In my first post, I explained some of the basics of publicity and branding—the story of your music and how it’s told. I also gave some guidance on media relations and how you can try to work with other people to get them to tell your story to their audiences.
For this post, I’d like to talk about social media and digital marketing—something that many musicians dismiss as shallow self-promotion, a waste of time, or something they’ll never understand.
But it’s none of these things. Social media is something remarkable that represents an absolute sea change in our industry.
I urge you to think of social media not as a thorn in your side or something you keep pushing down the to-do list, but rather as an extraordinary opportunity to build a community of supporters around your music that you can communicate to directly with complete control over what you say, as well as when and how you say it.
This communication is a two-way street. You can get real-time feedback that once upon a time would have been impossible. And in the same way that people can come to your social media to learn about you, you can learn about your supporters—where they’re based, what their demographic makeup is, what they respond to most, and much more.
In the interest of demystifying social media and giving some concrete advice on how to manage it, below are the ten things I feel any musician must know.
1. Facebook Is the Most Important Platform
Many musicians avoid social media simply because of the overwhelming number of platforms available to them and the feeling that maintaining a presence on all of them will require too much time and energy.
Social media doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game. While it’s certainly better to be on as many platforms as possible (more on that further down), it’s far better to focus on one platform and do it well, rather than do a bunch of them poorly.
And if you’re going to pick one social media platform, Facebook is the one to go with, for the following reasons:
- Users: With nearly 2 billion users, it is by far the dominant platform across the globe (though there are other country-specific competitors, like China’s WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte).
- Content: Facebook has the most sophisticated platform in terms of the different kinds of media you can post (text, photos, video, links, etc.), and how people can interact with those posts. As a marketing tool, it has none of the limitations of platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat.
- Data: The analytics and statistics you can get from Facebook are more sophisticated than any other platform, and if read correctly (see #7 below) can give you amazing insight into your followers.
- Paid Advertising: Facebook has the most complex advertising options available to its users, allowing you to target existing and potential users in ways that none of the others can even come close to.
As an extension of your professional music career, Facebook is heads and tails above the rest. And speaking of professional…
2. Personal vs. Professional Social Media
You must, must, must differentiate between your personal and professional social media—not only in terms of what you’re posting, but also on a technical level of having professional pages that are public-facing and (if desired) personal pages that are private to all but your friends.
Everyone loves cat photos, but your professional social media profiles aren’t where you should be posting them (or at least only post them occasionally…). Your professional page is where you talk about your music, say what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, share your successes and gain feedback from your supporters.
If you have a personal profile on Facebook, you can easily convert it to a professional page, or if you’d prefer to still have your personal profile, you can create a separate public professional page for yourself and then encourage your friends to follow that page for updates on your music (remember to make your personal profile private so strangers can only view your professional page!).
At the end of the day, you want to make sure that whatever goes up on your social media is polished, professional, and represents your music in the best possible light. Which brings us to voice…
3. What’s Your Online Voice?
It’s crucial to establish a consistent online personality that reflects your real-world personality—what’s called your social media “voice.” Are you serious or light-hearted? Formal or informal? Easily accessible or shrouded in mystique? Modern or more traditional? Opinionated or easygoing?
All of these things go into how you should present yourself on social media. One exercise: think of the three words that best describe your professional personality and try to reflect those in your posts.
4. Your Profile Page Needs to Look Good
If someone who is interested in you—whether it’s a fan, journalist, presenter, or anyone else—visits your social media profile and sees a half-finished, sloppily done page, then they’re going to believe that’s how you approach the rest of your career. (The same is true for your website, which we’ll discuss in the next post.)
You need to have the following:
- Profile image: Usually your best professional headshot. Don’t change this too frequently as people associate this with you.
- Cover Image: A larger image, usually another promo shot or one of you in performance. You can also swap this out more frequently to promote specific events.
- Relevant Info: Be sure to fill in the About section so people can find out more information, and curate photos and videos so that someone who goes to those sections sees only good content.
- Integrations: Facebook allows you to connect to YouTube, Instagram, email marketing services like Mailchimp, and more.
All platforms periodically change elements of the layout, info, etc. Set yourself a reminder to take a look at your profile page every so often to make sure that it continues to look like it’s professionally presented. (Facebook and others have a “view as visitor” option in settings, so you can see it without your own administrative privileges—or just pull it up in a private browser tab.)
5. The Basics of Posting
On a technical level, there are a number of things to keep in mind when posting on any platform, to make sure that you’re taking advantage of what the platform has to offer. Some general things to consider:
- Length: Unless the post is specifically supposed to be a major statement, keep it brief. After 477 characters, Facebook goes into “read more” territory and you lose most people.
- Timing: Try to avoid posting in the evening or weekends, as fewer people are on social media then. Your analytics (see point #7) can help you determine the best time to post. Also if you have fans in other time zones, bear that in mind!
- Tagging: Typing “@” and the name of a person/organization usually links to their page, notifies them of your post, and will sometimes get them to share your post, which is an important part of expanding the exposure of your social media. Tag often, and try to do so in the flow of your writing (i.e. “This @newmusicbox article about social media is THE BEES KNEES!”).
- Hashtags: Typing “#” and a word or phrase (without spaces) is a way to become part of a conversation around a topic, so that people who search for posts by that hashtag will see your posts about it.
- Links: On Facebook, you can edit everything about a link after you paste it into the post box—including the generated image, title, and preview (try it!). Also you can use a link shortener like Bitly to make your links look nicer, plus it’s trackable if you make an account, meaning you can see how many actual clicks you get from a post. Remember that most platforms like Facebook will penalize you for posting links to external content (because they want you to stay on their site), so you’ll likely have to pay to boost those posts to get to more of your followers. And Instagram doesn’t let you include links in non-Story posts, but you can put one in your profile and direct people there from a post (i.e. “Link is in my profile”).
- Photos: Experiment with the different options—from standalone photos (remember to double check how they’re cropped in the actual post), to galleries (What’s the lead image that people see first? Is it the best of the group?), to newfangled options like 360-degree images, GIFs, and more.
- Videos: Always upload video separately to each platform rather than just posting a link to YouTube or Vimeo. A video uploaded to Facebook itself will get FAR more exposure from their algorithm than an external link. (Again, they’re trying to encourage you not to drive traffic away from their site.)
- Livestreaming: Most platforms now have a livestreaming option, and it’s worth experimenting with (Facebook Live, Periscope on Twitter, etc.), particularly around live performances. The most important thing is to try to get someone who has a good following (or just as many people as possible) to commit to sharing the livestream as soon as it goes live, so leave a few minutes for that before the actual event starts.
- Others: Geo-targeting (i.e. having a post only show up to certain locations/languages), location check-ins, events, notes, emojis, etc.
The above is just a collection of a few things to keep in mind. The key thing is to always double check your posts and ask yourself: “Does this look professional? Is this the best representation of myself and my music?”
6. Understanding Content
This is a massive concept and one that could have an entire post dedicated to it, but for right now I’m just going to go into the basics as it’s a word that gets tossed around a lot without everyone being clear on what “content” actually is.
Content is simply the “what” of your posts (rather than the “how” of point #5): it’s taking the strokes of a brush and making it into art rather than just random lines.
Good content should be thoughtful, interesting, provide value and perspective to your audience, and somehow be uniquely representative of you and what makes you different.
Some basic points to keep in mind about content:
- Variation: Think about different the kinds of content you might post (news updates, concert promotion, album promotion, posts about recent reviews/interviews/etc., personal updates, awards), and how each can be represented in different ways. For instance, you can post four times about an upcoming performance and each time just post the ticket link and say “Performance in NYC June 20, come get tickets!” OR those four posts can be: 1) a photo of the concert poster; 2) a video of you rehearsing a piece from the show; 3) a link to a preview feature or listing; and 4) a post with the ticket link saying how excited you are to see everyone there. Which of those two seems more interesting to you?
- Timeline: For things that are time-specific, like an album release, performance, or similar, think in terms of pre, during, and post What can you post at each point to keep people interested? For an album: PRE could include a photo of the recording session, album cover, promo video. DURING could be a livestream of the release event. POST could include reviews, music videos, etc.
- Tone: Consider the mood of your posts. Are you excited? Thankful? In awe? For instance: with reviews of your performances or works, it’s important to post these since that will give your followers a sense of success and momentum, but at the same time you never want to seem self-congratulatory or bragging. Be genuine and concise, and thank the outlet or writer for reviewing your work. You can include a pullout quote if there’s a great one, but again, try to insert some personal commentary that is humble and grateful.
- Interactivity: Ask questions of your supporters, encourage them to start conversations about important topics in the comments of your posts, respond to their comments, and generally make sure to be communicating with them and encouraging them to communicate with you, in order to build a sense of community on your page.
- Personal content: It can be good to include some personal posts mixed in with the professional: life at home; a great meal you had; photos from your travels; hobbies like photography or dancing; congratulating colleagues on their successes; interesting news articles; etc. These show aspects of your personality and interests, which will draw supporters closer to you. Obviously how personal you get depends on you.
This just scratches the surface, but you always want to be thinking about the content you post. Is it interesting? Is it varied? Is it something you’d want to see yourself if you were a fan of your own page? Are people responding to what you’re posting? That last point brings us to Analytics…
7. Analytics—Know Your Audience
One of the most powerful aspects of social media is that it allows you to actually get real data on your audience and your content. Some key things to keep in mind:
- Following vs. Engagement: The number of followers you have is less important than the number that actual read and engage with your content. You can have 50,000 followers, but if only two of them like or share each post then that’s not a powerful community. This is where content comes in; the more consistent and interesting it is, the more people will want to be a part of it.
- Reach vs. Engagement: If a post reaches (i.e. is seen by) a large number of people, but only a small percentage actually engages with it, then perhaps that’s not the most compelling content for your page. Conversely, if a post has a high percentage of people who see it liking and/or sharing it, then clearly that’s compelling content that you should post more of.
- Demographics: Looking at Analytics/Insights, you can see where your followers are from, whether they are male/female, how old they are, which kinds of people are most engaged, what time of day and which days of the week they’re most engaged, and so on.
There is a wealth of other information you can find in the Analytics section of any professional social media page, but the most important thing to keep in mind is to try and understand what the data means in real-life terms, and how the information it provides can be useful in terms of helping improve your content and posting strategy.
8. How To Grow Your Following
This is the most common question I get from people: how do I get more followers? There are two ways:
- Posting good content that people share with their own followers, who then follow you to get more interesting content from you.
- Being featured on the page of a colleague/organization and having them tag your page (i.e. do a Facebook Live interview with a presenting organization you’re performing with, on their page with them tagging you).
- Tagging a colleague with a large following, and/or asking them share your post to their page.
- Having online media (blogs, industry websites, etc.) link to your social media, or embed specific videos/posts.
- Having presenter organizations always link to your social media.
- Displaying your social media links prominently on your website.
- Pay to boost important posts so they reach more of your following, or friends of your followers (experiment with different settings).
- Create specific advertisements targeting people who might know you and your music, but where you don’t currently see many fans when you look at your demographics data. For instance, if you’re a composer who studied and has had a lot of performances of works in Boston, but you don’t see many fans from the area when you look at your Analytics, then you could create a targeted ad that displays to contemporary music fans in Boston, encouraging them to like your page. If people see that and know who you are, there’s a good chance they’ll like your page. With paid advertising, you want to consider the groups of people who might recognize your name but not already be followers and think about how you can get to them via a paid ad on your platform of choice.
BE CAREFUL: Paid acquisition can be incredibly powerful, but it’s also an easy way to waste a lot of money to get very few fans, or to get a lot of fans who aren’t engaged with your page (which looks bad to visitors).
Once again, there is a lot more to discuss here, but what’s most important is that you keep gaining new followers over time, and if you see a spike in followers when you look at your analytics, try to understand what made that happen, and how you can replicate it.
9. Other Platforms
As noted, I believe that Facebook is by far the most important platform to invest your time and money in, but if you feel a personal attachment to any of the other platforms, or you enjoy using them personally, then it’s worth building a following on them around your professional career. For example:
- Instagram: If you’re a visual person or enjoy photography (or are just really, really ridiculously good-looking), this can be a good platform for you.
- YouTube: Do you like shooting/editing video? Do you communicate really well in-person with your fans? YouTube can be very powerful, but only if you take time to post videos frequently, and with a consistent brand/content style.
- Twitter: If you are funny or good with one-liners, like expressing opinions, enjoy being a part of larger conversations, or understand memes, then Twitter is good for you. Otherwise it’s probably not worth your time.
- Snapchat: Tough to “get” for many, and it isn’t really useful for professionals, but if you enjoy it personally then go for it!
- LinkedIn: It can be useful to connect on a professional level with presenters, etc., but it has a very cold, corporate energy that can clash with a more artistic mindset. I generally encourage our clients to stay off of it.
There are more social media platforms emerging every day, but my general advice at this point is to focus on Facebook in terms of your time and money investment, unless you personally feel drawn to another platform (but even then, you should be on Facebook, too).
10. Email Marketing
Just a final point: you need an email list. Email is BY FAR the most powerful form of marketing. It is the best in terms of getting actual results (i.e. selling actual tickets or recordings), and gives you the most control over how you express yourself.
Go with Mailchimp. It’s free up to 2,000 subscribers and is the easiest to use. Have an email signup field on your website and start sending out update emails every few months, telling recipients about your upcoming concerts, past successes, new photos/videos/recordings, and so on. Occasionally drive your social media fans to sign up. Ask people you meet if you can add them to your mailing list. Do whatever you can to grow this list.
ONLY email them with interesting content. It’s better to skip an email if there’s nothing to say then to send a boring email to your subscribers. Every blast they receive from you should give a sense that you have cool things happening and that your career is on the rise.
As with social posting, consider the tone. Are you conversational (“Hi friends! Another update from yours truly!”) or professional (“Dear friends, I hope you’re enjoying the spring. I have some exciting updates from my end…”)?
Also similar to social media, Mailchimp has amazing analytics reporting, so you can see how successful each email is in terms of opens, clicks, and more. Use that data to improve your email blasts!
I know social media can feel like a time drain for already busy musicians, but I cannot stress enough how important it is, and how it will only become more important in the coming years to have your own following of supporters that you can communicate with directly. So take the time to grow and nurture a community around yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Next up, the assets you need (photo, video, audio, website, and more) and how to get them on a budget.