In many ways trying to make a name for yourself among the shiny glass offices of Palo Alto isn’t all that different from searching for fame under bright lights of Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood is built on advertising and self-promotion. Even the iconic Hollywood sign was originally an advertisement for a housing development called Hollywoodland. Yet, it still towers over Tinseltown more than 60 years later.
However, unlike in acting, where success relies on relentlessly placing yourself in front of the right sets of eyes, self-promotion has traditionally been frowned upon by some in the world of business, with many entrepreneurs preferring to focus on their business rather than stepping into the spotlight themselves. However, in the increasingly saturated modern startup ecosystem concentrating, on your personal image and social proof on social media is becoming essential to draw the attention of those who can push your career, product or company to the next level.
In the modern age of social media Hollywood’s most prestigious talent agencies are basing hiring decisions on potential candidates online followings on leading platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. That's before even looking at their previous work on IMDB.
So what can entrepreneurs learn from Hollywood about the importance of maintaining an online presence?
A new landscape.
In the golden years of Hollywood, getting noticed meant tirelessly working your way up the ranks. Even the most jaw-dropping beauties like Marilyn Monroe had to start at the bottom, modeling, working as extras, meeting the right people, being seen at the right parties.
However, now the landscape is very different. According to Michael Abrams, CEO of the Michael Abrams Group, directors are increasingly looking for social media social proof, particularly within the four platforms of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.
We are living in the age of social media, when previously unknown YouTube stars have millions of fans and are earning seven-figure salaries. For up-and-coming figures in the entertainment business, the amount of followers they have on Facebook and Instagram is becoming more important than the small part they had in a Broadway show, or their appearance as an extra in a popular TV show.
Esteemed British actress Emma Thompson recently took to the press in criticism of "young actors who can’t act and only get hired due to large social media followings.” While casting directors insist it’s talent -- not an actor’s online following -- that matters most, it’s not so much who you know, but how many people know you which will get you your chance in the limelight.
Veteran casting director Mike Fenton told TheWrap. “There is no question that today if you have good numbers on social media, you have become a better choice to be cast.”
The same is increasingly true in the world of business. In the good-old-days, an entrepreneur’s worth was judged by his previous work experience, education and references. But in the same way as investors' handbooks have evolved from looking at backward-focused financials, assessing soft factors such as customer relationships, social media impact, brand, innovation capabilities and design, in the highly competitive startup ecosystem it is important to develop your own soft factors as a professional too.
One of the main reasons that Hollywood star-hunters look to hire candidates with huge followings is because it offers a foot in the door with a huge potential audience. Also it adds free advertising and social sharing via the actor’s own social media channels.
When former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck announced he would be attending a screening of one of his movies to his 13 million social media followers, more than a thousand fans turned up to the show in Orlando. The new movie sold out within hours.
In a similar vein, entrepreneurs should stay on the lookout for influencers via social media that can help promote their company, or try to become an influencer themselves. Heather Saul from The Independent states: “Instead of turning to the pages of magazines, catwalks or films, Generations Y and Z now look to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in search of their idols.” Consequently, you should always be on the lookout for influencers who can help you connect with your target audience.
Online influencers are now developing into a lucrative section of the advertising industry, so don’t expect the star to partner out of the goodness of their own hearts, but offering sponsorship or branding partnerships could really strike a chord with younger consumers.
Image is everything.
As a PR professional who specializes in startups, one of the first factors I look at when assessing the strength of a new client is their online presence and social proof. If we can’t find you on a range of platforms then alarm bells start ringing. The same will apply for peers and potential partners in your industry too.
In days long gone, a quick browse of a CV and LinkedIn profile might have sufficed for prospective employers, investors or partners. But now the Internet offers a much deeper insight, allowing them to effectively make an impression of any candidates before they even step into the room.
Leading companies are investing more and more in social media, often bringing on professionals with experience at leading platforms like Facebook. For individual entrepreneurs it is equally important to move past having only a stagnant LinkedIn profile with your past employers and an awkward mugshot photo, and branch out to different platforms like Instagram, Facebook and even Snapchat too. These platforms are designed for sharing and you will be amazed at how many followers and friends you can gather if you designate a few hours per week to social media.
The startup ecosystem is becoming more clustered, and in turn more competitive, as millions of young companies with great products and ideas try to stick their head above the crowd. While in the past it was commonplace to focus media and industry attention on your company and products rather than yourself, the landscape is changing rapidly. It is time for entrepreneurs to take some learning experiences from Hollywood, one of the most competitive ecosystems in the world, and develop their social profiles to improve their chances of making it in their own industries.