Marketing campaigns for acts today have social media woven in tightly from the off. For example, the Boards Of Canada campaign for their new Tomorrow’s Harvest album saw fans collaborating across social media to crack cryptic codes and unlock the band’s website.
A decade ago, none of this would have been possible. Today a rich multi-directional conversation between artists and fans is the norm – so much so that some major acts are creating their own social networks, such as Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters community on Backplane (a platform she is also an investor in) and Insane Clown Posse’s JuggaloBook.
‘You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that social media is massively important to musicians,’ says Iain Baker, keyboardist in Jesus Jones and also the band’s manager. ‘Social media used to be like a sidebar to a band’s main website. Now the engagement and conversation doesn’t come from the website – it comes from social media.’
When the band reformed, Iain built their social media profile from scratch around three years ago, starting with Facebook and Twitter. Having a consistent voice is important, he says, and for that reason he is the sole member in charge of all their social media activity. ‘We could farm it out, should we wish,’ he says. ‘But we wouldn’t be talking to our fans with the same voice. People tend to focus on the “media” part of social media and not the “social” part of it.’
While Twitter is growing in importance and its real-time conversations are a boon, Darren says Facebook is still the most powerful social media platform for songwriters and artists. ‘It is a more high quality way of reaching people because you just have slightly more opportunity – with images and embedded media – to catch people’s eyes.’
With so many social media platforms (see our guide below) out there, prioritising them is difficult. Nick Long is the social media manager at Atlantic Records UK and suggests that acts focus on the platforms that best suit them rather than trying to be everywhere at once.
Iain’s key tips are to post regularly – but not to bombard people with posts – and to engage directly with fans. ‘Don’t try and shout at everyone at once,’ he says. ‘Try to talk to one person at a time.’
Nick adds to this and outlines four survival tips: ‘One: don’t be afraid to reply directly to fans, even criticism can be turned into a positive experience for the fan. Two: social media is an attention economy, we’re flooded with so much content and information on a daily basis that you really need to think about what makes you unique. Three: the best artists are the ones who feel like they genuinely enjoy interacting with their fans and watching their social numbers grow. Four: by following or observing other artists you like or you think use the service well you’ll quickly learn what works.’
Because of the dominance of Facebook and Twitter, Darren says artists need to limit themselves to other tools and services that ‘play nice on the major platforms’, citing YouTube and SoundCloud as the best examples of services that are platform-agnostic and can be posted anywhere on the web – making them portable and, most importantly, accessible.
For Nick, the thing to avoid the most is using social media to blare out incessant sales messages. ‘It’s important to respect [the fan/artist] relationship at all times and ensure that fans don’t feel they’re being exploited or constantly being asked to cough up money,’ he says.
Ultimately, social media needs to be treated as an extension of what you are like as a songwriter or composer. ‘People have this feeling that it’s not real life, it’s social media,’ says Baker. ‘Social media should act like real life.’
Six key social media platforms
By simple dint of its scale – with over one billion active users globally and growing – Facebook is the most important social network for any musician to be on. Third-party services like BandPage allow musicians to re-skin and personalise their profile page while embeddable content – YouTube videos, SoundCloud tracks – can be accessed without having to leave the page. User analytics help target specific messages to fan segments, especially useful for fans in different time zones.
Its strength is that it operates in real time and URL shorteners ensure links to other sites (hosting videos, pictures or news) don’t swallow up a tweet’s precious 140 characters. Plug-in tools mean you can closely monitor conversation threads and see what tweets are the most popular in terms of re-tweets and ‘favourites’. Artists, from the superstar users like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, all the way down to new acts, can control the conversation and even use it to run competitions.
With more than one billion users globally, YouTube is the second largest search engine online (after Google, its parent company) and by some distance the biggest music streaming service in the world. If you have several videos (these can be promos, live recordings and also interviews or other non-music content), it is worth creating your own official YouTube channel and looking to monetise the plays through the platform’s advert network. For many fans, YouTube is the first place they will look for an act to find out more, so maintaining a strong channel and keeping it topped up with fresh clips is essential.
With 343 million monthly active users, this is a far bigger social media platform than Twitter, but it is perhaps one of the most complicated. Different components like Circles and Hangouts make take some time to get your head around, but it is certainly a platform worth considering – if only because of the way Google links it through to a number of its other properties, most notably YouTube and the Android mobile operating system. Musicians are starting to experiment with what it can do, such as Ellie Goulding, who hosted virtual album signings on the platform last year.
As of last November, microblogging and social media platform Tumblr had 170 million users. Musicians tend to use Tumblr for photo and video sharing as the design of the site favours high quality visuals. At the start of the year, it put a formal emphasis on music, with a curated section offering editors’ picks of the best music, photos and videos. Artists like Beyoncé, Azelia Banks, Nine Inch Nails and The xx are all heavy users.
Now owned by Twitter, it puts an emphasis on brief video clips that can be uploaded from a user’s iPhone or Android device. Clips can only be as long as six seconds. Viewers do not need the Vine app to watch any uploaded content as it plays on web browsers. Boyband Union J recently used it to get fans to shoot clips based on specific lyrics from their Carry You single, with a variety of fan-submitted clips going to make a video for the track. Even Paul McCartney has done a ‘guess the song’ game on Vine.
Words: Eamonn Forde