Teach People To be a Good Fan
Lessons from NYCC’s Audience Engagement Panel
New York Comedy Club has recently launched a series of panels that are free to comics, where they get to ask a group of experienced comedians, as they say, everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Our second panel, organized by Candi Clare, covered audience engagement and social media. It covered everything from the nuts and bolts of algorithms to keeping your humanity and authenticity online. The panelists were Liz Miele, a veteran comedian who has created an audience engagement platform called LizrdMail that allows comedians to easily collect contact and demographic info from audience members after a show; Justin Zirilli, social media manager for Comedy Mob and other non-comedy entities; and Ian Fidance, a club favorite who “absolutely hates the fakeness of social media, but is completely sucked into it”
If you couldn’t make the panel, here are some solid takeaways you can start using right now!
Y’all Need More Content - As the self-described algorithmic robot of the panel, Justin urged everyone to “live more in public.” You don’t need to be generating time consuming content like sketches or edited and captioned sets - everything is content. Are you on a show? Post the flyer. Are you hanging in the green room? Post a candid group selfie.
Many bookers will peruse your social media and if you’re too stingy about posting shows because you think that’s “not the cool thing to do” it’ll make them think you don’t work very much. Instead of just straight show promotion, Liz posts pictures of cats and street art from cities she tours in, which has made her known as a comedian who travels extensively, even though plenty of other comics tour as much (or more!) then her. Ian is a silly, fun comedian onstage and brings that to his IG Stories, posting content with his mom and ridiculous visual puns that gives potential audience members a strong idea of what they’ll get when they see him live.
Be a Good Social Media Citizen - Comment, like and share! If you love something a friend (or a comic you’ve never met) posted - INTERACT WITH IT! That will help push their post up the algorithm. Even just a hand clap emoji in the comments helps. When you Retweet, Regram or Share something, you’ll get the bonus of providing more content for your followers. And while you shouldn’t expect tit for tat, you will be generating goodwill that will probably get some of your stuff shared more widely in return.
Do It Now, Make Mistakes, Find Your Focus - Liz shared a wealth of experience she gained from losing her management and having to take on all that work herself. “Don’t wait for someone else to pluck you, Choose Yourself. You don’t have to be on every platform, just choose two that fit with you and focus on that. Read articles, but know they’ll be outdated in 3 months because these platforms are always changing their algorithms, so look at what other comedians are doing successfully.” Liz pointed to the trend of adding subtitles to your videos, which she started doing after seeing how well it worked for Jared Freid.
Justin backed that up with statistics about how few people have the sound on when watching videos in the main feeds of Facebook and Instagram (though most Story watchers keep the sound on FYI). Liz also added, “You’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. And sometimes you’re going to post something silly that goes viral while you post something genius that gets one Like. Just keep experimenting.”
Don’t be Married to Your Followers - Platforms change and die (remember Vine?) and a follower count is now considered a Vanity Number by most agencies and industry. A six digit follower count that’s mostly bots and people who will never come see a show isn’t nearly as valuable as a small group of highly engaged followers.
And always have a backup! Liz focused her LizrdMail on email because that’s a permanent way to contact people, regardless of the changes Facebook makes every 3 months or whether Twitter runs out of money and stops existing.
Ian added that you can’t be beholden to your followers to tell you who you are or if you’re good enough, “A lot of social media is a sham. And people don’t treat other people like actual humans online. Sometimes you post just because you want that validation, but you can’t live and die by those Likes.”
Be Safe Online - There’s a lot of ways that your online life can bleed into IRL. Hopefully, in good ways like people coming out to shows. But it’s often in pretty negative ways - from trolling or hurtful comments, to getting in trouble with your day job, all the way to death threats and doxxing. Ian likes to bring the human element to his interactions, often privately messaging people who leave homophobic, misogynistic or mean spirited comments to let them know he doesn’t want that negativity on his page. More often than not, they voluntarily take it down and apologize, because they honestly weren’t thinking about the human at the other end (be it Ian or a fellow commenter they got into a flame war with).
Being a petite woman, Liz takes a different tack, “BLOCK PEOPLE. And limit all your interactions. I like answering positive comments, but I try never to go back and forth more than twice and then send them to my website or mailing list for more info. It just keeps a safer distance from anyone who might be a little off.”
Justin fielded a question about comedians worried about getting in trouble with their day job employers by reminding everyone that the Internet is Forever. “Think before you post. Your tweet may only get 6 or 7 likes, so it feels like you’re just sitting in your living room with your friends or yelling into the void. But once it’s out there, anything can happen - it can be screenshot and passed around, someone with a large following might repost it, and it can all be taken out of context.”
Be Yourself - Ending on a more positive note, both Liz and Ian have found better engagement and better quality of life by focusing on what they like instead of trying to engineer what might do well. Liz advocated the advantages of making herself happy with the content she was putting out, “When I started posting mostly cat stuff to my Stories, did I lose followers? Yes. Were they idiots that weren’t going to be interested in coming to my show anyway? Yes.” And Ian had some thoughts on taking all the above advice with a grain of salt, “Just have fun and find what works for you! I’ve always felt uncomfortable with certain types of self promotion and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. But I always loved taking pictures and being silly, so as I’ve found my voice onstage, that’s all coming through on my Instagram and it’s really connecting with people in a way I wasn’t when I tried to force myself to be a different way.”
You can learn more about LizrdMail and sign up for the Beta program at: lizrdmail.com