated the terms of use. And, interestingly, the poster for the show, which I also uploaded as the main image to represent the event, has the same photograph on it, but it was not deleted. So, image alone = violation of terms of use. Image with words and other stuff on it = okay. You understand my confusion.

The other thing that blew me away about this experience was how quickly they found and deleted my photograph. It was only about 24 hours. There must be thousands upon thousands of photos being uploaded to Facebook all the time, how can they possibly keep on track of them all? Again, please, if you have any experience with this, I’m dying to know…

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business, Part 5: Staking out your Spot on the Web

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring, through the column, ways to market yourself in more detail. This month’s column focuses on what is probably the most essential, the most indispensable marketing tool: the website.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you: if you are trying to sell a product or a service, you need a website. It’s that simple. This month, I go in a slightly different direction and enlist the help of an expert, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I will also provide a list of resource URLs at the end of the article.

First of all, getting a URL (Uniform Resource Locater), which is your address on the web (ie: www.titaniaproductions.com) is easy enough to do. There are tons of companies on the web who can sell you one. Probably your best bet for a URL is to use your name, if you can, or your companies’ name, or some abbreviation of either of those. Keep it simple. URLs have to be entered exactly right, there’s no margin for error, so the simpler it is to spell, the better results you will have with people finding your site. Also, if possible, ALWAYS go for the .com extension. Get a .ca as a second choice, but try to avoid, at all costs, .biz, .net, etc if you can. Most people are so used to typing .com, it is almost a default.

Quite honestly, I get over my head pretty quickly with this technical stuff, so I enlisted the help of an expert.

David Rankin is a Usability Consultant and an instructor in the Interactive Design Program at Capilano College, and also an (amazing) Jazz singer and guitarist, so I asked him a bunch of questions about building an artist’s website.

David Rankin as his alter-ego, jazz singer Artie Devlin

TAotB: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when designing a website?

DR: Design to meet the needs of your audience. In order to be successful, your site needs to be driven by your audience’s needs and not by your own preconceptions of their needs. This approach, called User-Centred Design, will help users find the information they are looking for on your site more easily, enjoy the experience of browsing your site and (if you keep your content current) will keep them coming back for more.

You can start by observing individuals who represent your target audience, using your site. Take notes. Ask questions. Encourage them to give you feedback as to what works or doesn’t work for them. Let them know the intention of this exercise is to make the site better and your feelings won’t be hurt if there are aspects of your site they don’t like or think could be improved.

Videotape the session if need be. Ideally, this process would begin even before building your website, using early hand-drawn prototypes and/or testing your competitors sites. Focus groups work really well too. Bring in a few representative users and have a discussion as to what they require from your website. Often people are more than willing to do this for a small stipend or for that magical combination – free beer and pizza. I assure you, you will learn a ton by going through this process and will come to understand the needs of your audience more completely. Once you have gathered their feedback, you can then go about the process of redesigning your site to better suit the needs of the people who really matter – your target audience.

TAotB: What kind of information would you include on a website intended to market an artist or arts organization?

Many artist websites would include some or all of the following:

• a short Biography of the artist
Photos of the artist’s work or performances, with thumbnails
• A Media page if there is audio/video content
• Reviews or Testimonials from clients
• A News section that highlights the most current information about the artist or organization that may be of interest to their audience (performances, openings, awards etc). Maximize the impact of a News section by having it on the homepage
• A Contact page so interested parties can get in touch via email, and optionally snail mail or phone. Organizations may also want to include a map of how to get to their actual physical location. Google Maps is great for that
• A Webmaster link to help users report any problems they may be experiencing with the site
• And a Homepage of course!

Some artists also include a Press Kit section containing downloadable high resolution photos, press releases, concert riders etc. You may also want to include a forum or blog on your site. These are good for keeping in touch with your fans and colleagues, but can be quite time-consuming to moderate and maintain.

If you are an organization, your site should always contain a Mission Statement that briefly describes to your visitors the purpose of your organization. Your mission statement should be short–a paragraph or two maximum. They provide context for the rest of the site, so I would recommend putting them on your homepage . By not having a Mission Statement or having it buried somewhere deep in your site you run the risk of confusing and alienating your audience.

TAotB: Do you know of any really successful artists’ website that you can recommend we look at?

Yes. I think Madeleine Peyroux’s website is rather well designed and elegant. Lot’s of negative space in terms of the visual design – yet tons of content that is very well organized.

TAotB: Should you get someone to build your site for you, or is it worth it to try doing it yourself?

DR: I would recommend hiring an experienced Web Designer to create your site. For most of you out there, your website will be your primary tool for marketing your services and as such, you should budget for it accordingly. If this isn’t an option for you, you could approach some of the local colleges and universities web design programs to see if their students may be interested in taking you on as a project. If you have the time and inclination to design your own website, I would suggest you do some research first. There are many excellent websites, free online tutorials and books on all aspects of web design. Whether you choose to hire an Web Designer or choose to build it yourself, always design to meet the needs of your audience and you will do just fine.

Thanks, Dave!

Click to find out more about the Interactive Design Program at Cap College.

So, until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

******************************************************************************************************************

Here are some URLs you might find useful to look at when thinking about designing your site:

ETSY: if you are selling a something you made yourself, ETSY is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade.

Doteasy: Sells URLs (just one of probably a million, but they are who I use, and I’ve been happy, so I thought I’d give them a plug).

Madeleine Wood: is a friend of mine, and an amazing painter. She is doing really well, and her excellent website has something to do with that.

Provost Pictures: is a company I have been working with for several years now, and we have just completed a complete overhaul of the site that I am quite proud of. This site also contains an example of a downloadable press kit. A big shout-out to Janet Baxter, who is our excellent webmaster, and also a photographer.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business, Part 4 – Repeat After Me: “Facebook is my Friend”

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

You could not possibly be a bigger holdout than I was with Facebook. I resisted joining for a really long time. I thought “why do I need yet another time-waster when I’m online? I already check my email obsessively, do I need to have the temptation to be checking Facebook all the time now?” But, like most other people, finally I gave in. And yes, spent way too much time at the beginning updating my profile and searching for friends. But then I started to realize what a powerful marketing tool Facebook was, and now I use it at least half the time for that purpose.

In case you’ve been in a cave this past year without television, radio, internet or newspapers, Facebook is an online social networking tool. It’s free—basically what you do is sign up and get yourself and account. Then you get your own page, or profile, where you can put information about yourself, what colour socks you like, what you had for breakfast, what your dog had for breakfast. Then, you create a network by asking people to be your friend. Once someone is your friend, you can message them, send them virtual gifts, URLs, that kind of thing. Facebook also has groups and events that you can create or join. If you create an event or a group, you are its administrator, and that gives you the ability to message all the members of the group. It’s fantastic stuff.

A few words of practical advice about Facebook. First off, I wouldn’t encourage you to create a group unless you are pretty famous, or you have something quirky going on (I belong to “If Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea kissed me, I’d be a happy woman”, for example). You can also create fan pages, but again, I’d steer away from that unless you are Great Big Sea, or a decent-sized corporation.

What I do is create an event for all of my clients. Because my work tends to be rooted in dates (show runs, etc), creating events is perfect for me. It allows me to upload all the event information, pictures, and videos, URLs for media stories when they come out, and I am able to message anyone who said they are or might be coming.

If it’s your first time creating an event, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Be really, really careful about your dates. While you can go back and edit a lot of things on your event page, the dates you cannot.
2. Make your event accessible to the “global” Facebook community. I once made it available just to the Vancouver network, thinking that anyone from out of town wasn’t going to come to see the show anyway. But not everyone (even people who live in Vancouver) belong to the Vancouver network. Tricky…
3. When you invite people to your event, encourage them to invite their friends.
4. Know that only your opening night (or the first date you have on your event) will show up in the updated information on your Facebook account. After that, if someone wants to find your event, they will have to search for it. However, you can still message people during the run of the show to let them know it is half over, closing Saturday, etc.

Facebook is good for other kinds of artists, too. Musicians and filmmakers can upload videos, photographers and visual artists can make photo albums of their work. Dancers and actors can upload demos and trailers.

A word of caution: as with everything on the internet, be careful about how much personal information you include. Don’t have your home address up there. A lot of people I know don’t even have their email address. Make your privacy settings high, so that people have to be your friend (ie: authorized by you) to see anything on your profile.

Facebook is a lot of fun. But it can also be a great way of getting the word out, and building a buzz… And yes, I will be your friend, but only if you mention The Art of the Business.

So, until next time, here’s to more bums in seats everywhere…

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business, Part 3 – Touchpoints

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

This month’s Art of the Business deals with a term you may or may not have heard before: touchpoints. A touchpoint is any way that your consumer, or end-user, comes in contact with your work. It could be a webpage, an e-newsletter, a poster or flyer, an ad in the newspaper. Marketing theory says that it takes, on average, between 6-8 exposures to your marketing materials, or touchpoints, before someone will even consider making contact with you.

Six to eight! We are so inundated with advertising and marketing these days, that we have learned to tune it out. So it takes a lot more hits, or more innovative ones, before we can actually make contact with our potential clientèle. And I’m not even talking about the sales process—but you have won half the battle just by making contact.

So, your job as an artist who, god forbid, wants to make money from their art practice is to increase your touchpoints as much as you can. Maximizing your touchpoints is going to help get your name out there, and make you easier to find.

How can you maximize your touchpoints? I’m so glad you asked. I will share a few ideas with you in this column, but I gotta save some for future columns…. I have to have something to keep you coming back for more, after all!

Word of mouth is always the best form of advertising. A couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for someone to move my stuff, what did I do? I picked up the phone and called a couple of my friends who had recently moved and asked them for recommendations. It makes my life easier, I don’t have to do a google search, and call 7 different moving companies. I already have the advice of someone I trust—I’m going with that. While I know that art is subjective and not a moving company, and you have to take that into account when you are asking people’s opinions, the bottom line is do the best job you possibly can and people will recommend you. Recommendations sell tickets. Or paintings. Or CDs. You get the point.

In my first column I talked about exploring what it is that makes you, or your show, or your film, unique. Let that idea or concept inform all your decisions about additional touchpoints. Whatever it is that makes you unique, settle on it, and then use it on everything. In marketing, that’s called branding. Think of the golden arches, or the Nike swoosh. You see those things, you know immediately what they mean. Ideally, you want your clients to do the same when they hear your name, or see one of your touchpoints—know immediately what it is you stand for.

Here is a not-totally comprehensive list of other ways to market yourself and increase your touchpoints, some of which I will get into in more detail in future columns:

  • Business Cards: you never know when you might meet Stephen Spielberg in an elevator. If you did, how would he get in touch with you about your fantastic film? A business card is a wonderful way of continuing that conversation.
  • Posters: don’t break your budget with posters, but do try to have one with a catchy, interesting image.
  • Postcards/Flyers: a combo poster/business card. Catchy image, all the basic info, and a way for you to continue the conversation: “You think my show sounds cool? Here’s a postcard with the info.”
  • Webpages: What do you do when you need something? You google it. Enough said. You need a website. Whether or not you pay to have someone build it for you or you do it yourself; what should go on it; etc., will be fodder for a future column.
  • Facebook/ You Tube/ My Space: free, useful, and everyone is on them. I am using these social connectors more and more all the time to market my clients.
  • Newsletters: a great way of keeping in touch with your end-user, or even your potential end-users. The key for newsletters is to make sure that they offer information that is useful and appreciated.
  • E-mail: It’s free! Everyone has it! I send usually between 2-3 for every show I do.
  • Brochures: more in depth than a poster or a postcard, less information than a webpage, it may be a useful marketing tool if you are promoting a season, or offering more in-depth services that require more information.
  • Leave-behinds: this is something that you leave with your client after the work is done. I know a closet-installer (hey, it could be an art!) who leaves a half-a-dozen nice wooden hangers (with his logo on them) in each closet he finishes. A nice touch, and a good way to spread word-of-mouth.

I will flesh out many of these in future columns.

So until next time, here’s to bums in seats….

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business, Part 2 – Putting a Value on our Work

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: this is a column that is supposed to be dedicated to tips and tricks about marketing artists, right? So what the heck is this whole “putting a value on our work” thing?

Because, my friend, you have to be able to put a value on your work before you can market and sell it. That is probably oversimplifying the situation, but please just bear with me for a moment.

When was the last time someone asked you to help them out by contributing your artistic skills for free? Yesterday? Last week? Five minutes ago? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

See, there’s this perception out there in the world (and we as artists are guilty of it too), that because we get intrinsic value from our work, that we don’t need to be compensated financially. In an ideal world, we would all make a living from our artistic practice. Some of you out there already are (and you make me very happy and proud and give me a great deal of hope, so thank you). But for the rest of us, where does it end?

Beginning to value your work also means beginning to say ‘no’. And I don’t know about you, but I find that scary. Scary because, if I say no to someone, am I cutting off all future ties? Will I lose paying business down the road if I don’t give them a freebie the first time? Maybe. I can’t answer those questions for you. But what I have experienced is this: often unpaid work leads to more of the same. Conversely, paid work often leads to more of the same.

I’m not saying you should never volunteer your skills and services. I do it all the time. I’m doing it right now. I’m not saying you should never give a discount to a new client to make yourself a bit more appealing. What I’m saying is, be strategic. Weigh it. Don’t just say ‘yes’ to everything because you are afraid the well of opportunities will run dry. In fact, the very opposite may be true: when you start turning down unpaid work, you make space in your life for work that pays. And if you value yourself, so will others.

So, how do you put a value on your work? There are three possible ways.

The first one is called the going rate. Talk to people who are out there doing something that is similar to what you are doing. Ask them how much they charge. Do they charge by the hour, the contract, or the piece? It’s important to know this information, because it is not good to under-price yourself. You may get people hiring you because they think you’re a good deal, but ultimately people also believe they get what they pay for, and will be wondering what it is that you are not doing that the competition is. Also, price wars do not help anyone—if your competition starts underpricing you, then where will you be?

Second: look to your union or governing body or trade organization to see if they have any guidelines around pricing. They can often be really helpful in this respect.

Third: there is a somewhat complex formula you can use to calculate your hourly rate. Check out Flying Solo, a blog from Australia for the exact formula (math was never my strong suit!).

Here’s my last word on the topic: some people subscribe to the romantic, bohemian notion of being a “starving artist”. That’s cool, but if you belong to that category I’m asking you to stop reading my column, because there’s nothing here for you. You wanna be an artist and (gasp!) make money at it? Keep reading. But first, you have to believe you can do it. Or at least be a good enough actor to fake it.

And now for some shameless self-promotion. Biz Books, which is Vancouver’s only bookstore dedicated to the theatre and film industry, is sponsoring a great series called How to Start... I have been invited to give a talk on How to Start… Building a Buzz about Your Next Project, on Wednesday, March 19th; 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. The location is Biz Books, 302 W Cordova St, Vancouver, BC. It’s free, but you need to RSVP to 604.669.6431 or e-mail: info@bizbooks.net.

Until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

New Feature Alert!

I used to walk around saying that we have to start devoting a full 50% of our efforts into the business side of our productions if we ever hope to reach our goal of a sustainable popular theatre. I no longer believe that to be true. I now think that number is closer to 90%. I look forward to the day when we only have to put half our energy into the non-creative side of the biz.

Towards that end I am pleased to introduce a new column to The Next Stage: The Art of the Business by publicist Rebecca Coleman. That’s right, we’ve got us a real, live publicist to offer her insights on audience building.

In addition to running her own company; Titania Productions, and raising her young son, Rebecca is a Vancouver actor and theatre producer. So without further ado, let’s get down to business…

The Art of the Business – Part I

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

As actors, we spend a great deal of our time training to become masters of our art. We go to theatre school, we read all the books on acting, we train with coaches, and we apprentice. At some point a lot of us decide, often out of frustration, to produce our own work. So we pick a project, put up the show, and then are incredibly disappointed when a mere 20 people (or less) show up every night. You lose money, you lose self esteem, you lose your moxy. You get pissed off—you wonder who is out there supporting theatre, where are your friends, where did all the people go whose shows you have been supporting all these years?

In April, 2001, I had that exact experience for the first time. In February, 2006, I produced my third show. Five Women Wearing the Same Dress did 88% at the box office and turned a profit.

What made the difference? Marketing.

Theatre schools teach us the best acting techniques, but they severely lack in teaching us the business. This column, which will be written on a monthly basis, is focused on that—the business of being an artist. I will offer you tips and tricks from my own experience as a publicist for the past six years. Because quite honestly, nothing makes me happier than going to the theatre and seeing a house full of people I don’t know. It’s the best.

Why are we so resistant to putting time into the business of our work? Well, first of all it’s not sexy. Wouldn’t you much rather be using your time creatively? Sure, of course. You can create all day, but if no one sees it (or ideally, buys it), what’s the point? Secondly, plain old ordinary ignorance. What are the best ways to market yourself? How do you do it? Many artists feel overwhelmed by these questions. And you may not want to hear this, but sometimes you just gotta do it—set aside the time and make yourself sit down and do it. It may not be sexy or creative, but it is so very important.

Where do you begin? Start by asking yourself this question: what is it that makes you (or your company, or your theatre project) unique? On any given night in Vancouver, there is a myriad of choices, and you are not just competing with other theatre offerings. Films, restaurants, live music venues are all competing for your dollar. So why would someone want to come and see your show? It may be a unique staging, a script that hasn’t been produced here before, a rising star, or a hot topic. But you need something that makes you stand out. You will use this “uniqueness” as the basis of all your marketing.

Are you still stumped? No idea what makes you or your company unique? Then the place to start is with market research. This involves putting together a survey and getting it out to at least your family and friends and, ideally, complete strangers. My friend Bart Anderson, who teaches at VFS, has a survey he gives all of his acting students. It includes questions that help to pinpoint what people see you as (age, race, occupation, etc) and what they don’t. (If you want a copy of it, just email me)

If you are lucky enough to be doing a show in the near future include an online link to a survey (you can use sites like Survey Monkey for free) or a hard copy of your survey in the program. Offer to put their name into a draw for a prize if they answer your survey. You can find out tons of information this way, about what makes you unique, what your audience is like, and how to reach them. For more information on how to create surveys for theatre read this article on the Mission Paradox blog.

Until next time….