So, in the jungle full of unknowns in the world of social media, what should you consider and why? Well, to begin, social media "IS" today's marketing platform for nearly every product or service being offered. Don't forget that an artist and their music is a product that consumers may want, so using social media is a no-brainer. But avoiding the trap of chasing cyber-fans can be difficult. Many artists and their management are sucked into the fantasy world that having a certain amount of followers, likes, views or connections on social media will somehow translate into opportunities, fans or revenue. I won't disagree that you can gain some of each of those, but gauging your progress or success using social media as your primary rubrik is likely the key reason you will experience great frustration.
Social media is an inexpensive method to broadcast who you are with the hopes of gaining attention from fans and industry people. However, popularity and recognition don't always translate into revenues. At some point in the pursuit of a music career, thinking about the revenue streams needed to sustain a livelihood in music, you will need to step back and evaluate time and resources being injected in social media versus the strategy and goal.
I want to breakdown some myths and realities about social media that you should consider when trying to promote an artist.
- MYTH: YOUTUBE IS HOW AUSTIN MAHONE, COLBIE CALLIAT, GREYSON CHANCE, AND JUSTIN BIEBER GOT THEIR START, SO THAT MUST WORK FOR OTHERS TOO.
- Quite honestly, in talking to several music industry media people and major label executives on our journey so far, youtube is not the discovery zone it once was. I'm not saying there aren't other benefits, but to presume that having a video go viral and grab the attention of a huge slice of consumers isn't possible, but to presume this is the primary method of getting discovered is naive.
- FACT: Youtube closely monitors uploaded videos for view boosting and purchased views. They ban users and remove videos that are trying to gain popularity outside of natural organic methods. It may impress fans, but industry people are keenly aware of how to spot boosted videos.
- FACT: This method is a lottery approach which is fun to dream about, but not likely going to yield the results you would hope to have. You may gain fans and subscriptions, but be careful not to be swayed one way or the other about the legitimacy of your career based solely on youtube views or subscribers.
- FACT: Youtube does offer revenue opportunities for video uploads that yield higher traffic views. However, within the music industry, the competition for views in the "MUSIC" category of Youtube videos is quite difficult to gain viewers. Aside from the well-known artists already using youtube, you have up and coming artists using the same method and the advertising opportunities Google implemented as intros to videos is simply an annoying distraction to the content people want to view. Revenue is not as easy to gain by just having a lot of views on a video with sponsored ads. There are other methods to gain revenues through ads on youtube, but the traditional methods most youtube artists use aren't likely to gain you much results.
- FACT: If you are interested at all in selling your music as a digital download through iTunes, Amazon MP3 or other related online sites, you should be very aware that youtube is a primary resource for illegal downloads of the AUDIO portion of videos. Thanks to the open source programmers in our world who gladly develop clever plugins for browsers like Firefox and Chrome, a regular computer user can add an AUDIO/VIDEO STRIPPING file plugin which simply shows up as a button that allows them to download your music video and pull out the music track as an MP3. Voila! They have successfully now obtained your hard work for free. Yes, there are laws about theft, but who is going to prosecute millions of worldwide youtube users? We found out early on that when we post Spencer's youtube music videos, we are prepared to know that sales of that song will likely not have much return. In fact, in one email we received, a guy from a Middle East country asked if Spencer would send him the original MP3 file of a particular song since the ripped download he got from Youtube wasn't as high quality as he wanted for his iPod. We were shocked and did some investigation and learned about this high-tech (low-tech) way to steal music. So even though you can gain views or fans, remember that you are also giving away your music.
- As a side note, I studied how a few major artists handled their youtube and vevo accounts for a period of time as it related to new releases. One interesting pattern I detected was that many released a "coming soon" snippet of the song as a way to entice fans to buy the download. Then, several months later, they would release an original music video for the song that had already been popular on radio and iTunes. Clever strategy.
- Like anything with technology, improvements and methods are evolving. MySpace proved one thing, that if you don't move with the trends and habits of consumers/users, you will become obsolete. That is the essence of the social media game too. In order to keep your presence in front of fans, you need to go where they are.
- FACT: Mobile smartphones are close to overtaking computers as the primary viewer for social media. It is already the number one method for young people to view social media. Knowing this, the app markets on Android and iPhone are consistently releasing new social media software that quickly catch fire among users. Programs like Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Kik and a myriad of other platforms are all significant with users. Going beyond these popular platforms are other lesser known apps used by social media enthusiasts overseas too. So, when considering the game of social media, don't forget that some "FANS" may prefer chasing technology since their peers hop onto new bandwagons as a means to stay popular themselves.
- FACT: The reality that social media software makers need to actually make money doing what they do requires them to clutter up the viewing pages with ads from sponsors and developers. Many consumers don't like that and stray away to other less cluttered social media platforms to simply accomplish what they are hoping to accomplish... just engage in social connecting and not being fed advertising every time they click something. So apps like Facebook and Twitter (although still highly used) may not be where your primary audience is spending their time (or as much) because a lesser cluttered and more unique app has pulled their attention away.
- FACT: Many of the initial automation software tools developed for these two giants have been dismantled or banned because of spammer abuse. Users complained enough about automated follows, messages, tweets, or ads being placed on their timelines that the developers closed some doors for the software to work well and automate the process. So what used to be an easy way to rapidly grow a cyber fan base, is not as easy to do now. Organic (natural growth) followers are also looked upon as more legitimate in the eyes of industry people.
- FACT: One band, in particular, that we have observed has just over 8,000 followers on their Twitter page. They are not verified (blue check) but have had 5 top 10 singles on the radio the past few years and are making serious money touring and through their physical and online music sales. They were not signed to a major label, yet somehow their career has existed without the frantic chasing of cyber fans.
- I mentioned the VERIFIED status of a twitter account because that DOES impact the credibility of a user in the eyes of new potential fans. It has become a way to sort true artist accounts from faker profiles. It has also separated some emerging artist accounts from those who really do have industry recognition as a professional artist.
- What many artists fail to realize is that social media like youtube is a brilliant documentation tool to monitor progress of your craft. Watching an artists videos over a time period, you can see what development takes place and hopefully use them as "game film" to improve your skills and public interaction.
- An amazing site for doing this is called YOUNOW.COM and it is one of the fastest growing social media sites on the web. It is essentially a web-broadcast version of a TV Reality show. If you simply tune in (facebook login required) and watch the various channels of live broadcasts from around the world, you'll see how quickly addictive and amazing this social media can be for someone who uses it to their advantage. The truth is that any artist needs to interact with a live audience in order to learn their stage presence, speaking abilities, and performing skills. This site gives the artist a chance to talk to fans live through the chat box next to their live video stream while allowing the artist to also hone their speaking skills and become a real person to their fans. Reality TV is today's generation of fan to a large extent, and it's no longer about just the music. It's also about the person and fans being able to be connected to the artist on a personal level.
- Creating a youtube video can be daunting for some artists. Many young artists may like to sing, but they struggle being watched. More importantly, many fear cyber bullying or hate posts and dislikes. The reality is, though, if you expect to make a career out of being in the public eye, haters are a very real part of that. Even fellow artists, media, and industry people will be the biggest critics and haters on top of fans. Learning how to use youtube as a training ground for dealing with hate is one of the most valuable lessons Spencer has had in this journey so far. He has learned how to not take to heart the many negative posts or dislikes. He actually has gone back and watched or listened through their eyes and seen ways to improve himself. So while views and likes may be an initial goal, the dislikes and comments posted are equally as important to developing a music career.
- Dealing with fans through social media is a massively important method of gaining true fans. When they are able to personally talk to an artist and find a connection, the likelihood of that fan sticking around when new music releases aren't happening as often is greater than if the social media is a sterile advertising only platform.
- Conversely, many artists use social media as a platform to rant or flirt with fans. This is obviously a personal choice, but when considering industry labels and executives may monitor an artists social media, great caution should be used on what is posted and how personal the posts become. Image is everything and when media use tweets or facebook statuses as fodder for news stories about celebrities, you have to be extra careful to not allow emotion or circumstances to drive the post's content. In fact, if an artist isn't that savvy at using the English language, you may want to let a ghost-writer post instead to ensure the message it conveys isn't misunderstood.
- Developing a loyalty based on frequency of use of social media is highly important. Make sure to use social media daily in some form or another. Fans use your account as a means of daily connection or involvement with something they care about. It's like reading the newspaper.
I could spend a lot more time talking about this topic as it pertains to music artists and even discuss strategies that work and don't work with each platform, but the general idea is that an artist's success or perceived success should not depend entirely on their social media KLOUT score (klout.com). It certainly is a measuring stick for knowing awareness of your artist's brand in the market, but it isn't the golden ticket to a record deal that many think it will create. Trust me, record labels are not as impressed with 150,000 followers and 1 million youtube views as you would think. I'll be writing another post about what does impress them later.