How to promote yourself online: a starting guide for theatre artists

an artist scratches his head

Look, I know I said this was going to be a place for exploration and discovery so you might be disappointed in me to see that I’m getting started with a post that’s a bit ranty. But it’s not really. It’s just plain encouragement.

Artists, we live in a world that’s not designed to help you thrive. I heard just the other day about a guy who manages blind installations, and makes enough money to afford a Tesla. That’s because the supply and demand equation of blind installations has more value to our capitalist society than the intangible worth of art. It’s actually not that intangible but our society severely lacks imagination.

At the same time, more than maybe at any other time, we have a society that’s filled with tools that are our tools. The supremacy of a broadcast society has been dismantled and in every corner of the Internet, there exists a big enough niche desperate for the kind of meaning only you can bring.

How is a content creator different than a playwright, a painter, a novelist, a poet, an actor…? What’s the difference? One lives crushed under the identity of the starving, misunderstood artist, the other has made a living telling stories that compel their audience. Get what I’m saying?

I’m not going to tell you how to get a YouTube channel with millions of subscribers (take a look at my YouTube…). But here are the building blocks to getting started, building an audience and promoting yourself.

Create a website

Don’t take it from me. Listen to Kim Senklip Harvey.

That’s your first step. Create a website. Not a Tumblr or free WordPress account or whatever, but your own website, that’s yours and where the content that you publish is yours. (The laws around content ownership with the Internet are actually a lot more complex than that and honestly I’m not an expert in them yet, but you do own it much more than any content you post on Facebook or a free blogging platform.)

This blog is built on Squarespace. Like Kim says ☝️, Wix is another great option that has some sweet templates out of a box you can use. If you’ve got decent coding skills, head on over to WordPress. But pay the annual fee and get yourself out there.

2. Set up Google Analytics

This is a post on how to use the Internet to promote yourself, not just exist online. Google Analytics is a fantastic tool to figure out what’s working on your website and how well it’s working so you can do more of that.

  1. Go to http://analytics.google.com/ and create an account.
  2. You’ll end up with a tag. Add that to your website. You want to make sure you put it in the header of every page of your site.
  3. Create a property. A property is basically a website. So if you have three different websites, you could create one account, three properties.
  4. Set up three views: Raw (don’t touch this), Test (to try different things) and Master (your main reporting view). Views allow you to set up different filters to your properties.
  5. Under Admin > View, create goals for your website objectives. Email subscribes, downloads, contact form submissions, e-Commerce purchases are all examples of goals you can set up.
  6. Check out these basic reports:
    • Audience reports: how many people come to your site, how long they stay (you can see where your visitors are geographically, the devices they use, along with other demographic insights).
    • Acquisition reports: where people come from — social, email, organic (non-paid Google searches), referrals (from other websites), paid search…
    • Behaviour reports: what pages people visit.
    • Conversion reports: if you’ve set up your goals or are an eCommerce store (good on you, BTW), check out how your site is performing here.
  7. You can also create custom dashboards so you don’t have to dance around the platform looking for the data you care about.

I’ve written a series to help beginners get started with Google Analytics: here’s part one (setting up Google Analytics) and here’s part two (understanding and using the basic reports).

3. Connect Google Search Console

Google Search Console is one of my favourite tools as a digital marketer. First of all it tells you if Google thinks there’s anything wrong with your site. But the performance data you get is the most useful when you get into SEO (search engine optimization, don’t worry, we’ll get into this some other day).

To get started, go to search.google.com/search-console.

Setting up your GSC is a little bit more of a pain than Google Analytics but it’s worth it. The easiest way is to have it detect your Google Analytics code that’s on your site. If you do it this way, you’ll want to make sure you use the correct form of your URL. From GSC’s perspective, these are three different sites:

  • https://www.thomasgage.com
  • https://thomasgage.com
  • http://www.thomasgage.com
  • http://thomasgage.com

Here’s a little extra bit of insight just for the sake of it: if you enter all those URLs in an address bar, you’ll see they all redirect to the same one: https://thomasgage.com/ This is called the canonical URL. Squarespace (and probably Wix) does this automatically for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. WordPress usually won’t.

The best way is to create a domain property. To do that, follow the instructions to add the code to your DNS settings. You’ll find your DNS settings on your host.

Once you’ve set up your Google Search Console account, here are the steps you can take.

  1. Add your sitemap. Go to the Sitemaps tab and add your sitemap. This will help Google read your site. Usually your sitemap is located at yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.
  2. Check out the Performance tab. Here you’ll see all the keywords (or queries) that your site has shown up for, even if it’s in position 103. You can also sort your report by page. From there you can see what pages are ranking for what keywords, and use that information to improve (or optimize) the content. Keep an eye out for a post where I’ll share ways to do that.
  3. Check for site errors: go to Coverage and you’ll see if there are any pages with errors or warnings on your site, like missing pages (404)
  4. Add new pages to Google’s index: when you publish a new page, like a blog post, it doesn’t automatically go into Google’s index. Google’s crawlers will follow links and eventually discover that page, but you can manually add your page to the index. Go to URL Inspectionand enter the URL for your new page in the search bar at the top. You’ll see if it’s on Google and then request indexing. This is a good habit to get into not just when you publish but you edit a page as well.

New to Google Search Console? I wrote a tutorial on how to set it up.

4. Build your Email List

People feel strongly against email. Which is odd. I guess our inboxes all just fill up with crap, so I get it to some extent. But the problem there’s not email. It’s crap. So the solution is easy. Don’t send crap.

How do you not add to the pile of crap that gets delivered to inboxes every day? By understanding your audience and by providing them with useful, valuable, entertaining, perhaps actionable content over and over again.

If I sign up for a newsletter on environmental living, I’m looking for some fundamental action steps that are within my reach to act on in order to live a more sustainable lifestyle. If you keep sending me emails that say we need to act now and take down the oil lobbies, I’ll agree with you, but I’ll stop reading soon unless you give me ways I can do that.

But if once a week, you’re like, “Hey Thomas, here’s a recipe. Here’s a product. Here’s a company.” that’s value and I’ll keep reading. I might even start sharing and I am statistically very likely to purchase.

And that last piece is what makes email very useful to promote yourself. The reality is, if you’re an actor, you’re probably relying on the theatre companies to promote the shows you’re in. But what if you had your own list, let’s say of 300-1,000 subscribers and you invited them to your show. Say you get a modest 5% conversion rate, which is below the standard for the industry, that’s 15-50 people coming. You think a theatre company doesn’t start noticing that?

What platform should you use to send emails?

Mailchimp is probably still the best, though it pains me to say it (they radically changed their service offering in 2017 and it SUCKED). But if your list is under 2,000 subscribers, it’s free to use and you can also create some automations which is useful as heck.

Yeah, more to come on this too.

5. Offer a Free Download

So you might be asking, great. How do I create an email list of 300-1,000 subscribers? That’s a great question.

You give content offers to download in exchange for an email address. Maybe it’s an audition checklist. You’ve auditioned frequently enough or taken enough auditioning classes that you have the authority to create a guide for actors.

Maybe it’s your guide to plotting a story. Or a self-care guide. Tips to shooting in manual mode for photographers. A 31-day art challenge. Finances for artists. The possibilities are endless. You also don’t have to talk only to fellow artists or aspiring artists. You could provide content for your audiences too.

The point is when you know who you’re talking to, you can create an offer that is valuable. It’s all about your audience.

6. Create Regular Content

All right this is the last piece. And it goes like this: create stuff regularly. There are two kinds of rules of thumb that circulate in digital marketing.

The first is always focus on quality over quantity. The other is focus on regularity over quantity. So what does that mean you should focus on? Quality content regularly. There are no shortcuts.

Figure out the frequency you’re able to commit to. Is it once a month? Once every two weeks, every week, a couple times a week. It doesn’t matter. Pick a frequency you can maintain and put it in your calendar.

Then, pick one channel you’re going to focus on. Don’t do a blog and YouTube and IGTV and email and Facebook videos…

Just focus on your blog or focus on your email or your YouTube. Pick one, and give it the attention it deserves. Then once you’ve got your consistency down, you can grow.

How do you choose a channel? Start with what you’re passionate about. Don’t focus on email if you hate email but I said you should build your email list. That’s down the road on your plan. Spend your energy creating great content on a channel you’re interested in (or one that makes sense for your medium: if you’re a visual artist, Instagram is a bit more naturally suited than Twitter, for example).

Enjoy the ride

Yeah it’s work. And it’s a pain in the ass to figure out sometimes. And hopefully, you can create a network of people who are good at what they do so you don’t have to figure absolutely everything out on your own. That’s what I’m hoping to be here for. If you have questions about marketing, feel free to reach out at any time.

But in the end, we need our artists to be enjoying making and consuming art (oh yeah, make sure you’re supporting artists’ shit).

What about you? Do you have something you’ve found worked particularly well? Make sure people can steal it by sharing it in the comments below!

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