5 Social Media Lessons I Learned from Working with a Hollywood Actress

image of Brea Grant

Can social media make you famous?

Come on, you know you’ve thought about it. Who can resist dreaming about a post going viral and getting hundreds of thousands of visitors? Or having tens of thousands of followers on Twitter who follow your every move? Or checking your email and having hundreds of messages from your adoring fans?

It can happen. I know, because I helped make it happen for my friend Brea Grant.

In 2008, Brea called to tell me she had just been offered a major role on the third season of the mega-popular NBC show Heroes, and she wanted me to help her leverage the opportunity. I’d previously created a website to help her connect with casting directors, but now we both realized she was going to need a strategy to connect with fans.

A crash course in connection

Over the next few months, I gave Brea a crash course in social media. She learned how to use Twitter and Facebook, YouTube and Ustream. We also launched a blog.

The purpose of each tool wasn’t just to tell everyone what she was doing or what she thought about something. It was to help her connect directly with her fans and build a relationship with them.

It worked. Or, I should say she worked. Brea did everything I asked her to do and more, and the result is that she’s created a fan base that followed her beyond her character’s untimely demise on Heroes. The contacts she made online also led to the creation and contract with IDW to publish her first comic book We Will Bury You, due in early 2010.

And me? It’s safe to say I learned a ton.

How this applies to you

After his success launching a consulting service here at Copyblogger, Jon Morrow asked me to share some of the lessons I’ve picked up from working with Brea.

Through my work with my own clients, I’ve found that these are universal truths that work for small businesses, professional bloggers, hobby bloggers, and anyone who just wants to raise their online profile.

I hope you enjoy them . . . and be sure to read to the end to see how this applies to you, not just celebrities.

Lesson #1: Find your blog’s core purpose

Here’s a question that never seems to go away: what is a blog?

Is it a public journal? An online magazine? An extended way to connect with friends and family?

And the answer is . . . a blog is whatever your audience needs it to be.

People visit Brea’s blog to experience a personal connection with Brea. Visitors might receive this from chatting with her on Twitter, listening to the same music she listens to, or just getting a glimpse of her day-to-day life.

Whatever your topic, you need to get crystal clear on why people are there.

Is it to read the hilarious details of your personal life? Watch detailed how-to videos on watercolor painting? Hear your latest celebrity rant?

It doesn’t matter what it is, only that you know it and ruthlessly eliminate anything that gets in the way.

Lesson #2: Ditch the distractions

As Brea’s fame has increased, we’ve received countless offers to add bells and whistles that “polish” her site and social media presence. Many of these tools are very cool and cutting edge but would ultimately get in the way of our core purpose: a personal connection with Brea.

So we turned them all down.

I’ve seen lots of my other clients struggle with this problem too, although usually on a smaller scale. If you’re starting a blog, for instance, you might get distracted by polishing and re-polishing your blog design, learning about ad networks, or experimenting with dozens of the latest WordPress plug-ins. More likely than not though, all of those things are just distractions for both you and your audience.

Before you do anything online, always ask yourself: is this in line with the core purpose of what I’m trying to accomplish?

If it’s not, then ditch it. Too many useless bells and whistles don’t increase your fame. They just make it look like you have something to hide.

Lesson #3: Streamline your social networking

One day Brea called me and said, “You know I shut down my Facebook account, right?”

Well NO, I didn’t know, and she is supposed to ask me about these things first! But I agreed that it was the right move.

Why? Because Facebook had become an unmanageable beast rather than a fun place to connect with her fans.

I’m not saying to ditch social media if it’s confusing, because . . . well . . . it’s always confusing. But if you’ve made a genuine attempt to learn the culture of a site and engage with it and it just ain’t doin’ it for you, try something else.

Maybe your tribe isn’t there, or maybe it just makes you cranky. Either way, it’s not going to be effective. Move on.

Lesson #4: Focus on your talents

Brea loves Twitter. She likes the short updates, ease of use, and how easy it is to get into one-on-one dialogue with fans. She also loves blogging, especially sharing the music she’s listening to and books that she’s reading.

Surprisingly, she’d much rather write than video blog. Being yourself on camera is quite different than playing someone else!

You might love podcasts, or video blogging, or writing blog posts. Whatever your flavor, you’re going to shine in a space when you pick the one that is best suited to your natural abilities.

This is NOT a get-out-of-jail-free card for learning new skills! You’ll never know whether or not you thrive in a medium until you practice and get comfortable with it. The point is that you don’t have to do everything. Try it all, and then stick with whatever works best.

Lesson #5: Take advantage of your opportunities

Okay, let’s be honest. Did social media make Brea Grant famous? Or was it all about being on a mega-popular TV show like Heroes?

The honest answer: both.

Lots of actors land a role on a popular show, fail to capitalize on it, and then disappear forever. Lots of aspiring actors also try to build a following with social media and never make it.

To a large extent, success online (or in life in general) is about doing both. You have to work hard until the right opportunity shows up, and then you have to make sure you leverage it to its maximum potential.

Social media can help get other people talking about you, but first you have to do something worth talking about.

Want to learn how?

I’m guessing you’ve figured out that I have a course on how to use social media to generate buzz around your career or business. It’s called Creating Fame, and it builds on my experience in helping clients do exactly that.

But how about some free videos first?

In Creating Fame, I talk about the importance of giving away high-quality free content to create a greater connection with your audience, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do here.

Take a look at my Creating Fans Out Of Thin Air Video. If it looks like something you’re interested in, just leave your name and email address for more than two hours of additional free content, including a video from Brea.

Whether or not you’re interested in the course, I think you’ll learn a lot from the free videos. Click here to check them out.

About the Author: Laura Roeder is a social media consultant and the founder of Creating Fame.

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Reader Comments (42)

  1. says

    What a great story to drive home some very key points. I admit that I have been hooked on Thesis and playing with design and layout and new features is fun, and yet sometimes distracting to the core purpose of creating content and connecting with my readers. I love the write-up here. And I am starting to agree on the Facebook thing with Brea!

  2. says

    “first you have to do something worth talking about” – this is the number one golden rule in Social Media and I couldn’t agree more with you Laura.
    Give your audience something worth talking about and you will see the return.
    Congratulations for “Creating Fame” and LauraRoeder.com

  3. says

    Nice post Laura! I especially like your advice on being distracted.

    It’s so easy to get distracted online because of the unstoppable flow of information. I found that once I unplugged from my feed reader and stopped checking the news, my own personality and true self started shining through my blog posts and my social media presence.

    The only way to find your own unique self is to take a minute (or a morning!), unplug, and dig deep to find out what your true goals are, where your passions lie, and what you’re really trying to accomplish…

    If you spend your time online chasing the newest, shiny object, you won’t ever be closer to realizing your dreams. The only way to do it is to be true to yourself and you’ll have fans and readers come out of the woodwork!

  4. says

    Great ideas here Laura- I love the notion that in social media, one size does not fit all-not everyone needs to be on each social network, and Brea chose Twitter because she was comfortable with it.

    Will she lose opportunities because she dropped Facebook?


    But it’s a small price to pay for the continued enjoyment she, and you, will probably have.



  5. says

    Hi Laura.

    We sure can learn from each person’s efforts.

    Lesson #3 is one that some pick up on, and others may see as useless, but the energy that comes from removing one channel that is not working, and focusing on the others, is noticeably large. Just like when we clean an area of our room, and suddenly ideas come to us, removing Facebook usage(if it isn’t effective) clears some mental space that then goes to another great idea or social networking channel.

    About #5, that is the reason we must keep attacking. We each get some certain opportunities – all of us – and they remain there waiting for us. It is important to note that opportunities haven’t only been provided to “the other people”.

  6. says

    Laura, I also saw your video on creating fans out of nothing. I’ve been thinking a lot about it this weekend.

    While I was reading this post I had the distinct sense that I’d met you, but your name didn’t ring a bell. Then I realized that you were the video I’d seen last week. The point I’m trying to make is that your written and aural voice are the exact same, a skill that I think lends itself to better blogging and better brand building, right?

    Another something to think about. . .

  7. says

    Definitely some food for thought. I am always trying to get more exposure for my blog via social networking, and I’ve long been desiring to try my hand at video blogging. This all gives me some ideas on how to streamline my approach and give some new things a whirl. Thank you!

  8. says

    I’ve been working with artists of all different stripes on social media projects. It’s awesome to see an actress capitalize on her opportunity. The casting system that actors find themselves in can be really frustrating.

    Most actors that I know who’ve been able to leverage social media have found all sorts of interesting and lucrative projects to be involved in, if they do it in a way that is interesting and fun.

    Thanks Lara! Always interesting, no matter where you’re guest posting.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this. This is extremely useful as I think about the growth my of my blog. I like the fact that this advice can be applied to anybody, celebrity or not. It’s really amazing to me how much social media is changing the world.

  10. says

    Matt Parkman is a wimp…she deserved better.

    Oh, as far as the article, good stuff. I’m not sure I agree with deleting an account like that, but it makes a good cause for having a fan page instead.

  11. says

    Excellent post, Laura.

    The quote here I find most interesting is that “…social media is always confusing.”

    It truly is and only we can make sense out of out for ourselves. That involves constantly evaluating things and deciding whether they work or not – much like what Brea did. I think the message in that is invaluable.

  12. says

    I’m a big thesis fan and have built two real estate web sites for the Denver and Conifer real estate market in Colorado. It’s so hard to get quality fans or valuable readers related to homes though– while also trying to find new prospects (conversions) do you have any suggestions for tracking visitors–from keywords all the way through email follow-up?
    -Bob Maiocco

  13. says

    Laura, thank you for this article and the video mentioned. I watched it last week, and got excited about trying out the contest idea (though I plan to wait till I have a little more traction in terms of loyal readers). I’m glad to see your work and writing is getting the attention it merits.

  14. says

    I agree with the social media angle. With one of my blogs, twitter and facebook have been proven drivers of traffic to my blog. It also gives you a nice place to deliver short bits of content not worthy of an entire post.

    As long as you don’t let it suck down your productivity, social media can be a great asset in blogging.

  15. says

    Thank you, Laura; I really dug your article. I almost deleted it on the basis of the headline, as Hollywood is NOT my cup of tea. But your superior writing grabbed me and kept me right to the credits. Jolly nice work! P. :)

  16. says

    Love the advice to pick and choose the social networks/mediums that best allow you to connect. Definitely makes more sense to me to create a presence on a few rather than to just exist on all.

  17. says

    i like the last point … ” but first you have to do something worth talking about” This about value. How much value you create to others. You have to be innovative.

  18. says

    Thanks for all the comments! Shane I was actually traveling all day yesterday so I couldn’t access this post but I hope the next day isn’t too late! 😉

    @Farnoosh – Yes, playing with design is a great example of a distractor that usually doesn’t add a ton of value to your blog

    @Eugen – Thanks!

    @Jason – Very well said. I definitely agree that’s another place where we tend to lose our voice as a blogger – spending SO much time reading other people.

    @Lawton – Yup exactly! Yes there’s a small chance of missing something by not being everywhere, but it’s not worth it. We only have so much time and energy, and I think the rewards are greater when its more focused.

    @Armen – Yes I love the clean room analogy! It really is the same way online.

    @Lydia – Cool, thanks Lydia! I also find that a lot of people who have “met” me online think they have meet me in person before the first time we meet in person. Guess that is a good thing, right?

    @Shanna – Yes I love encouraging people to try video blogging! With a little practice it gets much easier and it such a fantastic way to connect.

    @Ferris – Thanks Ferris!

    @Cory – Thanks Cory, and cool to hear that you’ve seen great results with actors as well.

    @Srinivas – I’m glad I was able to convey that this is not just for celebs – we are all just people and with the current state of the web it truly is possible for anyone to make themselves into a “celebrity” in their little world.

    @Nathan – Yeah I always found that to be kind of an odd match! (Not to mention the age and HEIGHT difference!)

    @David – Yup, I think there is definitely some training that can give you an understanding of social media, then from there its all about seeing what works for your own unique brand and community.

    @Sonia – Haha yup! Humans are frustratingly unpredictable – which is what keeps this fun right? 😉

    @Conifer – You might want to look into something like salesforce for tracking. I often use the ad tracking feature built into 1shoppingcart. As far as getting quality fans and readers – what are you offering them besides a pitch/home listings? Think about what kind of content and connection to others would be incredibly valuable for someone looking for a new home.

    @Christina – Thank you so much Christina! And keep me posted when you do try out your contest.

    @Dave – Thanks, so happy to hear you found it useful!

    @Luis – Yes, I think its very common now for a lot of blogs to get a big chunk of their traffic from twitter. Just makes sense with how quickly things spread there.

    @Paul – Ha, thanks Paul!

    @Jenny – Yup this is the big thing that I disagree with a lot of social media experts on – you DON’T have to be everywhere!

    @Jason – Twitter definitely has a learning curve, and honestly it just feels weird to pretty much everyone when they first sign on. I recommend you check out twitip.com and my free resources at twitterwebinar.com

    @Gazzali – Yup, if you don’t have anything of value to add all this stuff is moot!

  19. says

    We’re taking a good, hard look at this now: what do we proceed with and what do we shed in order to remain “authentic?” Great lessons and words to live by here. The perfect touchstone for my company and our efforts moving forward.

  20. says

    The issue about blogging – I tend to stray off topic! Really need to keep lesson #1 in mind, and in front of me everytime I start writing a new blog post!

  21. says

    This is a great story. I actually looked her up when I found her on Heroes and spoke with her a couple of times via email about how awesome she does communicating with the public and being the trendsetter for social networking.

    Funny she mentioned “my people do all the technical stuff and they are awesome!”, I guess that was you.

  22. says

    Lesson no. 2 is a valuable one. I, like many, get distracted by polishing my site and learning about the latest plugins. While this is all fun and educational, it is way more important to connect with you readers. After all, you want them to keep coming back!

  23. says

    I agree that you should definitely take advantages of your opportunities! There are so many out there that you can expose new projects or ventures that are passionate to you. Social media is a great way of getting out there and with this in mind I think your points will encourage a lot of people to use social media to their advantage.

  24. says

    Wow…between the excellent post and the insightful comments, I feel very edified. Laura, you have a gift for cutting through clutter and articulating clearly. I’ll be looking for your byline in the future and have already subscribed to your videos.

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