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Careers clinic: ‘Can I get acting work without social media?’

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Everywhere I look, from your columns to casting workshops I have been to, everybody sings the praises of actors upping their game on social media. I understand the reasons, but I am a private person and haven’t done social media since it started. I feel my life is much happier without it and would like to keep things that way.

I have several friends who feel similarly, although admittedly none of them are actors. The actors I do know who are on social media keep getting at me to join too and sometimes make me feel a bit of a freak because I’m so resistant. I do take my career seriously and, in every other area, if something definitely needs doing I will do it, whether that requires an investment of time, money or both.

My question is: do you think social media is an absolutely essential part of an actor’s career these days or is it still possible to move forward by focusing on other areas?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I’m assuming that when you ask about avoiding social media, you are not talking about totally jettisoning all online activity. Having a casting profile, a website or some other means by which your details can be found is pretty much essential to finding acting work these days.

In my career advice work I have come across genuine phobias, literacy issues and situations that close off the online world, which most of us take for granted. This can be a major issue not just in relation to acting work but increasingly in accessing basic services such as banking and shopping. In those cases, it is well worth getting support wherever it is available.

Some successful actors do shun the online world entirely (and contrary to popular belief this is not just elderly actors) but will usually have agents or others who handle what needs to be done in that area. In your own case, you are making a personal choice not to engage with one particular aspect of the online experience and while social media used properly can be a big help to an actor’s career, I am a big believer in actors feeling free to make their own career choices. Nobody deserves to be made to feel bad about honest choices. If that’s the attitude of actors you know offline, I bet their social media game isn’t as strong as they think. Being overbearing is an equally bad look inside or outside of cyberspace.

What you need to consider is alternative ways to do the things social media makes easier. Those benefits include reminding people of who you are and what you do, keeping up to date with which projects are casting or worth seeing and interacting with people and companies who can move your career forward.

We have to accept the consequences of our own choices – other people don’t. So, however you choose to do this, it shouldn’t inconvenience others. Phone calls and email used to be the preferred contact methods in the pre-social media days but overuse can be seen as intrusive, so I would focus more on human interaction. Get to as many shows, conferences and workshops as you can and network while you are there. When somebody you meet asks if they can connect with you on Facebook, Twitter and so on you can tell them you’re not there, but hopefully your interaction up to that point will mean they still want to keep in touch.

Taking the time to be more interested in them and their work, than in talking about yourself, is often the best way to achieve this. This is actually good advice for actors who are all over social media, too.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne