The neighborhood I live in is not super upscale, but it suits me just fine. It’s in an area that realtors would probably define as “transitional” or “patchwork”, meaning one block has nice, well maintained homes, but just around the corner you might find a more economically depressed selection. What that meant for my husband and me is that we could afford a nicer, larger home in this neighborhood than we could in an affluent area–but with the trade off of more petty crime/domestic disturbances/weirdos than you might find elsewhere.
There is a gas station in my neighborhood close to the entrance of the freeway that I frequently stop at. It’s right at the junction of a busy bus stop and a MAX line train, so there are always lots of people waiting for a bus or train when I’m there. One of the people I frequently see is a woman I call “Crazy Bus Stop Lady”, because, well, that’s what she is.
I’m fairly certain Crazy Bus Stop Lady (or CBSL, as I’ll refer to her for the rest of this post) is mentally ill. It’s possible she has a very, very extreme case of Tourettes, but I’d put my money on it being more than just that. She is usually dressed in many layers of oversized, mismatched clothing, and often has something tied around her head–but not necessarily something intended for that purpose. She usually has a giant Slurpee or a soda bottle in her hand which she vigorously gestures with, and a couple of times I’ve seen her with plastic bags tied around her ankles, though I’m not sure what purpose they serve. She definitely has a look that would draw your attention, but seeing her is not what alerts me to her presence – it’s hearing her.
CBSL doesn’t talk to people at the bus stop and the gas station – in fact I’ve never heard her use actual words. She prefers sharing her thoughts via loud, raspy, wordless screeches. Even in the winter, when I have my windows rolled up ,her guttural yodels cut right through the glass. At first she kind of terrified me, but I’ve grown accustomed to her, and she doesn’t really seem interested in a fight, despite the yelling and the way she furiously shakes her drink at people. I should mention that I have never actually been outside at the bus stop when she is there – I’m quite sure watching her scream a few inches from my face instead of from inside the safety of my car would really freak me out.
But what is most fascinating to watch is the affect CBSL has on other people. CBSL does not try to strike up a conversation with one particular person. She does not beg for money. But clearly, she wants attention. She will wander in and out of the various groups of people huddled at the bus stop, plastic bags rattling, head wrap flapping, shaking her drink, and yelling at full volume. Her energy is intense (though somewhat unfocused), and there is no way, and I do mean NO WAY you couldn’t hear her, unless you were completely deaf. So what do people do?
They ignore her.
Every single one of them. Some people move away from her. Some people stare at the ground. Some of them put their headphones in – or if they already have some in, they crank up the volume and drown her out. If she approaches a group or even a couple, they tighten their circle and present her with their backs, continuing their conversation like she’s not there. I’ve never seen anyone be openly hostile or tell her to go away. They just find new ways of acting like she’s already gone.
And it works. Eventually, CBSL gets bored with being ignored, and yells her way across the pump bay into the gas station convenience store. A couple of times she’s fixed her wild-eyed gaze on me through my windshield as she’s passed, and I’ve quickly pretended to be absorbed in my phone, while surreptitiously making sure the car doors were locked.
But she got me thinking. I am in a business where it is part of my job to self-promote. Or, if you will entertain the metaphor, to go up to groups of people, typically in the virtual world, and yell, “HEY, I’M IN A SHOW! IT’S AWSOME! YOU SHOULD COME SEE IT! IT WOULD MEAN A LOT TO ME IF YOU DID! C’MON, YOU’RE NOT DOING ANYTHING ON FRIDAY, COME SEE ME! I CAME TO SEE YOU! COME SEE ME! COME SEE ME! COME SEE MEEEEEEEEE!!!!”
Which, for all I know, might sound a lot like, “BLAHAHHHEGGGEAAAWASHUUGGAHHHMEEUUUHHHGAHHHHHH!”
But I’m in a bind, because if I am in a show, it is in my best interest to make sure people know about it. And doing a mailing or electronic PR blast to potential clients is a good way to let them know you exist. Most of my social network is also in the arts, and I am frequently asked to help spread the word about other people’s projects and endeavors, which I am happy to do, since so many people have helped me promote mine. Having an online presence via sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, aboutme.com, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram, not to mention a page on any agency sites and even a personal website (or ya know, a blog) is pretty standard for most artists I know. In fact, some of the more organized and energetic self promoters in this business keep multiple pages on the same social media sites – one professional, one personal, and even ones dedicated to specific individual projects they’re working on.
It’s a lot of work to maintain all that noise. And I frequently worry about burning people out. If I am constantly yammering at people about my upcoming this and that, will they start to ignore me, like they do CBSL? Do they already think of me as a CBSL? What is the balance, or the “lagom”, if you will, of self promotion?
There are people who, when they self-promote, really get my attention and excitement. True, they are often someone I already like a lot personally, or if I don’t know them, I respect and admire their work. I want to support their project and engage with them, and I’m really glad when they tell me about it. I’ll see their tweet or post or get an email or postcard and think, “Oh hey, thanks! I’m glad I know about this!” These people usually self-promote a project only a couple times a week – they might do a big push as it’s about to launch, and then give several warnings towards the end, but I never see their promotion and think, “I KNOW, okay? Shut up already.”
And then there are the self promoters who get on my nerves by sending an overabundance of virtual or physical invites to an event, and then flood my newsfeed with neurotic minute by minute updates of every thought that crosses their mind during the entire duration of the project. At first I’ll think, “Okay, great, thanks for telling me.” But as the barrage continues, I will find myself deleting their emails unread, tossing their postcards in the trash, removing myself from invite lists, and in some extreme cases, hiding them from my newsfeed and blocking all future invites. They have become my virtual CBSL, and I will ignore them till they go away.
But then I think, if they don’t put themselves out there, who will? And isn’t that the whole point of social media and pr/advertising in the first place – to connect, inform, and create desire? I work in a field that is meant to be shared and responded to, and when I think about the hours and hours of time and energy I have put into various projects in my career, the thought of no one seeing them breaks my heart. And even when the self promotion of others sometimes gets annoying, in the back of my mind, I know they are driven by the same impulse to share their work with the world that I am, so why shouldn’t they use all the nifty tools technology has put at our disposal?
I don’t really have any good answers to this question. I want people to be aware of my work, in the hopes that they will come see it and enjoy it. But I don’t want to be like CBSL. It’s an area I am where I am constantly trying to find what is lagom, and I don’t feel I’ve found it yet.
What about you? Do you face the self promotion question in your work, or if you are typically on the receiving end of it, what is lagom for you?
(By the way, if you leave a comment, there is a box you can check if you want to be notified if I respond to it. I almost always respond, and sometimes have asked a question in return, but I don’t know if people are being notified of that.)