With the world still grappling with COVID-19, there’s never been a better time to up your digital game. It’s an essential way to put yourself out there without actually leaving your home.
For actors, social media can be a minefield of new platforms to master, content to create, and potential traps to ensnare ourselves in.
But being an actor in the age of social media can also give you the freedom to control your own narrative, take charge of the content you want to put out, and make connections you previously had to rely on agents for.
The uncomfortable reality of being an actor is that you are a product. Where other industries might focus on selling an object or an idea (say, a revolutionary new hoover), you are selling yourself. Your mind, your body, your voice. You are the package.
Because you’re not an object, the process of selling yourself without becoming a sell-out can be tough, so here is a beginners’ guide to setting yourself out on the path to online success.
- What is your personal brand as an actor?
- What are the best platforms to build an actor’s online presence?
- How should I build a website to promote my brand as an actor?
- How should actors use Twitter to build their brand?
- Why should actors use Instagram?
- Is Facebook relevant to actors?
- How can I win acting jobs through social media?
- What are the dangers to actors of using social media?
- What are the dos and don’ts of social media for actors?
Your brand is how you are perceived as an actor.
There aren’t many things harder than looking at ourselves with an objective lens. Talking to friends, agents, and acquaintances can help you get a grasp on how you’re perceived both in a casting context and by the industry as a whole. However, what it really comes down to is what you want to do and how you want to get there.
If your goal is to be the next breakout comedy TV star, then it makes total sense to fill your Twitter feed with witty insights, anecdotes, and creative content that makes people laugh. If your goal is to become a staple at the RSC or the Globe, that doesn’t mean you can’t be funny, but it does mean it’s probably more useful to spend time engaging with #ShakespeareSunday hashtags or geeking out about iambic pentameter than spending two hours figuring out how to best produce a comedy sketch involving your cat (although I think we can all agree comedy cats defy theatre genre).
Ultimately, you’re the one who has to sit comfortably in this perception of yourself, so make sure you’re not focusing too much on what you think people want you to be, rather than who you actually are.
There are many, but you don’t need to use them all to make a splash online.
It seems like every year there’s a new big platform or app that’s taking over, and while it’s great to be current, sometimes it’s better to have two fantastic online profiles that create loads of engagement than five that you use so sporadically nobody really cares. The main ones worth noting are Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and an actor’s personal website.
Don’t overlook the benefits of a standard website. It’s useful to have somewhere that collates all the bits of your online presence into one place and shows it to the world in a simple, professional, and accessible way.
You’re never going to have the perfect website unless you can afford to pay megabucks, but to be honest, you don’t need to. In general, simplicity is best, and the bare bones of a good acting website are:
We need to know what you look like. Investing in good headshots is a given for any actor, and your website is a place to show them off to the world. Pictures of you performing are an added bonus—as long as they look professional. The UK Actor’s Headshots Guide will tell you all you need to know about how to source and create great headshots, and for those in the capital, here’s our guide to the best headshot photographers in London.
A short “About Me” section will give people an idea of who you are and the work you do. We’d recommend three short paragraphs at most: Nobody has time to read an essay. Save all that for when you get your book deal.
CV + Credits
If people like what they’re seeing, giving them the option to see more is great. You could include links to your Backstage or Spotlight CVs, as well as dedicated pages for Acting, Music, Writing, or any other relevant work. However, many choose to feature just one main CV on their website that displays everything they want to showcase. This is also fine and down to personal taste.
Links to your social media
Some people embed their live Twitter and/or Instagram feeds into the body of their website, which can look good. It’s up to you, but an excellent alternative is simply to have discreet icons on your homepage so people can click them if they want to. A link that transfers them to those platforms will also increase the likelihood they’ll follow you on them.
A contact page
Whether it’s an email address, a form, or the contact details of your agent, if you have one, make sure you give potential employers and collaborators a way to reach you.
Follow these basic categories and voilà—you have your acting website!
Beyond your main site, there are a seemingly endless number of platforms, websites, apps, and groups to join. There are thousands of actors using YouTube, WordPress, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Tumblr, SoundCloud, TikTok, Pinterest, Medium, and more to successfully build their brand in their own way.
That’s all great if you have the time, and some of them work especially well if you want to promote a particular side of yourself. You write? Consider WordPress, Tumblr, or Medium. You sing? SoundCloud or YouTube are good avenues. TikTok, Snapchat, and guesting on podcasts are great if you’re going the comedy route.
Most actors, however, will be best served by the Big Three:
Twitter is the most immediate way to keep up to date with everything going on in the acting industry and beyond.
With a limit of 280 characters per tweet and the ability to add photos, videos, or “quote tweet” other people’s content, it’s an ideal way to throw out a quick joke, anecdote, political musing, or to promote your next project without having to write an essay plan. It’s also fast-paced and topical; it’s ideal for those who like to keep their finger on the pulse and it’s also a useful exercise in learning to be precise and to the point—and not getting hung up on every post.
It’s easy to lose hours to Twitter (we’ve all done it), which means at any point there are millions of people using it. It’s also a great way to make genuine connections with people you haven’t yet met.
However, Twitter is probably the platform where a misstep can create the biggest immediate backlash, so think before you tweet. Even when a tweet is gone, it’s often not really gone. The dreaded screen grab has been the fall of many a well-meaning user. Don’t let it deter you, though: Twitter remains an amazing way for actors to find communities and to engage with gatekeepers they would rarely get to meet in real life.
Instagram is a great way for actors to keep people engaged with what you’re working on and an easy way to share “behind-the-scenes” bits for followers.
In general, Instagram is more about curating a fun, feel-good flickbook of your life and offering an insight into what it looks like to be you.And, yes, Instagram is the one with all the filters! Although tough to master, the basics of Instagram are simpler than other platforms. Instagram is all about the image: You post a photo, use some hashtags, and people can like, comment on, and follow your content. Boom, an instant glimpse into your life.
“Instagram takeovers” have also become popular. This is when you are given the login to a company or brand’s Instagram account for a day to take followers deeper into the world behind the camera, curtain, or event. This is a win-win for both company and performer, who can cross-promote and reach wider audiences through each other’s involvement.
All in all, Instagram can feel a lot tamer than the fast-paced, frantic connections of Twitter. Be careful, though: Higher-profile jobs sometimes put embargoes on social media, so don’t get in trouble for that photo of you posing in costume on set at the job nobody’s meant to know about yet.
Facebook has subtler, yet more direct benefits for actors.
It’s an interesting one, because at its core it’s incredibly personal. Created in a college dorm to bring people together (or to collect everyone’s intimate data if you’re a cynic), Facebook is all about real people who really know each other engaging in real moments of real friendship. Or is it?
If you’re a well-known actor, it’s entirely likely you’ve already altered your Facebook name to keep away nosy followers or journalists with malicious intent. Many people choose to create public Facebook pages for themselves where they can share information about upcoming projects and link people to other sites and spaces. This is great if you want to maintain a public presence on Facebook that puts space between that and your private account.
However, unless you’re already a big name, there isn’t much point in creating a public Facebook page for yourself. It’s less personal than Twitter, harder to use than Instagram, and if you’re doing it to avoid more intrusive engagement then you already have a website for that. But each to their own; there’s no harm in creating a consistent brand across all platforms. And if you’re an actor who moonlights as a photographer, a teacher, or you run a rehearsal space, a Facebook page for these can be a game-changer.
Facebook can be more useful in subtler ways—ones which can directly lead to potential jobs without being quite so public. If you have a personal Facebook profile, consider joining groups for actors and creators in the industry. Two major ones for UK-based creatives are the Hustle and Actors UK. Although they sometimes fall prey to chancers trying to get people to work for cheap, the groups are also self-policing, and many collaborations and opportunities have been created through them. The Hustle Homes is also an amazing place to find house shares with other creatives who understand the lifestyle and, well…the hustle.
Smaller, more specialised Facebook groups are also brilliant ways to find work in particular cities, or in specific fields that offer opportunities for LGBTQ+, BAME, female, nonbinary, and disabled artists. These groups can also act as a safe and supportive space for actors seeking advice on difficult matters or going through hard times.
Engage, but remain alert to the pitfalls.
As much as it can feel like it, we haven’t yet got to the point where your social media follower count rules all. It would be naive to say that having 100,000 Instagram followers won’t increase your chances of being seen, but even in the age of Love Island, most casting directors still just want to hire the best person for the job.
What will help is if you manage to engage with these gatekeepers before your perfect casting even arrives. Many casting directors (CDs) have Twitter accounts and often post about castings they’re finding hard to fill. Having your finger on the pulse keeps you on top of what’s happening in the industry, and being part of a community keeps your name—and handle—on people’s minds.
It pays to engage with people who share your interests and passions. You can do this by following theatres, companies, and CDs to stay in the know, using particular hashtags to find specific communities and conversations about your favourite movies and shows (#BossyFollowThread is great for women and nonbinary people, or #OVConnect for general theatre creatives). All of this humanises you and creates connections that last beyond that one excited rant about loving Shakespeare or how much you cried at the end of #GentlemanJack.
Spreading and sharing call-outs, quote-tweeting things you agree with, and openly giving and receiving advice online not only helps other people learn and grow, but solidifies you as a positive part of the conversation. The idea that this industry is a competition is false. We do better when we accept that we’re all in this together. Not to mention, if you become that person who’s known for sharing helpful information with others, you’ll start to gain a reputation and people will flock to you. Helping other people helps you out.
The double-edged sword of social media is that it’s easy to forget it’s public.
Finding a balance is tough – you want to be seen to be human, but not unprofessional—and you will make mistakes, but it’s a good idea, if you’re not sure about a particular post, tweet, or photo to take a moment, possibly ask a friend, colleague, or producer, and if you’re still doubtful, don’t post it!
It used to be considered distasteful for actors to air strong opinions, and you have to take into account your audience and the type of work you want to do, but in these times, having political views or a strong belief in something is not only important but can become another strong part of your brand (take Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, Ellen Page’s LGBTQ+ activism, or Emma Thompson’s Extinction Rebellion moment as examples).
One thing that will not be tolerated is discriminatory behaviour or hateful rhetoric. Earlier this year, an actor was removed from the lead role in a major regional revival of The Color Purple after a homophobic Facebook post from 2014 emerged. Former cast mates soon piped up to confirm her views hadn’t changed, and she was fired and replaced within days. It’s entirely possible she won’t work in the UK again.
So that’s how far social media can go. Once your brand is tarnished, it can genuinely ruin a career. That said, these cases are incredibly rare and, in general, grievances are going to be much less severe and the fallout much shorter-lived.
You’ve been too pushy on Twitter? Next time just sit back a bit. You got in trouble for posting a photo that hadn’t been cleared? Next time ask the producer. You vented about a project on a Facebook group that happens to have the director in it? Oops—a lesson well-learnt. All of these examples are embarrassing, but they’re highly unlikely to end a career.
The true winners of social media manage to balance personality with professionalism, interesting content with consistency of output, and make themselves easy to hire!
From consistency to good manners, these are the points actors should follow to successfully build their digital brands online.
Do post regularly. Not only will consistent engagement in discussions keep you in people’s minds, but long periods of nothing will leave you at the mercy of the social media cull we all do from time to time.
Don’t spam. Just as likely to be unfollowed are those who send out twenty tweets a day asking for you to like their showreel, or don’t know when to end a conversation online. And there’s a special place in online hell for the people who post 17 selfies a day with different filters of the same facial expression.Do be consistent. This can be tough, as we’re all busy all the time, but try and post two or three photos a week, tweet nearly every day, and engage in a few monthly conversations on Facebook. I know it’s hard to stay positive between jobs, but that’s the time when you need to put yourself out there most.
Don’t try to be perfect. We all know you used that filter to hide the spots on your chin because we use it, too. We all understand what it’s like to be rejected because we didn’t get the job either. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to be infallible. Be honest and open, and people will be honest and open with you. Plus, they’ll press that follow button!
Do keep us updated with what you’re doing. It’s true that busy people get busier, partly because they’re busy! If people can see you’re working on exciting things, that means you must be exciting—and people want to work with exciting people!
But, don’t just talk about work. We get it, you worked on EastEnders— now show us a picture of your poodle because honestly, Snuffles is the main reason we’re here. Show us you’re more than just the roles you play. We spend our lives trying to avoid ads, so why would we choose to follow someone who is just one big advert for their own work?
Do try to keep your brand consistent across platforms. Try to use similar handles because it makes you easier to find.
However, Don’t just use exactly the same content for every platform. If they’re all carbon copies of one another then there’s no point in following them all.
Do show us your sense of humour. There’s a reason so many people say it’s the most attractive quality in a person.
Don’t be that person who follows people then unfollows them two days later.
Don’t over-hashtag. #Seriously. #Its #Really #Annoying #And #Makes #You #Look #Super #Desperate.
Don’t feed the trolls. When you start to get backlash, it means you’re starting to be seen. Don’t waste time on people whose only way to feel empowerment is to feed off yours.
Don’t get hung up on the small stuff. You will always forget things. You’ll always miss some opportunities and not make the most of others, but there will always be more.
And, finally, don’t take it all too seriously—enjoy it! Being online is a chance to show who you are in a way that is entirely controlled by you. Embrace the autonomy and relish making your own opportunities. The sad reality is, people with higher profiles won’t have to make as much effort, but that was true way before the internet!
The good news is now anyone with a Twitter account has the opportunity to build a profile and a brand. When you think about it, the idea of having a cultivated online presence that exists to make your real life seem more ordered is all a bit strange, even if it’s really useful. If you’re feeling like that then the movie stars you follow probably are, too.
At the end of the day, it’s just another witty comment and a picture with your pimples blurred out. Give yourself a break sometimes and turn your phone to airplane mode. Social media is not everything. It just feels like it is.
For more from Backstage UK, check out the magazine.