By now, it’s well known that engaging fans through social media plays a large part in how music artists build and maintain relationships with their audience.
But for many artists, social media remains something they choose not to fully delve into. Some find it too overwhelming; with the constant posting of content onto the countless platforms and would much rather spend their time creating music.
Others may even be ready to actively engage in social media, but have no idea how to properly utilize each platform.
Nancy Baym, a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas recently wrote a fantastic piece entitled “Engaging Fans Through Social Media.”
In it, she explains how musicians and audiences can build symbiotic relationshipsthat can nurture and sustain one another over the long haul.
The following 10 points summarize Baym’s key ideas on how to maximize your social media effectiveness:
1. Maintain Your Own Domain Name.
Before making your presence felt on any of the social media platforms, consider having your own website up and running first.
"Even though you can’t expect fans to cluster around your site rather than being where they hang out anyway (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc…), it’s nonetheless a stable anchor in an ever-changing system."
That anchor will be critical in “owning” your fans through the acquisition of email addresses. Relying strictly on social media for fan contact isn’t enough because once they decide to move on to the next platform, you’ve lost them forever.
2. Only Pick What You Can Sustain.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to use every social networking site you’ve ever heard of. It’s fine to just use one or two. People have very different media preferences and the key is to use the one(s) that fit your lifestyle.
Baym explains, “Are you highly mobile and rarely use a computer but love to text? Twitter might be the one for you. Love your smart phone? Maybe Twitter and Facebook. Highly visual? Post videos to YouTube or pictures to Facebook and Flickr. Love hanging out at your computer? Write a blog and build website content.”
3. Get Help.
Social media management is increasingly part of what today’s artist managers should be doing for their clients, but it’s also something musicians can seek out directly. Whether it’s through fan management companies, recruiting interns from nearby universities, or even having your own fans helping you out, enlisting the skills of others will go a long way.
"The audience itself contains a wealth of talent, and many of them are already going to be doing things to help you online," Baym says. "It’s okay to ask them for help in building and spreading your online presence."
She goes on to suggest adopting a “gift culture” with your audience:
"It’s important to understand that sharing is at the heart of music fans’ gift culture. To have music you love and not tell others about it is not just incredibly difficult, it’s ethically wrong. Gift cultures are guided by moral rather than a legalistic compass as they determine what is right and what is fair."
4. Keep Your Audience Up to Date.
At the very least, your fans should have pertinent information available to them. Whether it comes from you directly, or from a member of your team, it’s important that the information gets where it needs to be.
"As a general rule, impersonal information (tour dates, release dates, events, etc…) can be shared by people other than the musician. Personal information ought to come from the artist. Many musicians have a split where management or interns handle the impersonal information and they attend only to any personal posting they do."
5. Interweave Online & Offline With Valuable Merchandise.
Once record companies began packaging music as a commodity, music came to be seen as a good when in reality, the good was the vinyl or the CD. There are other tangible goods that still make money for musicians (DVDs, T-shirts, buttons, stickers, posters, etc…) but it’s important to remember that these make money because fans like to have objects.
"Fans like to show others that they are into you, and goods provide a concrete way to display that," Baym says. "Many musicians have shown with special limited releases that people will pay a lot of money for nice goods, especially if they are limited and feel handcrafted."
6. Let Your Audience In On The Art Making!
The more you encourage your own fans’ creativity, the more they will come to appreciate your own. Encourage them to record and upload videos from your shows, give them the guitar tabs to your songs, encourage a cover art contest, create a fan-remix CD, etc…
"Fans value creativity," Baym says. "Artists tend to focus on their own creativity, and that is the focus around which fans organize, but they can also use others’ art as an opportunity to flex their own creative muscles."
7. Respect Their Feelings.
People are going to feel what they’re going to feel. You can’t change it. The fact that your audience is emotionally engaged means that they’re paying attention to you and that they care. Don’t focus on the people whose feelings bring you down. It’s important to acquire thick skin. You’ll have to be able to deal with people saying things about you and your art that you may not like.
Billy Bragg was quoted in saying. “If you allow people to put you on a pedestal, you can’t complain when pigeons shit on your head.”
8. Really, It’s Not About You.
When you make it clear that your fans are using your music to build their own identities and communities, engaging them becomes much easier. You can talk about other things that tap into their own experiences.
Did you just release a break-up song? Ask your fans to share their stories of heartache. Let you and your music become part of who they are as individuals.
9. Let Social Media Be a Way To Tell Your Story.
It’s been said that tomorrow’s best marketers are those who can tell great stories.
Think of social media as a way to extend your story through your music. Fans will certainly care about the quality of sounds they’ll be hearing, but they’ll also care about context.
Baym explains, “If you work to keep the information and interactions you have consistent with the image and storyline you are projecting, questions of what to post and how to deal with the sorts of things that fans do can be much easier.”
10. Give Them a Way to Participate in Your Story.
Never underestimate your fans’ desire to participate in telling your story. Encourage ways for them to tell their friends and peers. Social media platforms exist for you build your story, and for your fans to share that story with others.
The more tools you give them to tell your story, the easier they can spread it around. So at the end of the day, do musicians need to utilize social media?
Well as a matter of practical necessity, your audience is already online and it would behoove you to take advantage of that. However, it’s important to not think in terms of your audience being online or offline.
For it is what happens to them offline, which is interwoven with what they experience online, that makes your music that much more valuable to them as a listener, as your fan, and as an individual. They become a part of your experience and you of theirs. Social media is simply the intermediary between the two.