There is no doubt that the explosion of social media has opened up a whole new range of promotional opportunities for artists. One could make the argument, however, that it makes this sort of thing TOO easy. Just because these services offer you access to a way to reach out to your audience, doesn’t mean you necessarily know how best to do that. In fact, it is startlingly easy to do yourself damage rather than good if you’re not careful. So today I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the missteps I have seen artists make when it comes to self-promotion.
1.) The “Let’s See What Sticks” Approach
One of the most annoying phenomena that’s come up recently is bands using Facebook’s ability to sign everyone in your friends list up for a group you create without their prior consent. I recently started getting spammed by some indie band I’ve never heard of, to the extent that one day I got over 25 separate messages from them in my in-box in a single day. They kept at it despite the fact that the responses on their pages showed that 95% of the people they’d signed up to receive these messages were not only not interested, but were getting increasingly angry about having their in-boxes glutted with junk. Think there’s no such thing as bad publicity? Think again.
A much better approach is to create your group, mailing list, or band page and simply make a post on your page announcing it’s there, thus allowing people who are interested in your band to sign up voluntarily. Sure, your group will have less members, but those members will be there because they WANT to be there, and presumably are interested in what you have to say. Thus, the effectiveness of your posts are MUCH higher. Be sure to use your other social media outlets to promote one another, too. Announce your Facebook bandpage on your mailing list… use your mailing list to promote your Twitter page, and so forth. (You can join my band's official page here, by the way...)
2.) The “Autopilot” approach
There’s a band on my Facebook friends list that makes an effort to greet each and every new member that joins their page. That’s good. What’s not so good is that they post the exact same message to every single member: “Thanks for your friendship. Be sure to check out our new album “xxxx” out now on xxxxx records!” I see two problems with this. First of all, having your first interaction with a fan/potential fan be a sales pitch might come across as a bit crass. Secondly, if you’re just cutting and pasting the exact same message each and every time, it makes it look like you don’t really give a rat’s ass about your fans.
There’s no doubt that personally interacting with your fans on an individual basis can be an extremely time-consuming affair, but it can reap giant rewards. That kind of interaction can be really meaningful to fans and will make them WANT to support you and your work. The importance of loyalty among your fans shouldn’t be underestimated, especially give the present state of the music industry. I’ve taken this approach for my entire career, and not only has it helped me build a nice fanbase, but I’ve met some fascinating, very talented people as a result, which is a reward of its own.
3.) The "Totally Unfliltered" Approach
The advantage of social media is that it allows you to reach a large number of people quickly and easily. That’s great if your message is positive, but say the wrong thing and you’ve just broadcast to the world what an asshole you are. Recently, a European band returned from their US tour and the singer posted a list of “rules” for fans to approach him. These rules covered many of the standard annoyances any band faces when going on the road, but they’re annoyances every band has dealt with like adults since live music existed. The reaction his post got was overwhelmingly negative and widespread, probably undoing a lot of the good will he had worked to build on his recent tour.
The same thing goes for when you have a bad show. Every band has them. Every band runs into shitty sound guys, shifty promoters, or crowds completely devoid of energy. It’s part of being a touring musician. Complaining about these things publicly may make you feel better in the short run, but mostly,it just makes you look like a whiney diva.
Does this mean you have to bottle up all these frustrations entirely? Of course not! Just keep it out of the public eye. Joke about it with your bandmates on the van ride to the next city. Call your significant other or a friend back home and vent a bit. Audiences are way more impressed by bands that handle less-than-optimal situations with grace and maturity than those who act like petulant children. Usually when you look back at the situations that frustrate you or make you angry, they’re not really that big a deal. So if you really feel compelled to post something about a fan who annoyed you, a sound guy who did a lousy job, or a promoter who bought the wrong kind of beer for your rider, wait until the next day before you post about it if you feel you really need to. Chances are, your anger will have evaporated, and you’ll be glad you didn’t do it. Think of it like drunk dialing an ex. Sure, it seems like a good idea at the time, but how many people are ever glad they did it in the long run?