How to Become Famous and Successful on the Internet

“Interview Cory Doctorow.”

RIP director Brett Gaylor’s answer to the question of how to attain attention for your projects online got big laughs at a SXSW panel titled Marketing Meets New Media. But for those who can’t get the Boing Boing editor’s attention, don’t worry — there’s another path.

The real question being addressed by the panelists on Sunday was that of how to build a fan base for your work — which, as one audience member put it, is really “anti-marketing.” It’s also a really simple process, when you get down to it.

First: Go to your audience. Natasha Wescoat, a professional artist and designer, built her business by joining “any site that was popular.” By selling her artwork on eBay (s ebay), she was able to draw in new customers as well as engage previous ones; she’s since had her work licensed for film and TV, and exhibits regularly.

picture-1 Brand your site distinctly. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos began his political blogging by commenting on a number of smaller political sites, and he observed that because so many sites used the same free Blogspot layout, which is heavy on the blue, he never remembered where he read something. So when he created his own blog, he deliberately chose to use a lot of orange and create a distinctive design, “…so that when people read something on my site, they remember where they read it.”

Once you have your posting schedule set up, stick to it — because you never know what will take off. Singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton built up an audience for his nerd-friendly tunes by promising a free downloadable song every Friday. Then one Friday, he didn’t have time to write a new song, so in an effort to stay true to his posting routine, he did a folky cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back instead — and it became his first major hit. “I thought at first that it was a bit of a cop-out, but people really liked it,” Coulton said. But it was all due to Coulton’s guiding principle: Make it as easy as possible for people to access his stuff — because then they will.

Red vs. Blue, created by Burnie Burns, built up its audience much the same way Coulton did, with a new machima comedy short every Friday. Burns also stressed the importance of making your content available immediately, rejecting the concept of promoting a unreleased project. “‘Coming soon’ is worthless, anything offline is worthless. If I can’t watch something immediately, don’t bother telling me about it.”

Which led to a side tip from Coulton: “You don’t know which marketing dollars will translate for you, so don’t spend anything.” All the tools used by the panelists were free (with possibly the exception of Cory Doctorow) — by being in constant communication with fans via all the social networks, these creators were able to interact directly with fans and use them as their own personal PR. Panelists also agreed that a public “thank you” from a fan was often more than sufficient.

Of course, none of this is easy. Each panelist was candid about the difficulties in balancing 24/7 social networking with actual creative acts. Coulton said that he makes some days Internet-free, committing to keeping the laptop shut. “If someone really needs to ask me something, they can call me.” (That also got a laugh.)

So, just to clarify:

  • Join every social networking site you possibly can.
  • Set up a posting schedule, like, say, a new piece of content every Friday.
  • Every Friday, post a new piece of content on every possible social networking site, and tell people about it.
  • Repeat.

Get to work.