Social media is a wonderful thing. Social media is also a terrible thing. It can connect people around the world who would otherwise never be connected. It can also tear families apart.
Facebook has co-opted the word "friend" to mean a relationship that used to be called an "acquaintance." My actual friends are people whom I've met in a work or social situation. Those are the people who I'd expect to communicate with via private instant messages on social media. But a large majority of acquaintances on social media apparently think nothing of sending me private instant messages at all hours of the day or night. These are "Friendquaintances." And if you have thousands of them, private messaging is not a workable scenario. Think of it this way: it's one thing to meet for a chat in public on my lawn if you happened to be passing by, but there's normally no need for you to corner me privately in my own virtual living room. Lots of people on social media have been conditioned to think nothing of barging thorough someone's virtual front door and crashing on their virtual couch in the form of a private message. Please don't be a "Couch-Crasher" at my place. If I'm sitting on the virtual porch, or like I always am in a public space such as a Facebook Page or Twitter Feed, I'm fair game. But if you need to pass through a virtual doorway into a virtual private space for a chat, please save that for actual friends, not this social media "Friendquaintance." Thanks.
Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a 24-hour customer service department. I'm one guy balancing life, work, family and sleep. Private instant messages — be they on Facebook, Twitter, Skype or text message — by their very nature require real-time interaction. If someone messages you privately — or worse, drags you into a private group with no warning (an "ambush," as I like to call it) — you're expected to reply near-instantaneously. That's been demonstrated by the people who keep sending me messages until they receive a reply ["Hi, Mike." "Hi, Mike." "Hi, Mike."]. When I get such private messages during meals, during a booking with a client, or while attempting to spend some quality time with my wife and children, the word "interruption" doesn't begin to cover it. A virtual stranger who has no idea what I might be possibly be doing at any given time (most likely what I'm doing is not staring at a screen waiting to receive a random message) suddenly wants my undivided attention, which I am unable to give. It's the equivalent of giving me an unsolicited call on the phone, which is equally inappropriate.
Let's put it another way: It's like your favorite barista at Starbucks —being friendly is part of his job. You're welcome to chat and joke with him at work, but don't confuse that with actual friendship and don't show up at his house.
Or we can put it in real-life terms: I do meet-and greets at conventions or other controlled public events. I often sit at a table where you're welcome to come by and chat. But at those same events, there are also private spaces like a green room or my hotel room where fan interactions are not welcome. That's the same distinction as the timeline versus the direct message.
Apart from the interruption aspect, there's also the impropriety aspect. A large number of my fans are kids. I'm also the parent of two kids. Do you think I'd want to find out that my kids are exchanging private messages with a strange middle-aged man? I don't think so. It's like a blind date. Common sense suggests if you're planning to meet a stranger, you should always do so in a public place. It's safer than behind closed doors.
So, to review, the perfect place to chat with me that doesn't bring my life to a screeching halt, and doesn't lead to any raised eyebrows from parents or family members: post a message on my public spaces on Facebook and Twitter. I'll get back to you ASAP, or another like-minded fan might be able to answer your question before I get a chance. (It might already be addressed on my Fan FAQ page, so take a look there, too.) And if you think your question is too embarrassing to post publicly, it's probably going to be a violation of my Rules of Engagement (see below) so it's a question better left unasked.
If you do have a valid question or comment that needs to be handled privately, like a business transaction or to schedule an interview, hit me up publicly and we can arrange to take things private. No need to swap private contact information in a public forum, obviously.
So now that I've explained why they're needed, may I present the latest version of MIKE'S RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, for your edification and reading pleasure:
MIKE'S RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
- Talk to me publicly on Facebook and Twitter, but you've got to abide by some restrictions. As I mentioned above, fan interactions must be in public spaces, because instant messaging can be very invasive, especially if you're a freelancer with dozens of clients and constantly searching for more, as well as a family that demand your attention. And I'm not comfortable chatting privately with random kids, just as I wouldn't want my own kids chatting privately with random adults. Most of the time, I'm not always so keen on chatting with random adults myself! If we have business to transact, or private contact or scheduling info to exchange, conversations can be taken private on a case-by-case basis. All public messages are welcome, as long as you're willing to respect my lack of endless free time by keeping conversations brief and to the point, and waiting until I get a moment to respond.
- For best results, please avoid small talk. I know it's tempting to find common ground by talking about the weather or your pets or your favorite music or food, but chances are I'm a lot older than you, so that'll be like trying to find common ground with your parents' friends. Keep the conversation Voice Acting related as much as possible and that'll make for a more successful interaction. Just like when you're at the doctor, you're there for a specific purpose, so excessive pointless babbling won't be well-received. Don't barrage me with pictures, voice messages, your backstory, or the minutia and hardships of your daily life. On a related note, don't engage with me just because you're bored and want entertainment. If you simply need something amusing to pass the time, I've collected a whole bunch of such things into The WitSIG Weekly. Kindly check it out.
- Please don't expect me to get every single video game or animation reference. I'm a full-service voice actor who also works on commercials, promos, narration, e-Learning, audiobooks, medical and industrial videos, and almost any other project a client will hire me for. My video game and animation clients don't hire me because I'm necessarily the biggest fan of any particular franchise. They hire me because I can bring their scripted dialog to life.
- Please don't quote dialog or song lyrics at me. I read thousands of lines of copy a year, and since I have a script right in front of me, I have no reason to memorize it, so I may not even recognize it. Having dialog recited to me is not a conversation. It's just... bizarre. Would you call up your local pizza place and say, "You've tried the rest, now try the best?" I hope not.
- Please don't expect me to role-play as your favorite character. As an actor, role-playing is my job. I generally don't do it in my free time. And since I do my best work from a script approved by the client, I'm not about to improv my own dialog or situations around my clients' intellectual property. If you're chatting with me, you're chatting with a real actor, not a fictional character.
- Please don't ask me to critique your artwork, fan-fiction, or character voice demos. I'm an audio guy. I don't always see the artwork when I'm recording something, and when I do, I'm not there to judge it. I'm there to act out a script, not review character designs. Art criticism is not among my skill sets. By the same token, while I am a writer, I'm there to read the words my clients' put in front of me. I don't critique their scripts, or anyone else's, beyond minor grammatical issues. And voice-over coaches charge big bucks for their coaching services. I don't coach.
- Please don't drag me into group chats. Unexpected group chats, a.k.a. "ambushes" are one of the most unwelcome surprises of Social Media. There I am, minding my own business, when my smartwatch starts going nuts, spewing forth notifications of each message in a conversation that resembles the rambling cacophony of a grade schooler's birthday party. I'll hit that Leave button faster than you can say "I'm hitting the Leave button."
- Please respect the boundaries of time and space. When you're finding me on social media, you're finding me on my own free-time. When I'm working for a client, they take priority and receive my undivided attention. There's no way I can record a script while typing out text messages. And all my fan-chatting time is unpaid time, not under the auspices of any employer. So if I'm online, I'm usually juggling multiple fan interactions, as well as trying to hold conversations with my family. And I usually live and work and sleep in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States (which is New York, New York, in this handy online converter). I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks.
- No fan voice chats. Voice chats can only happen in the context of a published interview, and here are the sub-rules for those: Surprise private voice chats are as invasive and inappropriate as a phone call and are not at all welcome. That creates a special problem for Skype contacts, since Skype has no public chat component — only private and semi-private (group) messaging — so being a Skype contact of mine might be an unfair temptation. If you (and some friends) want to record an interview for your YouTube channel or podcast, you can do that on Skype, but those conversations come with further guidelines in addition to the ones above, along with a nominal fee. If we're going to voice chat, I'd like to be able to give you my complete attention in a quiet space devoid of any blaring TVs and screaming children. And to keep the amount of call requests manageable, you'll have to buy me a coffee, please, to compensate me for my time, in the form of a $5 Starbucks Card eGift (or a £5 Starbucks Card eGift) e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. There's also that aforementioned creepiness factor of a grown man chatting with a kid, so the fee ensures that someone (presumably an adult) in control of a credit card is aware of what's going on, so there's no misunderstanding. Please note, this offer may be amended or withdrawn at any time without prior notice, and I reserve the right to refuse any requests, and/or request a larger amount of coffee.
- Please message me via any of the methods on the Contact page of my website to schedule a mutually convenient time when we can talk for a quarter-hour. That'll give me a chance to ensure that I can have some privacy, and you'll have me for a full 15 minutes. It's just like making an appointment with your doctor, without the hefty fees. Keep in mind I'm in New York so, again, please reference this handy Time Zone Converter to convert Eastern Time to your own.
- NEVER call without an appointment. As I've mentioned, voice calls are very invasive and interrupt the normal flow of life. If I'm not expecting your call, I won't take your call. And on the off chance I do take it, we'll probably both regret it. I don't want to talk to you at 3:00 in the morning when I'm asleep. I don't want to talk to you when I'm trying to record. I don't want to talk to you when a client, my wife or my children have my attention. I do want to talk to you once I've cleared a quarter-hour space in my schedule — just as I'd do for a client — so you'll get an uninterrupted block of time for your interview, just as my client would. There are those who think it's fun to call and call and call until I answer. I assure you, that's not fun for me. Unless you're a client calling to hire me, I don't want to take your unscheduled call. I'm a freelancer. I don't keep normal business hours, or regular office hours of any kind. You can't possibly know what I'm doing at any given time — and sometimes neither can I — so please assume I'm otherwise engaged, and proceed with caution. When it doubt, don't call. And always be in doubt. If you call without an appointment, you'll greatly reduce the chances of ever getting an appointment. And when we arrange an appointment, you'll need to get that coffee-card money to me before you call, please. Thanks.
- Please prepare a list of questions (preferably not the same ones in this FAQ list) so the entire quarter-hour doesn't consist of you saying, "OMG, I don't know what to say." That's not an efficient use of our time. The primary purpose is for you to ask questions, and for me to answer them. Don't expect me to ask a lot of questions -- that's the interviewer's job, so please be curious. And remember, the best interviewers listen to the answers and come up with follow-up questions, rather than rattling off all the questions on their list with no regard for the how I've responded.
- Please make sure your calling hardware and software are working. Waiting for you to sort out your technical issues is going to cut into your quarter-hour. I strongly suggest making a Test Call beforehand if you haven't used the service in a while.
- Keep to the quarter-hour limit, unless we've made an exception beforehand, and take the hint when it's time to wrap things up. I've got work and family to get back to, after all.
- Show up for the appointment. Being a couple minutes late is excusable. Being fifteen minutes late means you've missed your appointed slot. If you know you're going to be late or unavailable, please let me know in advance so I can adjust my schedule. This is just like how I need to show up on-time for appointments with my voice-over clients or risk losing a gig. I expect the same level of respect from someone who wants an interview since I've got to shuffle my life around to talk. If you get cold feet and want to cancel, that's okay, too. Just give me a courtesy heads up so I'm not sitting here staring at my Skype screen. If it looks like I'm going to be late, I'll let you know as soon as I know.
- Don't be nervous, even if it's your first interview. I'm only human. Really. To paraphrase Zaphod Beeblebrox's private brain-care specialist, Gag Halfrunt, "Vell, Mike's just zis guy, you know?"