Is your Twitter more important than your CV?
As actress Gemma Arterton revealed this week that Hollywood movies are being cast based on how many social media followers actors have, our reporter asks how important is our Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat presence?
Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30
Last year, I found myself in the scenario that most writers dream of: sitting face to face with a book publisher.
After a column I wrote did particularly well on social media, I'd been summoned for an introductory meeting, to see if I'd any interest in writing something more long-form.
A mere five minutes into our chat, the really big question came.
Not about how much experience I had, what expertise I had on the subject, or whether indeed I even wanted to write a book. Nope, another much more pressing issue was on the publisher's mind.
"How many followers do you have on Twitter?" I was asked.
I'm not a habitual tweeter, and I check Instagram about once a week. I replied that the figure was modest, around the 1,500 mark.
Immediately, the air seemed to suck itself right out of the room. The publisher's face fell and I could sense the window of opportunity closing shut.
I began to lose even more ground when it was cited that certain other bloggers and influencers had substantially more followers than that.
And that was me out of the running… well, at least until I've amassed another 30,000 Twitter followers.
So it was comforting to read this week that it can happen to the best of us: actress Gemma Arterton has noted that despite having almost 140,000 followers on Instagram, her refusal to play the social media game comes at a cost.
"I have a friend who's been told she has to put up more 'outfit of the days' and regular pictures of her food because a lot of the casting for film happens on social media," she is quoted as saying. "The money people go: 'Well, they've got 3 million followers and that actor has only got 1,000, so…'
"But I'm determined to do things differently. And that's only because my earlier career informed me."
Actress/director Emma Thompson is in agreement: "We're casting actors who've got big followings because they've got big followings," she said of the industry. "So the studios can use their followings to sell the movies.
"Actors are becoming attached in a sort of business way to their social media profiles, and I think that's a disaster."
The likes of Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift have long realised that a sizeable social media following has worked in their favour and kept them high on the A-list.
There's cold, hard cash in it for them, too: Kim K is thought to earn $10,000 per sponsored tweet (that's 140 characters, or $71 a keystroke).
The message in showbiz circles is clear as day: ignore the influence of social media at your peril. But a more pressing question needs to be asked. Is this something that the rest of us need to think about, too?
Certainly, one's social media presence has come a close second to a person's actual expertise in some fields. In media, for instance, a person's ability to reach to their followers, and therefore beyond the remit of the publication they're writing for, is something that editors are keenly aware of.
For most other bosses, a quick peek on Twitter or Facebook is up there with the perusal of a CV.
Says Dave Byrne, creative director of digital marketing agency Thinkhouse: "As we're a young company, we get a lot of job applications through Snapchat. It gives us an opportunity to look at who a person is, and whether they're a good fit for the agency.
"It's almost like a pre-interview step. As great as a CV is, you can't judge someone's character on them," he says.
As editor of 'Stellar' magazine, Kirstie McDermott is at the chalkface of Ireland's youth media, and has encountered no end of prospective writers, stylists and models for whom social media is an integral part of their professional lives.
"I don't think it's the most important thing on a CV, but I do think that - industry-dependent - cultivating a good social media presence is really important," she says.
"Less important for a junior doctor possibly, but someone who wants to make a living having opinions and writing words should cultivate this as a skill.
"Anyone I hire now has to be strong on social and web savvy in general. A huge amount of what 'Stellar' does now is online, so I want my team adding us to the conversation.
"When I'm looking at freelancers, I do quite often - not always - look for profile as well. If you've got big social numbers and you share about the piece you've got in the current issue, it's kind of a no-brainer.
"My Facebook is private, but I've been on Twitter since 2007 and I've recently started using Instagram's stories feature - because heck, everyone else is Truman Show-ing themselves, so I might as well join in!"
Social media's naked exhibitionism is one thing; quite another is the networking factor.
It goes without saying that the opportunity to directly contact a potential boss or associate is social media's big boon: the retweet or the pally conversational thread have become the 21st-century equivalent of after-work drinks, or a chummy round of golf. Sounds like insufferable brown-nosing - and very often, those tweets have the tang of the sycophant about them - but this is the nature of social media interaction.
It's intimate, it's pally and it's overly familiar. Go brown or go home.
Building a 'personal brand' also sounds like terribly self-involved guff, but those who turn their nose up at the idea may well soon rue the day.
The average millennial will have 15-20 jobs during their working life. That's an awful lot of job insecurity, and reason enough to keep oneself constantly visible and relevant in a public sphere.
Others baulk at how we've moved online and care more about our virtual personas than our real selves.
But the cold, unshakeable truth is this: the social world is an extension of who we are. The virtual sphere, and one's place in it, is more real than ever.
But there is hope for those new to the game. To build a social media presence and to boost follower numbers, Byrne has the following advice: "Follow people of influence within your industry. Don't hound them, but if you can get on their radar, that's great.
"I've chatted online with people and they've contacted me directly for an interview."
Cultivating an expertise is also the way of the wily self-marketeer looking to get a toehold on Twitter or Snapchat: "You need to make sure that your content is amazing," says Byrne. "I see people jumping on bandwagons and talk about fitness one day, fashion the next."
It's possible for people to buy followers in a quick-fix bid to boost their social media presence (on sites like Twittercounter.com), but those in the know can sniff out a fraudster before you can say 'retweet'.
"In this day and age, if you've become an overnight success on social media and no one's been really talking about you before, people start to get a bit suspicious," says Byrne. "I haven't heard of an influencer doing it in a long time, and it's a bit of a no-no."
Above all else, and as in every other sphere of life, being yourself will get you places, and fast.
"There's nothing more disappointing than someone whose online personality doesn't measure up in real life. If you are true to yourself in real life and your passion shines through, it's the best way to get social media followers," surmises Byrne.
"Don't try to be super funny or intellectual if that's not who you are. What you might put up on social media may be amazing, but if it isn't really you, what is the point?"