What They Lack In Talent, They Make Up With Social Media Followers

For a long time when people offered advice to those hoping to be actors, they would say something along the lines of, “No matter how talented and good looking you are, there are 10 others just as talented and good looking.” The unspoken subtext was that there were a bunch of others who were even more talented and better looking so the ten of you and tens of others were out of work.

Perhaps we need to add “….and have as many, if not more followers on social media,” to the list of qualifications.   Arts Professional UK relates a number of anecdotes from actors who were disheartened to be asked about their social media handles and follower numbers after they auditioned.

“But the girl that went in after me had 20,000 more followers on Twitter and she got the role. I mean, you can actually just do your homework privately, can’t you? Look it up for yourself, but don’t ask me that after I’ve just given you my best bit of acting,” she added

[…]

Actor Joseph Batchelor said he had recently attended a casting for a fast-food restaurant commercial and added: “Even though the role was just as a walk-on supporting artist, I was still asked for my social media handles, which I thought was ridiculous.”

Similarly, Bethany Fenton said she had auditioned for a non-speaking featured role in a furniture advert, and had been asked for her Instagram handle and number of followers.

“It should be about talent, but I suppose followers are often a sign of social currency and popularity, which businesses like Netflix or furniture companies want,” she said.

I am not going to speculate about whether this sort of thing happens in the U.S. I have been in the room when the decision to feature someone in a theater performance came down to social media following.

I do wonder how prevalent it is across the country and disciplines. I know orchestra auditions are blind and assume information on social media following wouldn’t be available to a committee. But what about chamber ensembles or other musical genres. Does social media following give an edge to less talented people in other auditions? Do dancers get a leg up, pun intended? Do visual artists get chosen for gallery shows because there is a likely to be better attendance at the opening due to a good social media following?

I suspect this is the case to a greater or lesser degree in many cases. Which means social media presence likely has an impact on whether one gets representation. An agent or gallery owner only gets paid if a person is hired or their work sells. If social media numbers translates into greater professional exposure, that may impact whether one gets representation or cultivating a following may be a condition of representation.

Granted, for a lot of people growing a social media following is probably going to be the least difficult and intimidating aspect of managing one’s career. But perceiving yourself to be in an arms race with other artists may lead people to some ill-advised decisions which will grow their following, but diminish their personal brand.

Anyone seeing this creep into calculations?

New Study of Impact of Arts Ed On Social Skills

I frequently urge people to be careful about making statements regarding the benefits of arts on educational outcomes so I am happy when I read about some rigorously conducted studies that present some positive results. Via Dan Pink is a report on a randomized study conducted in Houston with 10548 students at 42 schools. (They actually had far more schools interested in participating than they had room to accommodate which is a positive sign for arts in education.)

 

…the initiative helped students in a few ways: boosting students’ compassion for their classmates, lowering discipline rates, and improving students’ scores on writing tests.

[…]

The positive effects on writing test scores, discipline, and compassion were small to moderate. Students’ disciplinary infraction rates, for instance, fell by 3.6 percentage points. But these results are particularly encouraging because the cost to schools was fairly small — about $15 per student. (This did not include costs borne by the program as whole or by the cultural institutions that donated time.)

As always, pay attention to the specific findings and degree to which the positive benefit was observed. At the same time, remember that there may have been factors external to the school environment that was negatively impacting students’ ability to take tests well, maintain self-discipline and feel compassion.

When the researchers comment on the areas in which the initiative didn’t make significant difference, they made an observation worth considering about the idea that providing arts content and testable content are mutually exclusive.

On other measures, the initiative didn’t make a clear difference. That includes reading and math scores as well as survey questions about school engagement and college aspirations. Still, the survey results were mostly positive, though largely not statistically significant.

“It could have come out negative. It could have been, look, they did this extra stuff where they learned more in these other domains but their math scores went down, so here’s the tradeoff,” said Kisida, one of the researchers. “We don’t see evidence of a tradeoff.”

That’s especially notable because some have feared that pressure to raise test scores has squeezed arts out of the curriculum in many schools (though there’s limited empirical evidence on whether that’s actually happened).

I haven’t read the full study results yet but plan to do so. In the meantime, take a look at either the summary article or the study because there are a number of other observations, including the role arts opportunities play in the social growth of students.

Tell A Creative You Love Them This Valentine’s Day

As we come up on Valentine’s Day, a little reminder that there are a lot more ways to say, “I Love You,” than speaking those specific words.

A couple years ago Gavin Aung Than created a cartoon on his Zen Pencil’s site illustrating the sentiments of filmmaker Kevin Smith that, “It costs nothing to encourage an artist.”

Here is a small screenshot from the comic. I won’t spoil the ending, but according to Smith something is lost when you discourage an artist.

If The Metric Is Valued, Someone Is Probably Trying To Game The System

Okay, so I promise I am not seeking out articles that discuss the problems with depending on quantitative metrics to determine effectiveness and value. They just keep falling into my lap. This one is via Dan Pink and is kinda fun to read thanks to some animations.

The piece in The Hustle has us follow the “career” of  Otis has he moves from being a cashier to sales to online advertising to programming to surgery in order to illustrate how the use of quotas and efficiency metrics permeates every industry and every profession to incentivize gaming the system in order to generate the best appearance.

But Otis came to learn that metrics weren’t inherently bad — his bosses had just failed to grasp two important economic principles:

  • Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure,” and
  • Campbell’s Law: The more a metric is used, the more likely it is to “corrupt the process it is intended to monitor.”

He realized that when his performance was measured with a specific metric, he optimized everything to hit it, regardless of the consequences that arose. As a visiting professor at the London School of Economics told him, improper targets could:

  • Encourage “gaming” the system (e.g., bagging free groceries)
  • Incentivize the wrong aspects of work (e.g., writing trivial code)
  • Erode morale (e.g., writing clickbait)
  • Harm customers (e.g., turning away critical surgery patients)

And so, Otis decided to start his own company — a company where metrics would serve their true purpose: To motivate and align. Efficiency, Otis finally realized, isn’t just output; it is the value of what is produced.

If you think about the measures being applied to non-profit arts and cultural organizations like overhead ratio, economic impact, test scores, etc and pay attention to what organizations are doing in order to meet those metrics, you will probably start to see behaviors that conform to those listed above.

It could manifest as massaging numbers in financials and research; chasing funding that doesn’t align with mission and strains capacity; superficial efforts that check desired boxes; pursuit of a narrow segment of community rather than a focus on broader inclusion. I am sure readers can think of many examples from their own experiences.

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