Today, I spoke with Scott Kirsner, who is a Boston Globe journalist and has just released his third book called Friend, Fans & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age.  In this interview, Scott examines the difference between achieving creative success in the 20th and 21st century.  He also talks about how social media can help you get a record or a book deal, how we can establish a following online, what his experience has been as both a blogger and journalist and an example of someone who has used social media as a success platform.

How has the path to creative success changed from the 20th to the 21st century?

For much of the 20th century, I think that there was really just one path: do what you do best, and hope to get discovered by a publisher, record label, movie studio, art dealer, etc.

But in the 21st century you can take control of your own destiny. If you have an entrepreneurial streak, and some interest in learning about marketing, you can produce the stuff you want to produce, build an audience, and support yourself financially. That’s a huge shift, and it creates some challenges, which I try to explore in Fans, Friends & Followers.

What emphasis do you put on social media (blogs/podcasting) on getting a record or a book deal now?

Having a presence online is really important, whether it’s a blog, a podcast, a Twitter account, or something else. First, it’s a way to communicate with your fans, and second, it’s a way for you to listen to them and their ideas. But it can also lead to getting noticed by someone from “big media” who is out trolling for talent.

What are your top 3 strategies for building a following online and offline?

  1. Invite people to participate in what you’re doing — contributing ideas or helping you in some authentic way. Give them a stake in your endeavors.
  2. Identify the places (blogs, sites, forums) where people who might be interested in your work are already congregating, and establish relationships with those sites, by guest-blogging, offering exclusive content, or doing e-mail interviews like this one. You don’t need to build your own audience from scratch.
  3. Pay attention to behavioral shifts taking place online. You can find opportunities if you watch what people are doing — noticing, for instance, that they’re suddenly spending lots of time with Facebook or YouTube or something new. You want to be there, explore those new places, understand what can be done with them.

How does your blog and the work you do for the Boston Globe support and possibly conflict with one another?

Blogging and longer-form writing are two very different things. I love the immediacy of blogging, and the way you can continually update a post based on peoples’ comments (or corrections.) It feels like a living thing. But I do still like the idea of writing for print, and being able to spend days or weeks developing a story, and imagining that someone will read it in an offline publication. Attention is just so scattered when you’re surfing the Web — and it’s much more focused when you’re reading a magazine or book or newspaper. How do they conflict? I still earn more money from writing for print outlets, but clearly print is no longer a growth industry.

Can you give an example of someone who has used social media tools in order to get a special opportunity in traditional media (TV, Radio, etc)?

I think one really good example is Michael Buckley, best known for a show he created on YouTube called “What the Buck.” It’s sort of a celebrity/pop culture commentary show, with a really sharp humorous perspective. He accumulated one of the biggest subscriberships on YouTube, in part by being available, asking people to rate his videos, and really interacting with his audience and their comments. Through YouTube’s partner program (which shares ad revenue with creators), he was able to earn enough money that he could quit his day job, and he also landed deals with HBO Labs and Sony Pictures’ Minisode Network.

Scott Kirsner is a journalist who writes about innovation, with a special focus on the ways that new technologies are changing the entertainment industry. He writes regularly for Variety and The Boston Globe, and has been a contributing writer for Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and Wired. He edits the blog CinemaTech (est. 2005). He is the author of Inventing the Movies, a technological history of Hollywood, and The Future of Web Video, one of the first books about the business and creative possibilities of online video, originally published in November 2006 and updated in March 2007. Scott’s writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and Newsweek, among other publications.