How to stay connected professionally during social distancing

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Written by Michaela Bulkley

 

This time has lead to a major increase of online interactions. People are posting on social media more, creating new content, and connecting more, which can be fantastic ways to cope during this time. As theatre people, we have to admit that we like attention. This is not a criticism, it’s who we are. We like having our worked reviewed and applauded. I get it, I manage the Ovation Awards because I think it’s important that artists feel validated in a tangible way for their work.

 

Folks are turning to social media to get their creative and attention fix, which is fantastic, however times of stress can also lead to people acting quickly without thinking about it much. Take a group of attention deprived artists, add an emotionally and financially damaging global pandemic, and immediate gratification of social media, and we might have a couple of problems.

 

As a millennial I grew up with the internet, my childhood and early adulthood can be remembered by which social media platform was popular at the time. Middle School was all about mySpace, Facebook exploded my freshman year of high school, Instagram came on the market right before I went to college, then I joined a sorority and that came with a whole new level of social media rules and expectations.

 

With all of this, social media etiquette is something I grew up knowing. I think some of us could use a refresher so we don’t end up hurting our professional relationships.

 

First, remember to be kind.

This might seem obvious, but I recently saw a Facebook discussion on a professional networking group that started with someone wanting to pick a fight and ended with a grown adult telling another grown adult to “lol go die.” Luckily the moderators deleted and managed that situation very quickly.

 

Really? Telling someone to “go die” during a mass pandemic? And you’re over the age of 14? Even if the arguments both had valid stances, once it escalated to that point it no longer matters because both sides were wrong and unprofessional, and if I was given the choice I wouldn’t work with either of those folks again.

 

We are all stressed, so if you feel like you need to pick a fight with the Internet, I would love to offer some other anger management strategies: Send a letter to your representatives and advocate, go for a run or exercise, scream into a pillow, call a friend and ask if you can vent/rant, or journal about it. The last thing we need right now is to be in-fighting in our community. We are all struggling at this point.

 

If you see someone trying to pick a fight, do not engage, also known as “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” They are looking for attention and to upset people, don’t give them that satisfaction. If you are their friend, reach out to them and see what they are really upset about, give them space to talk even if you disagree with them.

 

Being “professional” online

I will start this section by saying “professionalism” is rooted in white male supremacy. Discussing professionalism in theatre is constantly a divisive topic. So for the sake of this conversation, let’s say that presenting yourself professionally is more of a values-based concept instead of a captialist-driven concept. Is this a career you want to continue to expand on? Do you portray yourself in a way that would make people want to work with you?

 

In theatre, we tend to be overly-friendly and we like to share a lot of our lives. It’s part of our art form and it bleeds into our social media. That doesn’t have to stop, but let’s also remember that what you put online is a representation of who you are and can affect how people want to interact with you.

 

Remember above, how those folks were screaming at each other on Facebook, nit-picking each others arguments, and eventually throwing a virtual tantrum and hurling threats? I don’t want to work with people like that, and since it was so easy to click through to their profiles, I know what type of work they do and where.

 

For example, if I go to someone’s page and see they are bragging about ignoring social distancing while the entire theatre industry is shut down, I can see they aren’t much of a team player and don’t care about the wellbeing of others. This is not to say that we all need to be extremely curated and self-censored about what we post, but be mindful that is how you are portraying yourself to potential employers or collaborators.

 

The most important rule of professional networking on social media is do not direct message someone past 11:00 at night. It’s weird and could send mixed signals about if you are trying to work with them or flirt with them and that’s just awkward for everybody. Message them during normal business hours. Also casual tip, if you are trying to flirt with someone, that’s still not a great time to slide into the DMs.

 

We can’t grab coffee, what do we do?!

You call them.

 

As theatre people we love meeting up in person, but we can’t and shouldn’t do that now. If someone does ask you to grab coffee, you can respectfully say that you’re doing your part in practicing social distancing and would love to continue this conversation over the phone or a video call.

 

You can still have the same sense of an informational interview or casual career chat, and this way neither of you can use traffic or parking as an excuse to be late. If you say “let’s grab coffee when all this is over” you risk not having an actual date and time and being forgotten about, and we are all going to be extremely busy when theatres open up again.

 

Still be respectful of their time, even if we all have more free time right now. I still won’t let a work call or digital meeting go past an hour if I can help it, and won’t schedule calls past 7:30 pm.

 

You don’t have to be on social media

During this time, the amount of information and content being put into the world is overwhelming. Take time to unplug if it starts to make you too anxious or if you feel like you’ve just spent 12 hours refreshing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in cycle while Netflix played in the background.

 

You don’t owe anyone access to your life, even as an artist. You can set your profiles to private, you can decline friend requests. Do what is best for you right now, and if in a couple weeks you decide you want to come back to these platforms and get back in touch with folks, I’m sure they will still be there.

 

Michaela Bulkley

Michaela Bulkley

Michaela is unapologetically passionate about building the performing arts community and culture to be more sustainable. Her BA in Theatre Producing, Masters in Nonprofit Management, and experience in marketing and arts management, all perfectly align in her dream job of working at LA STAGE Alliance. To learn more about her adventures in arts admin follower her on Instagram: @michaela.bulkley