Social Networking — Does It Network?

28 12 2008
Twitter

One of the hardest things to teach people involved in the arts is how important connections are to their success. Hell, if I’d have learned that way back when you might have heard about me way before now — like when I accepted an Oscar or gave a speech at the White House. But networking is hard, especially for people in the arts. I find that many of us can’t speak proudly of work that we’ve done without being prompted.  It feels too much like boasting. So what takes its place — among us socially inept people?

Networking.

They say that, in Hollywood (and, by that, they mean Big Filmmaking), it’s who you know that helps you get ahead. And while I’ve seen too many well connected people who don’t get work because they can’t do the work when they do get it, it is true that having connections is better than not having them. The way that I describe it is that, since there are 100 people out there for every job, you have to differentiate yourself from the next person. That could be that you’ve won an Oscar — that’s different. Or it could be that you speak Swahili and the film has a section in Swahili — that makes you different.

Or it could be that one of your parents is head of post production for a major studio. That also makes you different.

But most of us don’t have parents who are highly connected like that, so what we have to do is to win an Oscar, learn Swahili or find someone who can help us in lieu of the Influential Parent thing.

That’s where networking comes in, and it’s the positive side of the “it’s-who-youy-know” coin.

Filmmaking is hard hard hard work. It’s not easy being trapped in a small editing room for five months with someone if you don’t really like spending time with them. So, honestly, one of the requirements of a good editor (or of any crucial job on a film — and most of them are critical)  is the ability to get a long with people. And that’s really hard to judge in a 30 minute interview.  So that’s why it’s a great idea to get to know someone in another setting before you have to meet them in an interview. Now, this kind of thing can’t be forced. It doesn’t do any good to attend parties, hoping to meet that director who you’d like to work with. But I’ve met some amazing people in social situations, a few of whom turned out to be working buddies later. I met them at soccer games (well… my daughter’s soccer games to be honest), museum functions, book groups and — now — online. Anyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account in 2009 might as well retire from the industry right now, before we reach 2009 (if you’re reading this after 2008 went away, well… sorry about that, give up now).

These thoughts came to mind after listening to a recent podcast of Net at Night, from Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur, where they interviewed Ming Yeow Ng, one of the founders of a service called Mr. Tweet. Mr. Tweet is an identity on Twitter, the microblogging service which is better defined in Wikipedia than on their own site, as a web and cel phone text messaging site which “allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.” For those of you who aren’t on the service (and there’s really no pressing need for many of you to get on right now, I’m sure) the idea is that you post short messages which go out to everyone who has chosen to “follow” you. Initially, these messages tended to be stupefyingly dull (“I”m driving over to Joe’s house now.”). At SxSW last year, however, people started to use it as a meet-up tool (“I’m in the back of so-and-so’s panel where he’s talking complete gibberish. Who else is here?”). It has now evolved to a rather interesting means of passing information along. People like Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, and Ken Rutkowski use it to push out information and links for items that they find interesting. And because each of those three people are interesting, the links are worth following.

So, it’d be great to find people who can help you learn new things about the world, and the industry, in which we live and work. The question is — how do you find them?

Enter Mr. Tweet. This service takes a look at the people who are in your circle of followers (that is, the people who you follow and the people who follow you — those don’t have to be the same) and figures out the people who you are NOT following who you should be following. Mr. Tweet (no word on whether there is a Ms. Tweet as well) divides them into two groups — the people who follow you, and the people who are not in your circle at all. The algorithm that they use to do this isn’t easy, and Leo, Amber and Ming discussed this a bit in Net at Nite (it is further discussed on the site’s blog) but it basically takes a look at how much respected bloggers respect your tweets (which are what your individual twitter postings would be called if you actually did them). The definition of “respected” seems to come from how valued your own tweets are to large groups of people.  Obviously, the more people in the system, the better this system works — you join the system by following “mrtweet” on Twitter. (As an aside, the two founders of Mr. Tweet, have put together an interesting PowerPoint entitled “Discovery Is The New Cocaine” which gives a lot of the basis for the reasons behind social networking usefulness. It’s worth a look at Slideshare.)

But this leads to a great conclusion about social networking in general — how can you find intriguing, interesting and valuable people with who you can network. One bit of advice that I got seveal years ago from Mark Hortsman and Michael Auzenne over at Manager Tools (a great site and fascinating podcast for those of you who want to learn how to manage) is to never volunteer for something expecting to get something in return. The best way to be helped by people, is to help them out selflessly. That means opening up your rolodex when it’s appropriate. That means answering emails from people you don’t know, even if it’s just a short response, to answer their questions. That means volunteering on a project without expecting a trade. And it means prying ourselves out of our shells a little more than we may be comfortable doing.

Knowing the latest cameras and editing software is important in the new world of work in our industries, but so is knowing how to make contacts in that world so you and your work can get out there. It goes beyond cocktail parties, through the world of user groups and emails, and into many of the social networking tools. Putting your films out on YouTube doesn’t do you a bit of good if you can’t get anyone to watch them. So, one more skill that we need to acquire today, is the ability to use the social networking tools of the time.

Now, you can go out and join Twitter.

By the way, if you’d like to follow me on Twitter (and I’m just learning how to do it right, you can click the Twitter logo at the top of this post).


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2 responses to “Social Networking — Does It Network?”

29 12 2008
Alex Gollner (00:21:26) :

If blogs are where ideas can be shared, you can use the tweets in your twitter stream to share thoughts – only some of which need evolve into ideas. Sometimes it’s a good idea not to edit what you share with the world, you might edit out the gold…

29 12 2008
Norman (06:18:46) :

Alex,

Some good points here. And they apply to editing as well as Twitter. You never know where the good ideas are going to come from, so it’s sometimes better to speak first and edit second.

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