The Internet is a Minefield of Etiquette: Networking and Building a Career Online
October 2, 2020
If you’re a writer, especially one without representation, some of your career needs to be lived online. Twitter and other social media platforms have become the go-to networking tool, especially since COVID-19 has limited the other avenues. The WGA Staffing Boosts have shown that upper and middle-level writers and producers are ready and willing to hire lower level writers solely through online interactions. This likely isn’t news to you. Most writers have figured out that they need to be online. Learning how to be online is a very different task.
Carrying yourself well on the internet is tricky for all of us, but when you’re trying to network and build a career, it turns into a minefield of etiquette. The stakes for how you act online are sky high—and the internet is forever. People are short on patience, long on memory, and have the block button in easy reach. So, we’re going to dig into tips on how to handle yourself, how to approach others, as well as the limitations of your online presence; then you can hit that retweet button and go tame the beast of social media.
You Are Your Profile
Contrary to what you learned in high school, the internet is real life. As far as the people scrolling through your feeds are concerned, your posts and your comments are you. I’m sure that all of us are having mental flashbacks to some ill-advised Facebook statuses right now, but this is actually a good thing. We can’t always manage how we come across when we’re at networking drinks at the bar, but we can control the online version of that person. Here are a few tips that will help put that best version of you forward; the one who folks would want to hang out with, get to know, or hopefully call into a writers room.
First—and this is becoming a theme of my articles—be a person. The number one thing that puts me off from interacting with "Writer Twitter" is seeing them only, only talk about what scripts they’re working on next. If you met someone at a bar and their main topic of conversation was how hard they’re working on act two, you’d go find someone more interesting to talk to real dang quick. You’re a nuanced and complicated person, and your profile should reflect that. Share all of your interests! Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, even if (especially if) it’s not about advancing your career. People want to connect with you. Give them more opportunities to make those connections.
Even though you want to show your authentic self, remember that we’re still talking about social media as a professional tool here, which means you’ve got to stay professional while being personal. If you’re naturally a loosey-goosey goofball or prone to dropping F-bombs, then keep that vibe, but make sure you don’t post or comment anything that would get you a stern phone call from HR if you did it at a job. Don’t start or encourage a beef, don’t insult people, and if you’re feeling mad—walk away. Even if you hated the last movie you saw, think before you tweet, because the director can and will see it. Remember that this is real life, and if you wouldn’t pick a fight with someone in person, then don’t pick one online. And if you would pick a fight with someone in person...then, uh, you have exceeded my ability to be helpful, you ass-kicker, you
Slide Out Of The DMs
Now that you’ve gotten yourself all spruced up and ready to mingle, let’s talk about the dos and don’ts (mostly don’ts) of how to interact online.
The golden rule; the first and last thing to remember is—nobody owes you anything. A no, or silence, is a completely acceptable answer to your questions or requests. It’s not personal, and even if it is personal, you can’t treat it as such. This is a business of rejection, and that extends to online interactions. In a similar vein, when it comes to interacting, speaking when spoken to is a great rule of thumb. If your favorite showrunner is tweeting about picking up their kid from school, replying about how great your kid-focused script is won’t get you anywhere. Save that for when they ask.
Another great rule of thumb is to always give more than you receive. We all want our scripts read, we all want notes, we all want to ask for encouragement. Social media is a validation machine, but that’s a two way street. For every tweet you send out asking for a read, volunteer to give notes on three people’s scripts. Make it clear that you want to be a part of the community, not just take advantage of it.
Learn when and how to ask. I know hundreds of creatives who get ten, twenty, fifty unsolicited messages or DMs a day asking for advice or have been sent a script to be read. Don’t do this. You will get ignored, and most likely blocked. It’s rude and presumptuous (remember, nobody owes you anything!), but also it’s a legal nightmare. That up-and-coming producer can’t read your unsolicited script because when they make a feature in five years where the lead character shares a name with someone in your script, you could sue them. If you want help, then be patient. Develop relationships and do your research. Make sure the person you’re talking with can actually do something to help you, and then make sure they like you enough to want to help you. If you treat that person like a person and not a stepping stone, by the time you’re ready to make The Ask, it won’t even feel like an imposition.
The most important aspect of managing your online presence is knowing when to log off. It’s very easy to let the social media aspect of your career become your entire career. At the end of the day, as vital as social media is, as a tool, it also has its limits. When you’re tweeting you’re not writing, and tweeting "the right way" takes as much mental energy as getting your next pages done. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the discourse, or if you’re having a bad day, then, for the love of Jack Dorsey, stop. Log off. Find something else to do. Turn to your offline support group, your friends, your family, your pets, your therapist. Open up Final Draft and bang out a page. The internet is real life, but it’s not all of your real life. You still need to go be you.
At the end of the day, your online presence is just an extension of you. That means you should handle it like you handle your life: be kind and well-rounded, connect with others for the sake of the connection and not to leverage yourself, and when you get tired, shut down for a while. However, unlike the real you, your online presence can reach out to everyone. If you handle yourself correctly, then everyone will want to reach out to you.
Written by: Alex SwitzkyAlex Switzky is an LA-based writer and producer. He has worked as a creative producer for Dream Reach Media, development coordinator for Adam Wingard, and as a freelance story consultant for film, TV, and podcasts.