Why I’m Staying

My friend Martin Denton is deactivating his facebook profile and leaving that particular corner of the virtual world. Please read his blog post about it, because it feels like a rational and well-thought-out response to the recent revelations about Facebook’s cavalier attitude toward privacy and the degradation of the writer, and I hope that his deactivation will help inspire whatever changes he hopes to make.

As the title of this blog would indicate, I’m not leaving Facebook, but it is something we should all spend a minute or two *considering*. It is really important that we look at the time we have and figure out if we are spending it well, and Facebook has some real problems built in to it that go beyond the problems with privacy. But since that’s the issue of the moment let me just take a moment to explain why their privacy policies don’t bother me in the least.

Facebook wants us to let them know who we are and what we like to do, and they want us to give as much of that information over as possible so they can steer advertisers towards us. Our lives, the information that we share, is the raw materials that Facebook turns into profit. As creepy as that sounds, it’s totally fine with me. I do, in fact, have interests and some money, and if I can depart with a little bit of my money in order to have a more interesting life, then that feels very American to me, and because my interests feel a bit under-monopolized in our culture, I’m more than happy to let Facebook know what they are, and steer stuff my way.

Also, Facebook is free for me because they are selling time and space to people who produce stuff that I might be interested in. So, I get to re-connect with old friends and keep up with new friends, all the while some industrialist is pumping out Items of Interest, and I find out about them because THEY pay Facebook to let me know. I don’t feel like I’m *LOSING* anything in this.

But the dirty little secret about Facebook is that it is becoming a virtual representation of… nothing. We have to be really careful not to let Facebook become a replacement for real-life socializing, and the real-world creation of experience. I will check out the profiles of friends and acquaintances, and they often have thoughts about the links they are posting that are really interesting. Someone will post a Huffington Post article, and express outrage, and their friends will comment, either for or against, but that is all happening in a vacuum.  The Facebooker isn’t creating the article, and they’re doing nothing to respond to the information in the article, they are posting it, creating a three sentence response, and then shit-talking with some people they know.

Even worse is our line of work, where people use the facebook invite to hassle people about upcoming performances. They feel like, if they’ve made a Facebook invite, then they’ve done some marketing. Martin actually talks about this really well, because the truth is, if you’ve got five or six hundred friends on Facebook, then there’s a large percentage of them, say 40%, who are your primary friends, and they already know what you’ve got going on, and then there’s a smaller percentage, say 25%, that are old friends and family from other parts of the country and world who aren’t gonna see your play, and then the rest are available to be marketed to. So, that’s about 150 people you’re reaching with your facebook invite, and if you get an OUTRAGEOUS return on that invite, and 30 more people come… then you can see, this really shouldn’t be the beginning and end of your marketing.

Because, the thing is, that invite is reaching the same people that your newsfeed is. So, inviting people, and THEN doing twelve updates a day in your newsfeed isn’t reaching anyone new. It’s the same 30 people that are either gonna come or not.

I’m not saying it’s a waste of time, but I think there’s an argument to be made that you can’t decide that new media marketing is some kind of goldmine. Seanrants pal Jimmy Comtois said something to the effect of “we know that 75% of our marketing isn’t working, but we don’t know which 75%, so we have to do it all…” and I think the wrinkle I would add is that ALL of your marketing doesn’t work 75% of the time, so you have to do it 100% of the time to get any response. We have to Facebook.

But your show still needs to be listed at all the listing sites, you still have to create a REAL WORLD story to go along with your show, and you have to be a physical part of your community. When we were marketing Viral, I posted a lot of stuff on Twitter and Facebook, but most of it was letting people know about stories that were happening outside these insular worlds. We set up interviews with the playwright, we doled out the announcements of awards and nominations and everything else that counted as news.

But more than that, we donated furniture to other shows. We did swaps of postcards. WE PRINTED POSTCARDS. We made sure to show up to the festivals BEFORE our festival, and we made sure to talk to the people who’s shows were awesome. We donated scripts to reading series’, we showed up to reading series and then talked to the playwrights and directors who worked IN the reading series.

And then, yeah, the next day, we wrote on Facebook about what we had done the night before.

Now, I’m staying with Facebook because it’s just such a nice way for me to disseminate information to the 600 or so closest people to me, but I am going to continue to be careful not to let the telling of the story to become the story. When I see pictures of my friends’ kids, I want that to inspire me to go see them IN PERSON. And when someone talks about seeing a show, I want to be able to comment and say I was there as well.

But Martin is absolutely right, and he’s in a very powerful position to inspire us to remember the primary source for our posts. Our posts should reflect our real lives, and our real lives are not being lived online.