September 20, 2012

With New Opportunities Comes New Etiquette

A powerful quality of social media is its ability to break down barriers between creators and audience, and indeed between colleagues working in the same field. With that, however, come new interactional pitfalls. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re contacting a creator you admire—for the sake of example, let’s call him Robin Laws—to ask for help on your cool new project.

The creator you admire gets lots of requests for help. With the sudden uptake of Kickstarter, they’ve multiplied by what feels like tenfold.

When you ask creators for input on your project, and you’re not clearly offering to pay their consulting rates to do so, you’re asking them to work for free. Chances are that they will be unable to do so, even if they want to. Which they don’t, because you’re popping up out of the blue to ask them to do something for free. Any freelancer has to maximize the creative time spend doing work that will help pay that pesky rent. This is as true for fiction projects as game designs. Looking at both of these things is, to be blunt, a task I perform in exchange for money.

When you ask creators to look at your project and promote it, you are asking them to expend a limited resource, the attention of their social media audiences. Is your thing so awesome and different that the creator is doing himself a favor by pointing to it, enhancing his stature as a linker to awesomeness? Unless what you’re doing is genuinely category-busting, well, probably not. If what you’re doing is just the regular cool labor of love, you’re simply asking a favor. And in a favor economy, you’ve got to give in order to receive.

I have so many great folks in my immediate circle of collaborators that pointing to their work, which I’m already to some degree aware of and can confidently tout, already uses up my finite pool of promotional mojo. If we have no prior relationship and I don’t feel that tug of mutual loyalty, I’m going to beg off.

To that end, you will likely get my new boilerplate reply, which goes like this:

Thanks for letting me know about your Kickstarter project. As crowdfunding has taken off, I’ve been getting an increasing number of requests for help in promoting various projects and have been struggling with the best way to handle this.

If I choose to promote a large number of projects, the value of that promotion dilutes. Also, I’m crazy-busy these days and can’t always spare the time to check out every project I’m asked to post about. For these reasons, the approach that feels right to me is to confine my plugs to projects within my immediate circle of colleagues and collaborators. With the ubiquity of crowdfunding at the moment, and the size of that circle, that’s already a lot of plugging.

This is in no way a judgment on the promise of your project, and I wish you every success with it.

Just another nugget of new etiquette for the disintermediation age.