How to... engage with fans online

Digital expert Jessie Scoullar reveals her top tips for engaging with direct-to-fan websites, building fan relationships and winning their support online. Get her insider knowledge on maintaining your fan mailing list, selling merch and getting your website right.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 3 Mar 2015
  • min read
Digital consultant Jessie Scoullar specialises in direct-to-fan strategies for artists, labels and brands who want to sell music, tickets and merchandise online

Late last year, her agency Wicksteed Works published the Direct-to-Fan: Which Platform report, which profiled the top 10 service providers out there for artists and labels.

The report analyses each in turn, from Bandcamp to PledgeMusic, CrowdSurge to Music Glue, profiling their features and pricing on a grid.

‘Each of these platforms offer unique marketing and retail services, with their own strengths and selling points,’ she says.

‘Some can be fully customised, some are excellent at fulfilment or brilliant at ticketing, and some offer a broad suite of services all gathered together. But which should you pick?’

Intrigued by her findings, we caught up with Jessie to glean her top tips for engaging with direct-to-fan websites, building fan relationships and winning their support online. She also shares details of a discount she's offering PRS for Music members who would like the full report.

Before you get anywhere near thinking about sales or direct-to-fan platforms, it’s vitally important to build your mailing list.

I recommend having a mailing list sign-up function on your website. It’s pretty simple to set up and doesn’t have cost very much, if anything.

I would always recommend using a digital incentive to encourage people to give you their email address. It could be anything really; be as imaginative as possible. A free mp3 download is good – but it’s been done to death. Try to think of something creative that remains digital, so you can keep reproduction and distribution costs low.

Test your sign-up process
Once you have created your mailing list sign-up, you need to test it. It’s surprising how many artists don’t bother! You need to make sure it works across mobile and tablets too.

Get a friend to go through the process and tell you what they find. Often they will discover glaring errors or points in the process where you missed an opportunity to engage the fan. You don’t want to leave them staring at a blank screen thinking, ‘What should I do next?’ These are simple issues to fix.

You have built up your mailing list. What next?
When it comes to email marketing, it’s all about treating those people on your mailing list as best as you possibly can. These are people who have opted in – they’ve given permission for you to contact them, so they need to get the best news, exclusives and benefits first.

Before you get anywhere near selling, you need to put processes in place to manage your email list. You might have offered an incentive which tipped the balance for the fan to sign up to the list. But what’s next? You might decide on an ‘on-boarding’ process, where they get two or three automated emails in succession.

Maybe you send them an email a day or two after they’ve signed up to say thanks, and give them a little bit of an introduction. And then a few days later you can send another email directing them to a video, or linking to some sort of online presence you have that they might not be aware of, such as Instagram or Twitter. Maybe you could then send a third email soon after offering a one-off discount to your store.

Rules of engagement
When a fan signs up to your list, they are at their most engaged. They’ve made a positive step to engage with you so that’s when they’re primed for contact. It’s the high point of the relationship so far.

It could be two months before you were planning to send an email out – artists don’t email every week – so it’s really important to deepen engagement right at the time when it needs to be.

If someone signs up and then they don’t hear anything for six weeks until you announce a tour – that’s not the best way to treat a new friend. You want to ease them into it. And, ideally, you want to write emails in the artists’ voice; never send press releases to your mailing list.

So, which direct-to-fan platform should you go for?
This is three questions in one: what, how and where. The ‘what’ is: what’s the campaign? What’s the project based on? Do you need a store, or are you looking for an album pre-sale? Is it a ticketing campaign? You need to define the goal as the logical first step.

The ‘how’ is: how will the platform be managed? Will the artist manage the tools themselves? Some options are self-serve and others will do everything for you. It comes down to a question of resource: does the artist or label or whoever is running this project feel happy to do it themselves or do they want to outsource it?

The final question is ‘where’: where will the campaign live? Do you want the store or tool to live on the artist website or the label website? Or do you want to use a ‘destination’ platform like Bandcamp or PledgeMusic? The advantage to those platforms is that you can leverage the existing audience to some extent. There’s a big community aspect to them, with a strong element of discovery.

The best options for new artists
If you want to start running e-commerce, you should look for the simplest option. You want to be thinking about who’s going to do the fulfilment if there’s a physical product – you don’t want to leave that until the last minute.

I think Bandcamp and MusicGlue are perfect entry-level platforms. They both take only 10 percent of profits and they’re really strong platforms. They’re easy to set up and it’s quite simple to have a really good-looking store without the need to hire a designer and developer.

Once you start having more complicated requirements, such as chart reporting in certain countries outside the UK and US, you need to look at the few platforms that can offer that.

Also, if you need worldwide distribution, you’ve got to be worrying about shipping to places like South America and there could be customs duties – so it’s worth looking into a bigger platform that’s got the distribution networks. If it’s a big scale project, and you want to treat your fans right, it’s definitely worth doing a bit of research into which platform will be the best fit.

You should also offer e-commerce through your own website
When a fan visits your website, that’s most of the battle done. It’s insane to then send them off somewhere else, especially if you are sending them to iTunes – which is a huge, distracting store, full of everyone else’s music. I think artists should have e-commerce on their website.

Owning that transaction gives you so much information about your fans. Having them on your mailing list is one thing – you know where in the world they are, how often they engage with your emails and whether they click on your links - but you can learn a lot more when they buy things. You can customise your marketing accordingly.

Now you’re all set up: what are the best ways of marketing your product?
I would always throw email into the digital mix, alongside social media marketing and paid advertising. It’s really important for emerging acts, otherwise how do you get the eyeballs? It can be really difficult to get traction. You have to be really creative and formulate a plan that works out where your fans are and what they’re like. Where are similar artists? What’s working for them?

Jessie is offering PRS for Music members a £50 discount on the Which Platform? report. Find out more

Jessie Scoullar is director of Wicksteed Works, a London-based agency specialising in direct-to-fan strategy and management for bands, labels and brands. Wicksteed Works’ clients include Elvis Costello, Paul Kalkbrenner, Yann Tiersen, Paul McCartney, Eurovision and Neil Finn.

Jessie cut her teeth on the world of direct-to-fan with three years in the fast-paced environment of Topspin's Creative Services team. Previously she worked as Scheme Development Manager for Mechanical Licensing at PRS for Music, and in a past life in her native New Zealand, she was a commercial solicitor, before joining the country's premier artist management shop.