A longtime Chicagoan, Elaine Soloway (mother to Transparent’s writer/creator Jill and writer Faith) recently relocated to Los Angeles – without a car, but with plenty of support from community, the 76-year-old writer/blogger, PR and social media consultant is making it work her own way, which I dubbed “The Solo Way.” Enjoy this profile in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
On my recent trip to Israel, I visited the Voice of Israel studios in Jerusalem to talk culture, trends, social media, comedy and what “young professionals” really means – among other topics – with comedian and Big Felafel host, Molly Livingstone. Check out this 25-minute conversation below (if you’re on Chrome – if you’re using a different browser you may need to visit the Voice of Israel site post, here)…
Comedy as social change? Only in Jerusalem. December 21-22 saw the arrival of a group of comedy change-makers from around the world for the premiere Comedy for a Change conference. Originally signed up as an attendee, I was honored that they subsequently hired me as social media manager for the conference – I created and managed the @JJJComedy Twitter for the three weeks before the conference, during the event itself, and for several weeks after.
The brainchild of comedy writer and exporter of Israeli TV formats Omri Marcus, the conference brought to Israel people who had never been there before, to experience different styles of comedy, examine how comedy informs the social and political perspectives, and to participate in an international writers room.
As the social media manager for the conference, I watched the tweets fly fast and furious throughout the day, documenting the unique proceedings as they transpired. The mayor of Jerusalem was interviewed by a foul mouthed puppet (think Avenue Q, but ruder). Participants were treated to an inside scoop of from the writers of the German, American, and Israeli versions of the hit show, “The Office.” Two Canadian comedians talked about their Yiddish-language comedy series, YidLife Crisis. The head of television programs for the BBC spoke about his network, Israel in the news, and the changing face of anti-Semitism in Europe. Session panelists talked about pushing the envelope, the process of producing video, and how social change messages can be embedded in comedic contexts.
The United States, of course, was well-represented. Other comedy professionals hailed from countries as far away as Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, South Africa and Canada; there were also two Muslim comics (from Denmark and Brooklyn), who were a vital component to the “Non-Diplomatic Peace Talks” session (covered by CNN), an experience pairing them with two Israeli political comedians and moderated by a German. (If you pause at 2:00 in the clip, you can spy me in the audience, smiling demurely and looking down at my notebook.)
Check out a sampling of the Tweets and photos from the conference, as rendered through Storify:
We’re all guilty of it, from time to time, trading in rumors, snark and jokes at the expense of others, especially when we think no one’s watching. The fact is, like in Terry Benedict’s casino in Ocean’s 11, on the internet, there’s always someone watching.
Recently, Sony’s Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal found this out firsthand during the massive hack of Sony Pictures, as several of the communications they thought would remain between them went public in a major way, along with thousands of other leaked internal documents. Snarking about colleagues is nothing new; we’ve all been on this e-mail chains with people trying to out joke each other as they poke and prod at the people in power. But in Rudin & Pascal’s case, one of those people in power was the President, and the content was “racially tinged,” as the New York Times put it.
Post-hack, Rudin and Pascal both released statements. Rudin’s read, in part:
“[…] private emails between friends and colleagues written in haste and without much thought or sensitivity, even when the content of them is meant to be in jest, can result in offense where none was intended.”
In addition to the discussion on what constitutes professional behavior in the entertainment industry, and identifying the considerable role that gossip plays, the hack also launched a conversation among journalists about how to handle information resulting from the hack. Several journalists were concerned that the “information” had actually less of a “the public has a right to know” caliber than a salacious “yep, we knew that people in Hollywood talked behind each others’ backs” quality to them – that distinction was the difference for many between feeling obliged to use the information and feeling that using the information would be both gossip and a validation for the hackers’ methods.
There are certain things that are out of our control, especially in this wild world of internet transparency, with endless space in the cloud – wherever that is – to record our most inane or insane moments. But the space between the character we display in our public moments and the way we conduct ourselves online seems to be widening. While we may not be inclined to cease joking about people in power, be they presidents or supervisors or Angelina Jolie or Kevin Hart or parents or siblings, those of us who care about being consistent in our character might want to take an extra look at that email before it’s sent, or that blog post before it’s published, or that Tweet before it’s tweeted.
Are we the people we are in our face-to-face interactions, or are we the people we are in our private communications, when we think no one else is watching? And when we pause before posting, we should think for an extra minute or two (or 60) – is this a statement we want to be associated with our name, not just in a private email but in public?
In other words, let’s hack our own identities – both online and off – to more fully understand how our private correspondence connects to who we are as we walk through the world, both professionally and personally.
When I lived in New York, one of the focal points of my entertainment year was the Israel Film Festival. My friends and I, pre-Hulu, pre-Netflix, pre-much-of-anything-other-than-mainstream-modes-of-entertainment, eagerly anticipated the annual display of Jewiness-on-film meets Zionism, the Jewish geography and Hebrew immersion experience that was the Festival. We all knew when the Festival was happening, where it was happening and what was playing. I remember that most of the shows were sold out well in advance, because of the collective New York Israel-loving-and-missing community, many of us in our twenties. We planned outings, doing dinner or drinks first at a local bar or on several occasions, sinking into New York cliche with frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, which had the convenience of being nearby the theater.
And all of that was before social media.
Since I moved to LA, I’ve either been out of town for the IFF (my fault, but usually because I’m in Israel), or have been in town but have been unaware that it’s happening. This doesn’t seem possible, as I spend most of the day online and connected to the Jewish world. I follow the IFF on Twitter, and subscribe to their FB page, as well as email blasts from the Jewish Journal and the IAC. This year, one of my friends posted about it on Facebook. But if not for that, I might have woken up someday next week and learned that I had missed it yet again.
Theoretically, in this age of hyper-connectivity, I should have been overwhelmed with communications regarding the IFF, both in advance and once it was underway. So why wasn’t I? Part of the problem is that communications are overwhelming generally – since I rarely pick up a copy of the Jewish Journal and read only selected articles online, it’s not the mainstream media that’s the problem as much as it is the evolving way we consume that information. And it might be, in part, because their social media presence is so minimal and they are failing to mobilize the audience (and their sponsors) as brand ambassadors and PR agents.
Because Facebook is an inexplicable mystery when it comes to assessing the potential for organic reach without advertising (and because they should be advertising to LA Jews and don’t seem to be), let’s take a look at the Twitter account for @israelfilmfest.
Their account, since November 2009, has tweeted 121 times. They have under 1000 followers. Most of the “people” they’re “following” on Twitter aren’t people at all: they’re other Film Festivals (who are not likely to share, retweet or publicize the IFF’s efforts) and organizations (some partners, who should be sharing/retweeting/publicizing, but don’t seem to be). And – most disturbingly – only have tweeted 5 times in the month of October, precisely when tweets should have been, if not fast and furious, then laden with information, tempting offers and tidbits about the festival’s films. The website links to a few pieces about the Festival, but imagine the reach of those pieces expanded by social media…
This advice is unsolicited. But because I love the Festival, I’m sharing some tips about how to do it better next year (or at the other two outings of the festival, upcoming in Miami and New York….but don’t ask me when those are or were, since that info doesn’t seem to be on the IFF website).
1. Use your assets in promoting the festival. The filmmakers. The content of their work. Their actors. People in LA who are Israeli or support Israeli culture. Local kosher/Israeli establishments. Festival partners. Organizations who aren’t financial sponsors, but could be content partners. And the organizers should have shot wide in terms of the angles that could be explored for coverage. For instance:
- People who are in the know about Israeli music get giddy at the fact that Meir Fenigstein founded and runs the Festival, it’s like being in the same room with one of the Beatles. Why isn’t there an article about Poogy/Kaveret, or about the music of Israeli films?
- Fenigstein told a story at the screening of “The Go-Go Boys” about Menahem Golan’s role in suggesting and sponsoring the first IFF. Why wasn’t that a first-person piece (or an interview) in the Jewish Journal, Variety, THR, The Writer’s Guild, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, or EW?
- Cannon Films, the Golan/Globus production company that became huge in the 80s and is the focus of The Go-Go Boys,” producing Death Wish, Bloodsport & Breakin’, must have inspired dozens of filmmakers (in addition to Eli Roth, who is featured in the film). Maybe pitch Quentin Tarantino on writing something about his favorite Cannon Films outing, or invite Eli Roth to introduce the film at the Festival? (They may have, but these are the types of ideas I mea when I say “shooting wide…” in regard to PR.)
2. Enhance your social media presence. Ideally, hire someone (or designate a web-savvy volunteer) to coordinate a multi prong social media approach, including (at minimum) Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. But I know sometimes Jewish nonprofits can’t allocate those funds, in which case less ideal but still a plan, hire a consultant to create a plan for you to implement before during and after the festival. And that’s #3…
3. Create a content plan, including a commitment to Tweeting regularly leading up to and during the festival. In addition to varying the types of content posted (trivia, Q&A about the festival or its films, short video clips, shoutouts to filmmakers, links to purchase etc), this content plan should also clearly identify the goals of each week’s social media outreach. Which week will be primarily about promotion and identifying potential partners/sponsors? Which week will be about getting people in the seats? Which week will be about celebrating the people who come and the energy on-site? (That there are NO PHOTOS on the Photos tab on the website as of November 2 – a week into the festival with almost a week to go – is not a good sign.)
Keeping Twitter current and active on its own (or even using magical Facbeook advertising) isn’t necessarily going to sell out the festival. But today, there are so many (free or mostly free) tools that are available – why not use them?
(If the folks at the IFF want help with this next year, they can feel free to be in touch. I’ll give them a decent rate, I promise. :))
I’d love for this to be an instructional story about how to effectively request and obtain Divine intervention that yields a traffic-free journey between cities in Southern California. It’s not. But the trip between San Diego and Los Angeles did provide me with a fascinating experience of gratitude that wasn’t quite prayer, and yet, wasn’t NOT prayer. As it happened, I knew I had to write about it.
Luckily, one of my clients, ELI Talks (who is hosting FREE live, TED-style talks in NYC next week – see this link for all details and registration info), provided the inspiration with an online conversation on God that had me asking some questions about prayers and where they go, once uttered.
Driving back from a social media training in San Diego to Los Angeles before the High Holidays, I felt something move through me. I turned down the radio and began to speak words aloud. “I am grateful,” I began, adding simple phrases until they became sentences of gratitude. Spontaneous, uncomplicated gratitude, so large that I had to speak it aloud even with no audience to listen and applaud, hadn’t happened to me a lot in my life. It sounded like prayer, albeit (my inner writer scolded) a not-so liturgically or poetically-compelling one.
But who was I talking to? God? My ancestors? A muse? Or, as many say in California, “the energy of the universe”? It felt like I had written an important letter, but had failed to address the envelope, or was sending to an email address that had been discontinued. Who would even hear this expression of thanks, this gratitude for things ranging from family to the completely appreciated lightness of traffic, from the laughter I received during my presentation to feeling the sunshine on my arm as I drove? Where was God? And did it matter? Or was it important to express the gratitude regardless of whether or not it was directed at anyone (or Anyone)?
Read the entire piece at eJewishPhilanthropy.com. And as always, please feel free to share any feedback…
As a producer and consumer of print and online media – and one who subscribes to far too many print magazines, as the pile in my home testifies – I’m always interested when a new magazine perceives a market and emerges. In a world increasingly reigned by “online” and “free,” what goes into the decision to create something new with a paywall that also has a print component (which raises costs considerably)?
I learned about The California Sunday Magazine months ago through some writers’ networks I’m involved with – their goal was to make a beautiful magazine that focused squarely on California (a big state with lots of different areas of industry, so no lack of stories there). And what was interesting to the members of the writers’ network was, unlike most startup magazines, there was no call to submit for free, which usually looks like “you guys, we’re starting a great new magazine – no pay right now, but great exposure when we launch with potential to be assigned paying pieces when we get funded in the next three years…” Writers were promised competitive rates for their work (and the masthead of professional writers and editors speaks to that). What a concept.
The California Sunday Magazine premiered today, written in a congenial tone, with (not so many – 3 features, five shorts and one “miniseries,” punctuated by “commissioned content” from brands and companies) articles running the gamut from farming to this piece about Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire and so many more novels (who now lives in Palm Desert). It’s currently monthly, although they aim to go twice-monthly, and then eventually weekly. You get 3 articles for free, then they ask for your support. The lowest level of support is $39.99 a year, but print copies will be in “select Sunday copies of the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Sacramento Bee.” The management promises, “one-hundred percent of your Fan contribution goes directly to writers and artists.” (That’s something.)
What’s “Ranch-Style” Social Media? Good question…well, it has little to do with the creamy dressing that people use to dip hot wings and occasionally vegetables into, and everything to do with the location of my last social media training .
I was honored to have been invited by the folks at See3 Communications to be part of the social media boot camp they were conducting for the Leichtag Foundation, a foundation whose mission it is to honor the legacy of Lee and Toni Leichtag through igniting and inspiring vibrant Jewish life, advancing self-sufficiency and stimulating social entrepreneurship in coastal North San Diego County and Jerusalem. The event was held Monday, September 15, at the Leichtag-run ranch in Encinitas (near San Diego), where a number of social entrepreneurship programs and Jewish organizations also were headquartered under an initiative called the North County Jewish Hub. (You can view tweets, photos & vines from the day at #NCJHub.)
My presentation on Twitter provided some best practices, as well as some examples of what constitutes good engagement (like the @midnight #HashtagWars) and what constitutes a Twitter #fail (for instance, the recent DiGiorno’s #WhyIStayed snafu).
The media session provided lots of hints about how to approach – and most importantly, develop ongoing relationships with – members of the media, to maximize your chances of getting coverage for an event or organization.
Thanks for your patience while we worked out some technical challenges with EstherK.com – I’m looking forward to bringing you more writing, advice and food for thought in this space over the next few months, and hope you’ll be here to think, learn and laugh with me. Until the fresh content is fully baked, I wanted to share these two videos with you.
I’ve started working as freelance community manager for ELI Talks, a program designed to bring TED-style talks and weekly on-air conversations to people who want to explore Jewish engagement, literacy and identity. Most of the time, I’m behind the camera, live-tweeting the weekly conversations (you can see past editions at the ELI Talks website under the section for ELI Talks on Air). But my first run was as an intervieweee – I spoke about my writing on everything from Jewish singles to life after loss; and my next one was as an interviewer, as I spoke to the guys behind the Jewish video site Shmideo. (The links in the previous sentence will take you to MyUrbanKvetch, for the minute-by-minute breakdown, in case you’d like to see a part of the video without sitting down to watch the entire thing. :))
More content to come – looking forward to sharing with you in this space soon! (And a happy Jewish new year to those of you who are celebrating…)
This week was simply mad – a personal essay in the JTA (commonly known as the AP of the Jewish world) about loss, focusing on a ring that was my mother’s; I attended my lovely and moving good-bye party at work; a new part-time job came together which enables me to shift into new styles of writing (more to come on that later); and over this weekend, was mentioned in an article in the New York Times about the Modern Loss site, to which I had contributed a piece titled “Deleting My Mother.” (As an extra bonus moment of glee, the Times referred to me as “founder of the blog My Urban Kvetch,” a mention I never would have imagined when I founded it ten years ago.)
Earlier in March, I read a piece about improv inspiring creativity at Jewish nonprofits, and decided to take it one step further with this piece, “Yes-And’ing Our Way to Organizational Progress.”
This past weekend was also the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is typically marked by celebration and comedic performances, including something called a “Purim shpiel” – generally this highlights the story of Purim in some way, but the spiritual community known as IKAR treats the “shpiel” time as an opportunity to lampoon the community itself. This is my second year on the writing team for the Shpiel, and one of my two contributions was a parody of pharmaceutical commercials, but treating IKAR itself as the drug. (The other one, a Yiddish-inflected parody of “Roar,” by Katy Perry, isn’t posted yet.) There’s a lot of inside comedy, but I think it still plays to others. Check it out!