Whether you’re represented by an agency or not, Internet savvy is a basic skill you need in your modeling repertoire. If you’re freelancing, knowing how to combine the promotional and networking power of the Internet into a marketable strategy is the difference between having a career and just having a dream.
First, let’s be clear about this–Internet models who earn paychecks work predominantly in the Glamour field, and most of those paychecks are cut for nude work. If you’ve already read the article on modeling genres, you already know that the vast majority of paid Commercial or Fashion modeling is booked through an agency. Why? Simple—Commercial work often involves large production teams, and the clients who book models will not risk blowing their budget on an independent model who might arbitrarily decide to exercise her independence by not showing up. Instead, they’ll rely on the guaranteed security of booking through an agency. As an independent, you might be that reliable too, but no one’s going to risk a day of expensive production to find out. If you’re determined to represent yourself, your best option for paid work is in the Glamour field, and that’s going to require a heavy Internet presence. You are your own agency now, and the Internet is your storefront.
Ironically, what we’ve come to learn in the past few years is that one of the best contributions the Internet can make to our e-commerce efforts is to facilitate one of the oldest marketing secrets in business—networking.
Advertising and marketing aside, business deals always eventually come down to a handshake between people who know each other. Selling a product, landing a contract, getting a job… the most successful people are the ones who are the most skilled at getting their names and faces in front of the right contacts, and then making a positive impression when they get there. They know how to gracefully circulate in a professional setting, how to turn a relaxed meet-and-greet into a high-energy business opportunity without seeming crass, how to make leaving their business card seem like the natural end to a personal conversation. Every service business has always known that the best new customer is a referral from a satisfied old customer; it has always been about building a community of business associates who patronize and refer other patrons to your business. It’s about knowing how to network.
Understand the difference; this business paradigm is not about advertising, it’s not about broadcasting a promotional blast to a world of strangers. It’s about making contacts and building relationships with people who may someday become clients or refer clients to you. Why? Because they know you and have a good opinion of you. Cultivating that good opinion is one of the primary goals of Internet modeling.
Networking the ‘Net
The beauty (and sometimes the curse) of the Internet is the sheer number of ways you can communicate on it—websites and blogs, email, Twitter and other social networking venues, and, especially, trade-specific networking sites dedicated to a particular industry. Of course, you can still treat all of these as if they were just more efficient versions of the old broadcast-advertising model—a cheap and easy way to get your promotional message out to every “Friend” on your mailing list (whether they’re interested or not) and compete with everybody else who’s doing the same thing. Keep bombarding all those contacts with sales blurbs and you’ll find yourself blocked by a spam filter (that’s the other beauty of Internet communication, heh). When you stop thinking of all these venues as a no-cost electronic billboard and start thinking of them as a way to build your credibility as a member of a professional community, you’re ready to appreciate the value of networking.
Building the Brand
Your online presence is about two things: describing yourself to define your brand, and networking with others to distribute it. Brand? What brand? For a model?!?
Oh yes. You’re a business now, and the brand is a business’s public image; it’s the sum total of everything associated with how people think about that business—its logo and signage, its advertising themes, the pictures it uses to characterize its visual presentation, and the words it uses to describe its products and practices. Everything that the public sees or hears contributes to a composite impression of the brand, and the businesses you’re most likely to patronize are the ones that are the most successful in their branding initiatives. Every Starbucks you’ve ever sat in has a consistent look and feel. The menus are identical; the baristas use company-approved language in talking to you. In the espresso world, Starbucks is the upscale brand, and it’s an image they fiercely protect.
I used to produce informational, training, and promotional videos for some of the largest corporations in America, and I never wrote a script without consulting the company’s communications manual listing which words I could and couldn’t use. Honda and American Express sent me Pantone color charts to ensure that the color schemes in their visuals were brand-accurate. In short, the equity built up in a company’s brand is its most valuable asset. You’re no different, except that you need to learn what these other businesses already know: building a brand takes planning, effort, and resources applied over a long period of time; destroying it, however, only takes one stupid mistake. Ask Exxon and British Petroleum how long it takes to ruin years of branding with one careless oil spill. For some good bad examples a little closer to your circumstances, consider the recent catastrophic behavioral gaffes of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen, whose ugly, public rants have squandered decades of painstakingly constructed equity in their personal brands.
Your brand is the memorable impression that distinguishes you from your competition; it tells clients and colleagues who you are and who you’re not. Who you want to be is that friendly redhead with the beautiful blue eyes and the dazzling smile that made everybody feel good about working a 10-hour day in the rain; who you don’t want to be is the gossipy twit who showed up an hour late and picked fights with everybody on the set (or worse–didn’t show up at all).
So how can you use the Internet to brand yourself as the model people do want to work with? Fortunately, if you’re under the age of 30, you’ve probably already started.
Your online strategy should include multiple outlets, including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you’re already active, what you need to do now is reexamine your profiles through the eyes of a potential client. Keep asking yourself, “What kind of image do I want to portray? Are my Facebook profile and activities consistent with the image of a dependable, professional model?” That anti-gay joke that your friends know you don’t really mean, that juicy bit of gossip about your last photography session, the political or religious diatribe you just can’t resist sharing… not good strategies for building a professional network. We’re not saying you have to lie about who you are—these are your personal profiles, after all—but just remember that the whole point of the Internet is to be a Web of infinitely discoverable connections. If I get your name from one source, I can do a search and find you everywhere else too. What am I going to find when I come across your social networking profile?
Eventually, by the way, you’re going to suddenly realize that all of these targeted site revamps are actually starting to make you look like a business entity. At that point, you may want to consider creating a business page as an offshoot of your main Facebook profile. A business page doesn’t have “Friends,” but your Friends or clients can become “Fans” of your page and receive any notices that you post. Business pages are completely public (no privacy settings), and really do function as a formal presentation of your business activities—a free mini-website for Model You, Inc.
There are also a few specifically job-related networking sites that serious professionals use to find each other. The best is LinkedIn. Nothing fancy—just a well-respected nexus where job-seekers can place a no-nonsense resume and expect to have it read by professional colleagues. It’s free, and with over a hundred million members, it’s silly not to be on it. Once again, however, be professional; take the time to write a serious profile, with complete, grammatically correct sentences and real spelling—not the cutesy textspeak you use on your smart phone. This is decidedly not the informal Facebook; this is the equivalent of a business mixer specifically arranged for you to introduce yourself to people who might want to hire you. Don’t disrespect the occasion by showing up in cutoffs and a torn t-shirt.
Email is still a primary communication medium for most Internet modeling. Regardless of how the contact may have begun, eventually it’s probably going to be finalized in an email (or on the telephone—see our telephone rant in the next article). Being able to maintain a paper trail of all correspondence with a potential client can be extremely valuable. If you’re working through a modeling website (see below) the best procedure is to use the built-in messaging function on your portfolio, and then switch to private email as soon as the job starts to look serious. Why? Because the model networking sites periodically go down, often for days at a time; on several occasions we have lost communication with models at critical junctures in the scheduling process. Moreover, if the site ever closes down permanently or if you should eventually decide to cancel your membership, you will lose that valuable paper trail of correspondence with the very people you worked so hard to add to your network. Keep it “in-house” where you can back it up and control its security.
By the way, take sensible precautions to secure your private modeling email address. Absolutely don’t post it on any of your networking portfolios. You are guaranteed to eventually draw the attention of scammers and spammers. Instead, add a sentence on your profile that says something like, “If you’re interested in working with me, let me know and I will send you my private email address for all follow-up correspondence.” I’d also advise against using your normal, personal email address for your modeling communications. Create a Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail account specifically for your modeling work, and then don’t use it for anything else. If it ever gets compromised in any way, you can just walk away from it without having to inform everybody in your life about the change.
Model/Photographer Networking Sites
The hub of your online modeling presence, of course, is likely going to be one or more of the various modeling networking sites that allow models, photographers, make-up artists (MUA) and stylists, retouching specialists, and others involved with the modeling business to maintain an online portfolio with extensive networking capabilities. There are so many that you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed when trying to choose among them, but of course there’s no reason why you couldn’t maintain a portfolio presence on all of them—there’s almost always a free start-up membership level that comes with anywhere from 5 to an unlimited number of photo slots for your portfolio display. Paid upgrades usually provide you with more slots and a few other amenities that, frankly, we rarely find compelling enough to purchase.
Before you commit $60-100 a year to an upgrade, ask yourself why you’re on the site in the first place. Are you there because it boosts your ego to see a lot of photos of yourself, or because you want to use the site to solicit work? Consider that the professional model portfolio book rarely contains more than 12-20 images, and modeling clients will tell you that a professionally shot series of 20 photos or fewer is much more impressive than a haphazard collection of 100 redundant photos of uneven quality. Figure out what your specialties are and then carefully assemble a variety of images targeted at illustrating what you want to model. There’s nothing more boring than having to wade through a swimsuit model’s portfolio of 200 virtually identical bikini shots when 5 would have made the point. Unless the genres that you address in your modeling are extremely diverse, 40 photo slots is more than ample.
Sourcelight, e.g., currently has a portfolio on 5 sites, including the 3 described below. Although free memberships are available on all of them, think carefully about how much time you’re willing to commit to maintaining them. If you want your portfolio to function as a career-building asset rather than just a vanity display of your work you need to check in on a regular basis, at least once a week and preferably once a day. Nothing’s more irritating to a photographer than doing a site search for models in a shoot location, and then finding that the best choice hasn’t visited her own site in over a year. It clutters the site, wastes time, and announces that you’re not serious about modeling. Maintaining your on-line portfolios isn’t hard, but it does take time, and on sites that show very little activity, it’s hardly worth the trouble.
Fortunately, there are only two sites you really have to be on: One Model Place and Model Mayhem, plus a couple of others that show some promise. Most of the rest are wannabe start-ups (or old has-beens) that are minimally useful at facilitating the kind of professional interaction that leads to paid work.
One Model Place (OMP) is the granddaddy. It’s been around the longest and claims nearly 200,000 members world-wide. Most urban areas have numerous models, MUAs, and photographers on OMP, and even if you discover them somewhere else first, you’ll probably find that they also have an OMP portfolio. If you’re looking to plan a shoot in a rural area, OMP and/or Model Mayhem may be the only sites with members in the vicinity. The confusing interface is deplored by members and mocked by competitors, and the site is frequently d-e-a-d slow. For some reason, they’ve never programmed in the ability to sort the photos in your portfolio, so the newest additions are always at the top, regardless of what presentational order you might prefer. OMP also has no provision for letting you know whether or not your message to another member has been read, so you’ll never know whether a lack of response is because the recipient hasn’t read the message or is simply ignoring it.
Their 21-photo-slot free introductory package is also the stingiest of any of the sites, and the cheapest upgrade is $80/year for 80 images, which may partially explain why its membership seems to have leveled off. Plus, the site seems to want to present itself as a fashion-modeling hub and since that runs contrary to the reality that fashion modeling is almost exclusively booked through agencies, models who more realistically depend on online networking for their glamour contacts may see OMP as less useful. As noted below, OMP recently purchased the newer, more networking-friendly iStudio, so one work-around for OMP’s miserliness is to simply post a link to a more extensive iStudio portfolio in the comment section of your OMP port.
On the positive side, OMP very helpfully forwards your travel notices and casting calls directly to the private emails of members living in the area you’re planning to travel to. They also have a basic feature that some sites, curiously, don’t offer—a record of who has visited your site. Both features are extremely useful in facilitating networking activities. Models who are serious about using the sites to build professional contacts monitor their visitor activities closely, and send out a “Thanks for visiting my portfolio” message whenever someone views their portfolio.
Whether it’s a positive or just annoying, OMP is also extremely active in promoting itself as a modeling “store front,” bombarding members with workshops, comp card printing, and numerous other enticements for purchase. The site’s overall feel is big, glamorous, clamorous, and not particularly personal.
Plus, of course, they’re still OMP, the 600-pound gorilla of modeling websites. Like it or not, you ignore OMP at your own peril.
Model Mayhem is the other monster of model networking. Claiming over 300,000 model and photographer listings in the United States alone, MM seems to have cultivated a personality—beginning with its name—as the “anti-OMP” site. If OMP sometimes seems a little dated and stodgy, MM seems to pride itself on being brash and scruffy. The huge membership count reflects, at least in part, the fact that the site accepts virtually anyone who applies and that its introductory “Basic” membership level is free with a minimal 15 photo slots (but you can sort them in whatever order you prefer). Needless to say, the experience and talent level on MM is all over the map, and the number of models and photographers who use the site for professional networking and job generation is a small fraction of the total. Certainly the opportunity is there to build a serious reputation as a professional with major exposure; there’s also plenty of room to waste your time in frivolous behavior.
MM’s interface is newer, arguably “hipper,” and a bit more intuitive to navigate. Unlike OMP, it does conveniently list image comments below the image and does report whether or not your email has been read by the recipient.
Conversely, Model Mayhem’s biggest flaw is its inability to provide tracking reports on people who visit your portfolio, which deprives members of a major networking opportunity. The inconsistency is puzzling—you’re allowed to know if a recipient has read the email you sent, but not allowed to know if anyone has visited your site.
The forums are notoriously fractious, with models and photographers frequently expressing a curiously antagonistic view of each other and then dismissing it with “Well, what did you expect? It’s the Mayhem.”
In the end, are there any major differences between MM and OMP that would affect a networking professional’s ability to function? Frankly, none that really matter. Both have large, active memberships with plenty of opportunity for seeking out serious colleagues and forming productive connections. Both are also full of non-serious people who seem to have joined for the express purpose of wasting the time and energy of members who are serious about booking work. At Sourcelight, we’ve booked almost identical numbers of models from both sites, which doesn’t really tell you much since most models we book have portfolios in both places. If I initiate the contact and I have a choice, I generally prefer using Model Mayhem because of the way it tracks email.
iStudio is a relatively new site with a familial resemblance to Model Mayhem, since it’s obviously built on an identical site template. Naturally it retains both the good and bad characteristics of MM’s interface and feature-set, with one curiously annoying difference. iStudio is inexplicably lax about its portfolio-comment requirements, and the registration form’s default settings enable you to create a portfolio without posting any information about yourself. It’s entirely possible and not at all uncommon to see a model portfolio that doesn’t list the model’s age, ethnicity, country, measurements, or nudity policy, something glamour photographers, especially, need to know. It’s hard to understand why anyone would choose to create a modeling portfolio without any of the information people who book models need to know. Of course, you can simply provide that information voluntarily and jump to the head of the professional modeling line.
The site is also still very small, with only about 36,000 models and photographers listed in the United States, and hasn’t shown much growth since its inception. It was recently purchased by OMP, however, and OMP claims that it can export your portfolio information to iStudio directly, which would allow you to log in using the same account number and password on both sites. Although the networking value at the moment is negligible due to the small membership, iStudio’s direct ties to OMP and the 100 photo slots that come with its free account make it a useful addition for portfolio display.
Other Networking Sites The digital revolution has spawned so many Garage Glamour photographers that new modeling sites are constantly popping up to serve them. Every would-be Internet entrepreneur wants to build the next Facebook, and most of the new ones use a similar design for navigation and features. As stated repeatedly throughout this series of articles, the networking potential of the Internet is one of its strongest e-commerce features, so the pronounced networking focus of the new sites is a welcome and useful trend. On the other hand, the Facebook similarity also tends to recruit an overwhelmingly amateur membership whose ignorance of professional practices is an even larger barrier to professional networking than it is on the older established sites, and the older sites don’t bask in glory either.
The fact is, none of these places is going to increase your “classy quotient,” particularly if you hang out in any of the forums (see “Negotiating the Forums” below). Yes, if you consistently demonstrate the professional behavior that we’ll talk about next, you can distinguish yourself from the wannabe multitudes; but in the end, you’ll be known by the company you keep. Visit the sites, do some research, and form your own impressions, but don’t buy into the self-serving hype you’ll find on all of them. They all do the same thing in different ways, and the only evaluation that should matter to you is whether the site has been around long enough and has enough activity to attract enough of the serious players you want to connect with to make it worth your time.
Improving the Odds
The rules and the opportunities are the same for everyone, but most people are oblivious to the huge advantage that reading the manual provides. Below you’ll find a list of simple actions you can take to dramatically improve your networking results, but basically they all amount to one thing—a proactive attitude committed to creating your own opportunities instead of waiting for opportunity to find you. Contact other members, respond promptly when they contact you, and then do the most important thing you can to tell serious members that you’re one of them—follow up.
Here’s a checklist of strategies that serious models use and dilettantes don’t.
• First, maintain your site. Check in regularly and keep your portfolio up-to-date. Your last log-in date is always visible to a site visitor, and if you haven’t been to your own site in months, you’re announcing that you’re a hobbyist, not a model. Recently added photos also suggest that you’re actively modeling. Remember: “Dependable Working Model” is your brand. Inactivity suggests otherwise.
• Assemble a group. If a member’s portfolio interests you, add his/her portfolio to a Favorites list. Some of the sites (for example, One Model Place does; Model Mayhem and iStudio don’t) will also notify you when you’ve been added to someone else’s list. Knowing that you’re each on the other’s list of favorite members is a pretty good starting point for discussing future collaborations.
• Use photo credits to augment your network. Provide links to the portfolios of any other members who were involved in producing the photos in your own portfolio. Ask them to link back to you if they post your image in their portfolios, and make it easy for them to do so. Send them an email with the account numbers to all of your networking sites. Hint: it’s even easier to exchange that information with everyone involved while you’re all still at the photo session. Put your account numbers on your business card (What? You don’t have a business card?) and hand them out everywhere.
• Engage other members through their own portfolios. If you like their work in general, leave a portfolio comment. Each site has a different way of doing this; learn the procedure and use it. Look at their photographs and if you find something you like, leave an image comment. And don’t just do a drive-by “Wow, cool photo!” either—earn the response you’re hoping for. Take the time to write a sentence or two explaining why you like the image. Here’s a subtle distinction that will win you some points from serious photographers—don’t offer a critique; don’t tell them their work is great (they already know that better than you do, and they also know technically why). Just give them your honest response to the photo. Not “Great head shot,” but “I like the model’s expression. Seems friendly and approachable, like someone I’d want to work with.” This, by the way, is the working definition of a commercial headshot, and if you say that’s what you got out of it, you’ll make the owner very happy. No, most people don’t go to this much trouble, but you’re trying to open a dialog and build a relationship. “Most people” don’t get that, which is why most people don’t get jobs from their modeling sites.
• Respond to members who leave portfolio and image comments on your portfolio. Don’t wait a month (or worse—ignore their overture completely). Return the courtesy by leaving a comment on their portfolio thanking them for visiting your site. If you can reciprocate by finding something in their portfolio to praise, do it. The member passed the ball to you by opening a dialog on your portfolio; now you pass it back by playing on his/her court. Look, you’re practically teammates already.
• If the modeling site enables it (again, OMP does; MM and iStudio don’t), respond directly to members who visit your site with the usual courtesy comment: “I noticed you dropped in to visit my portfolio. Thank you for taking the time. If you liked what you saw and would like to talk about working together, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.” Since the only way you’d get the necessary email address to send this message is by visiting the other member’s site, while you’re there you might as well leave a portfolio and/or image comment. See how this works?
• Use the site’s email to contact members directly. I get positively giddy when a model contacts me through email. If s/he actually followed the site link to the Sourcelight website and found my business email on the Contact page, I’m ready to drop my rate card before I even see the portfolio. If the email is halfway literate, I’m getting out the checkbook. The more direct you can make your appeal to someone you want to work with, the more likely it is that you’ll get past the built-in spam filter we all carry in our heads these days. Don’t assume that because you tagged/liked/favorited/friended people or left a compliment on a photo that they’ll take it as a hint that you want to work with them. Go straight to the source using a venue that isn’t public. Why? Because a private contact tells the recipient that you’re actually interested in opening a conversation about actual work, rather than just routinely spamming everybody in sight with a form letter.
• By now you should know the routine—if someone sends you an email, write back in a timely manner. Acknowledge the contact whether you want to work with that person or not, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks for the overture, but I’m not interested at this time. Let’s stay in touch.” That’s how you demonstrate that you’re serious about the work today and that you’re committed for the long haul. I just received the first reply from a model I emailed an offer to nine months ago. Her cryptic “yes i would love to work with you!” would have been a lot more useful ¾ of a year back when I actually did have work I thought the model might be good for. Look, if you can’t handle the responsibility of managing the basic paperwork of being in business, admit to yourself that being your own manager isn’t for you either. Stay on top of your correspondence.
• Of course, it’s possible that if you’re not checking into your site regularly (and if you’re not, why aren’t you?), you might not realize that people are trying to contact you. There’s no excuse for that either. Somewhere in the Preferences settings of your account, you’ll find an option to turn on notifications. Turn it on for everything available: emails, portfolio and image comments, local casting calls, and travel notices for people traveling to your area. You’ll get an automated notification sent to whatever external email address you list (and which you do check regularly) from the site whenever any activity in those areas occurs. You’ll stay informed, even if you don’t log in at regular intervals.
• You can also be notified whenever a new photographer registers in your geographical area. Serious networkers send an immediate “Welcome to (The Site)” message. It’s never too soon to start, and if you’re really interested, follow the public welcome post with a private email inviting the photographer to look at your work.
• If you’re traveling to an area outside your region, post your own travel notification, but don’t stop there. Do a search of members in the destination area and send private emails to each of them that you might be interested in working with. Be proactive.
• Tie it all together. Provide links to all of your sites from all of your sites, and invite visitors to Friend/Like you everywhere they encounter you. Now your network has expanded beyond each of the individual sites and become a super-network that leverages the combined reach of all of them. When Google and Bing are trying to figure out what priority to assign your web-modeling presence in a search engine query, one of their primary criteria is how often other sites link back to you. The more often search engines find your link on somebody else’s site, the more important they assume you are and the higher they’ll rank you.
Model Site Netiquette
Some of the things we’ll say here are implied in the list of smart practices above, but a few items always seem to be perpetual bones of contention and deserve more detailed discussion. A working knowledge of the following will solidify your “good netizen” status in the modeling community. Mastery will get you elected mayor.
• Responding to Contacts We said it above, but it bears repeating: When people in the network you’re trying to be part of talk to you, talk back. A common belief, often vigorously defended in site forums, is that not responding to an inquiry about your interest in working with someone “is a response.” Models often justify the non-response by complaining that if they decline the offer, it simply invites angry and abusive counter-responses from the disappointed inquirer. Others insist that an inquiry about modeling work is just like a job application in any business and that ignoring your application if the business isn’t interested in hiring you is standard practice. The first perspective is disproportionate to the size of the problem, and the other is just wrong. Both are self-serving excuses for rude behavior that does nothing but detract from your brand.
Sure, declining an offer could make the offerer angry, but how is this any different from saying no to someone who wants to go on a date with you? Or to your friend who just invited you to a movie you don’t want to attend? Do you opt for the non-response, or do you take a stand and decline? There’s always a possibility that people who offer you things you don’t want might get angry when you decline, but that’s their problem, not yours. No is a good answer, and being prepared to accept it is the offerer’s responsibility. If you get an angry response to a polite refusal, you make a note that you were right about not wanting to work with this person, then you block him from further communications and move on. You’re still a professional; he’s a jerk. Why is this a problem for you?
As for the notion that corporations routinely ignore job inquiries, that’s even dumber. I’ve been the hirer in an industry with routine employee turnover that fielded hundreds of applications for dozens of jobs every year. In six years not a single application ever went unacknowledged. Ten years ago, I was laid off a script-writing job for a video production company and eventually filed over 200 applications in a tough economy. Again, not a single company failed to respond. Sure most of the responses that I sent in the first case and received in the second were form letters notifying the applicant that the position had been filled, but a response was sent. Anyone who tells you that ignoring employment inquiries from applicants is standard practice in business doesn’t know much about business.
Not responding to someone who shows you the courtesy of expressing an interest in working with you is not standard practice anywhere else in the business world—it’s rude and inconsiderate. Worse, it’s unproductive and burns bridges you might want to cross at a later date. Seriously, how long does it take to send back an email that says, “Thank you for the offer; the timing’s not good right now, but keep me in mind for later”?
No doubt, some of this is just the usual divide between people who intuitively understand civil behavior and people who don’t. The rest is people who know better but use the anonymity of the medium as a cover for incivility. It doesn’t make sense—as we’ve said over and over, you’re here to build and promote your brand, not disappear behind an avatar and a fake name.
• Friends Just how many “Friends” does a model need? Should you accept all Friend requests or only those from people you actually want to work with? It’s an ongoing debate without a really good answer. On the one hand, you are here to network and the more satellites you have in your orbit, the greater your visibility. On the other hand, collecting Friends arbitrarily just to build an impressive number is generally scorned, and the actual networking value of a few hundred more names with whom you have zero contact after the “add” is negligible anyway. Many photographers and models state on their portfolios that they only accept Friend requests from people who actually contact them in other ways first—by image or portfolio comments or email messages—which seems reasonable and has the additional benefit of weeding out the gratuitous name-collectors who never follow up on anything. Others correctly observe that it doesn’t cost anything, and routinely accept all Friend requests. I don’t think there’s a winner in this debate, and would only urge you to integrate whatever decision you make into your greater communication policy. When people send me Friend requests, I always post a thank you comment on their portfolio, and if I find their portfolio interesting, I follow up with an email introducing myself and leaving the door open for further communication. I have plenty of friends in the real world; my cyberspace Friend-ships are strictly business. (On the other hand, I’m an obscure photographer in Boise, Idaho, so it’s not like I’m routinely fielding hundreds of Friend Requests every day; you can dismiss my opinion on this subject as largely irrelevant and most likely be mostly right.)
• TFP/CD Nothing in the Internet Modeling world causes more misunderstanding and hard feelings than the TFP/CD issue. TFP means Time For Print, an arrangement in which the model and the photographer both agree to suspend their fees and work together in a session for prints, rather than money. The modern, electronic equivalent is TFCD, where the images are delivered as digital files on a CD (or DVD) rather than as prints. It’s a trade arrangement in which each participant works for images that he or she would normally expect to pay the other to acquire. Think of it as “Time in exchange for images instead of money.” What’s it’s not is “working for free.” So what’s the problem? Nothing, as long as the images are seen as equally valuable to both parties. No one minds a fair trade. The problem occurs when one of the parties concludes that the contributions made to the session are not equal.
Although the value of TF arrangements is self-evident for beginners, a new photographer’s work is unlikely to benefit an established model’s portfolio, and vise versa. The difference in experience creates an unequal relationship and an unlikely basis for a TF arrangement. Trade sessions are more likely scheduled between veterans who use TF as a way around the obvious paradoxical barrier: good photographers get paid for photographing models and good models get paid for modeling for photographers. Without trading, how are good photographers and good models supposed to work together? The answer is often a TF arrangement.
Problems tend to pop up for two reasons. First, TF shoots are often mistakenly viewed as something you do only when you’re not good enough to charge for your services, and people occasionally choose to get huffy when they’re solicited about a TF session. Here’s a bulletin: everybody does TF work occasionally, regardless of what they say on their portfolios. Even veterans need to upgrade and diversify their portfolios and the best photographers have a need to try new techniques, styles, and concepts without the pressure of a paying contract. If I’m at the top of my game and wanting to try something that can stretch my repertoire of skills, I’m going to be looking for a skilled model to work with. No money involved for either of us, but a good opportunity to do some unusual work we’re not usually called to do. Think of it as “TFE” (Time For Experience). He or she may see intrinsic value in the proposed experience or not, but my offer of a TF session has nothing to do with devaluing the model. If you think the offer sounds interesting and you have the time, say yes; if not, say no and move on. There’s no reason to get insulted by a TF offer, and certainly no upside to arguing about which one of you is more valuable.
The other source of TF friction occurs when either a model or a photographer isn’t clear about the arrangement in the original offer. If I contact you and say, “I saw your portfolio in Model Mayhem, and I’d like to have you in for a glamour session,” the general assumption is that I’m offering paid work. If, after you respond to my offer by sending me your rate card, I write back and tell you I was actually proposing a TFCD session, you’re going to feel tricked. Even worse is if I write back and inform you that I was actually wanting you to come in and pay me for the session. We get solicitations like this all the time: “Luv your port and would really like to model for you.” We assume the model is proposing a TF arrangement, and when we respond positively, we get back an abrupt, “I only do paid work.” Slap. If you contact me about working together, I’m going to assume you’re looking to hire me for portfolio development; if you’re hoping to interest me in shooting TF, say so up front and describe the project you’re proposing. I may or may not be interested, but at least we’ll know what we’re talking about from the beginning and there won’t be any hard feelings. Conversely, it should be obvious that contacting somebody else to solicit paid work is generally considered bad form. Don’t butter me up by flattering me about my work and then spring your rate card on me. If I want to hire you, I’ll contact you. Traveling models are the exception to this. Models rarely tour the country for TF work, and I always expect a travel notification to include the model’s rates.
The pay vs. TF issue is a constant source of misunderstanding, and we’ll deal with it in greater detail in the And You Call Yourself a Professional section.
• Portfolio Bio All of the modeling sites ask you to write a brief description about yourself. This is your first point of contact with everybody in the network, the introduction of Brand You. It’s amazing how seldom anyone takes advantage of this opportunity to plant the first seeds of a flowering professional network.
Remember the Prime Directive for all of your Internet activities: create and reinforce your brand. You want everything that speaks to your image to say “reliable, mature, professional.” If the opening statement in your primary presentation medium is utterly incomprehensible because of incoherent word choice, basic grammar mistakes, absentee punctuation, and spelling errors a bright fifth grader would know to avoid, you are not creating an impression of a responsible adult. You’re demonstrating, to put it bluntly and literally in your own words, that you’re either lazy, careless, or just plain stupid, or some combination of all three. Even worse, a poorly worded bio often contains statements that come off as antagonistic or even insulting.
Look, let us stipulate that model photography is about images, not words. But let’s also understand that modeling is a collaborative endeavor that requires good communication skills. You need to be able to understand abstract concepts and implement directions that will quite likely be conveyed to you in words. If your own language suggests you’re functionally illiterate, you’re basically disqualifying yourself from being considered for the kind of interesting, challenging work that experienced models enjoy most. This is not beyond your abilities—you were taught how to write a coherent paragraph in junior high school. I know you were; I used to be your teacher.
We’ll discuss the semantics of professional language in more detail in the next section, but this section is about network etiquette. Here are some things that are expected in your biographical profile and a few things to avoid. Beyond what should be the obvious directive to write your comments in standard, correct English—
—Do write a short, informative introduction. Briefly list your background and your objectives for modeling. A couple of short personal comments about yourself are usually appreciated, just to establish your personality, but leave out any gratuitous information, such as declaring that you’re the mother of the “most beautiful 3-year-old girl in the world.” First, the statement doesn’t provide any unique insight into who you are—I’ve never seen anybody claim to be the mother of an ugly child—and secondly, the only thing we need to know about your parental status is how it affects your availability for work. This is your branding statement, your company philosophy. Every business publishes a short, one-paragraph “Mission Statement” about who they are, what they do, and what they stand for, and this is your mission statement. Make it count. Anything less than a hundred words is a waste of a prime branding opportunity; but anything more than 300 is guaranteed to contain useless padding. Spend some time thinking this opening statement through, and then write it down carefully. Then rewrite it, and then rewrite it again, maybe with a dependable proofreader looking over your shoulder.
After your opening, deal with the next few items in their own locations:
—Do provide the information a photographer needs to know about you. That includes height, weight, ethnicity, and full measurements, including cup size. List your real age, and don’t think that making photographers guess will improve your chances of doing 18-year-old work at 35. All it will do is hinder your ability to get 35-year-old work. Modeling is a very specific industry, and your body type is either right for the job or it isn’t. Be honest about who you are, and describe yourself accurately in your profile, either in the provided check-off area or in a specific paragraph.
—Do list any significant scarring or body modifications, or at least provide direct references to images in your portfolio that clearly show them. We have an entire article on this one… it’s that important.
—Do feel free to expand on anything that you consider a specialty. If you swim like a fish, ride horses or motorcycles, if you’re heavily into pin-up glamour and you have an extensive 1940’s wardrobe, or if you’re also a MUA/hair stylist who can do your own work, mention it. However, unless that’s the only work you want to be considered for, be sure you don’t leave the impression that you’re unavailable for other types of modeling. Either list the other genres specifically or just leave a general comment that you’re available for a broad spectrum of work. Having a diverse image portfolio will certainly help make that point for you.
—Do list your policy on nudity. Again, Internet modeling is heavily skewed toward Glamour and Glamour nude. If you’re comfortable with, or even actively soliciting nude work, say so, and be specific about your limits. This is not the time for false modesty. If you don’t model nude, just say so in straightforward terms, without any unnecessary explanations or apologies. This is a legitimate form of modeling, and pursuing it or not is just a choice. Which also means:
—Don’t insult those who do choose to model nude. Comments like “I’m keeping it classy” or “I respect myself” imply, none too subtly, that people who model nude have no class or self-respect. “I don’t believe a woman has to be nude to be sexy,” or “Some things should be left sacred” may be a true reflection of your opinion, but offering it in this context comes off as uninvited judgmental criticism. You’re entitled to your opinions, but any time you offer them as some sort of moral principle, you’re just inviting an argument. Not a good idea. Michelangelo’s work is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—here’s what he said in his portfolio comments:
“And who is so barbarous as not to understand that the foot of a man is nobler than his shoe, and his skin nobler than that of the sheep with which he is clothed?”
You’re “classier” than Michelangelo? You have a better idea of what “should be left sacred” than the sculptor of the extremely nude David? Really? Phrases like that do nothing but create the impression that the Model You brand is self-important, holier-than-thou, and argumentative. Sound like anybody you’d want to work with? (It should be obvious, by the way, that if you are an enthusiastic nude model, comments implying that models who choose to remain clothed are wimpy prudes would be similarly inappropriate.)
—Don’t play the “Escort” card unless you’re prepared for the fact that most professional photographers will simply skip your portfolio if you insist on your right to bring an Escort to the session. Most will see it as provocative, and many will take it as an insult. This is probably the most divisive issue on any modeling site, and it’s important enough that we’ve devoted an entire article to discussing it.
—Don’t list your private email or phone number. It’s harvestable to spammers and scammers and they will flood your mailbox with junk, some of which is likely to be dangerous. See the discussion above under Network Strategies/Email for a better way to handle this.
—Don’t list irrelevant resumé information. Your years of experience managing the shoe department at Walmart or your masters degree in marine biology is pointless here, unless you can explain in a sentence or two how it makes you a better model. It might be an interesting personalizing reference in your opening statement (see above), but if it creeps into your factual information, you need to be prepared to explain how it improves your modeling resumé. Otherwise, leave it out. Unfortunately, your diploma from the modeling school isn’t going to contribute much either.
—Don’t confuse deliberately obnoxious language and behavior with expressing your personality, unless, of course, you actually are declaring that you only want to work with people who place a high priority on obnoxiousness. Trust me, that’s a much smaller universe than you might want to believe. When I read something like, “I’m a f**king sassy spitfire who speaks her mind, and I might be more than you can handle,” my first thought is, yeah, you might be right. All I wanted was a model, not a life challenge. This is what you expect to see in the site’s forum “discussions,” but forums are interactive venues that tend to encourage extremist, reactionary behavior. Your profile is your exclusive showcase, and this is the best you could come up with to introduce yourself? This is Model You? You got personality? Good. I like personality and I like it bundled in a confident, self-aware package. What I don’t like is drama on my set, and when your portfolio profile starts to sound like a forum rant, I start to lose interest in your brand.
As for the forums, that’s a whole other topic, so we saved it for last.
Negotiating the “Forums”
It’s a big, interconnected chatway here in Tron-land, and one of the problems with having so many communication venues is keeping your brand consistent from one medium to another. You have to work hard to keep your networking activities from sabotaging each other, and one of the most dangerous places you can find yourself is a “chat” forum on a modeling site.
Site forums, in general, are rowdy and uncensored. Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, they seem to encourage a rude and aggressive communication style that would never be tolerated in a face-to-face setting or even in a written exchange if people were signing their real names. Even the most innocent of topics can quickly degenerate into a fur-flying exchange of vicious, personal attacks. Moreover, every venue has a few self-appointed “propriety guardians,” who hover over the forum and announce in withering terms that the topic doesn’t even deserve to be discussed, either because it’s inappropriate or because it’s been discussed too often. Before you launch a discussion thread on “flakes,” “escorts,” “TFCD,” or anything else a new member might naturally have an interest in, do a search through the site’s archives for the topic. You’ll probably find hundreds of old threads and save yourself a lot of grief from the topic police.
Critique threads are also popular and also fraught with unhelpful discussion. Asking a group of anonymous strangers with varying degrees of sophistication and insight to critique your work is every bit as useful as holding a photo over your head in a crowded mall and shouting, “Do you think this one is as good as the others in my portfolio?” It may be a terrific image that’s a little unusual, in which case at least half of the respondents will trash it because they’re not primed to understand different; or it may be a really bad photo, in which case half of the respondents will love it because it’s so daringly different. The further any artwork gets from average, the more likely it will encounter mixed reviews, even from professional critics. You’ll also encounter the critique version of the topic police, who exist only to announce that your picture is so bad that you shouldn’t have wasted everyone’s time by posting it. How can this possibly be helpful to a forum participant who genuinely wants honest feedback in order to improve the quality of his/her work? Whose opinion do you trust?
Which begs the question, why are you in the forums at all? Serious models and photographers are busy working, not hanging out in forums flexing their “attitude” in verbal blood sport. They’re spending their time identifying potential colleagues they’d like to collaborate with, and communicating with them directly to initiate a professional relationship. So ask yourself–are you on a networking site to network with professional associates or to frolic with amateurs? Sure, participating in forums does get your name and portfolio in front of the other forum regulars, but what is the general tone of the discussion doing for your brand?
There’s a Seattle-area figure model with a portfolio on Model Mayhem that I find interesting. She’s the right age, seems bright and adventurous, has the kind of off-beat body we like to work with in fine-art nude photography, and she’s willing to travel. Unfortunately, she’s a regular in the forums, where her participation is always defined by an aggressive, dismissive attitude and a liberal multi-tasking of the f-word as all-purpose verb, adjective, and noun, often, remarkably, in the same sentence. Now she may be the nicest, most respectful and cooperative person on the planet, but in the forums she presents herself as an aggressively vulgar diva. Yes, I’ve been known to drop the f-bomb in the heat of battle, and I’m fully familiar with its lexicographical versatility. I don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking that its casual usage makes me look daring and au courant; in a professional context, it makes me look crude, stupid, and amateurish. If you do choose to participate in the forums, ask yourself, “What is my purpose here? Do I want to create an image of myself as a free-swinging member of the playground set, or do I want to establish a basis for networking with serious professionals?”
Being professional is not a part-time commitment. This is a business—your business—and the only product in your inventory is you, a serious, reliable, PROFESSIONAL model. That’s the brand you’re trying to create, and anything that is inconsistent with your brand is an unnecessary distraction. Gossiping in the forums, presenting yourself as a loud, disrespectful, and illiterate drama queen is a brand killer.
If you need factual information, ask. If you have facts to offer, offer them. Be civil, be literate, be aware of and true to your brand. If the topic invites you to express your opinion, be careful. If you ask for opinions, be prepared for the worst; in the forums, that’s just asking for an ugly argument, and ugly is the wrong brand for a model.
Look, advertising agencies and photographers who hire models don’t need attitude from their employees. They have clients too, and those clients are the ones who are paying the bills for everybody, including you. The agency got the job because they had a carefully cultivated brand, and the last thing they want is a loose cannon on the set whose behavior might threaten their relationship with the client. Don’t be that person, and don’t let your forum participation suggest that you might be.
The bottom line with all of the various modeling-networking sites is that they are what you make of them. If you treat them like specialized extensions of your personal social networking routines and behavior—like Facebook for models—they’ll brand you as non-serious and get you the attention only of the other non-serious membership. On the other hand, those models who understand that these sites are far-reaching, remarkably inexpensive opportunities to establish the quality of their professional brand with other professionals, are able to consistently work the sites to their advantage and network themselves into paying jobs at a frequency that has nothing to do with coincidence or luck.