I came across a very interesting article recently in The Guardian by the novelist Ewan Morrison, about how social media is not a 'magic bullet' that will bring fame and fortune to self-epublished authors, but actually a serious waste of time. His conclusion, after an in-depth study of the subject, is that it's best to avoid spending all your time as a self-publishing author trying to 'engage' a fanbase through posting status updates about cats, and focus on writing great books instead.
The parallels for independent musicians are obvious and, whilst I would not entirely go along with Morrison's pessimism on social media, I do think he makes some very good points about a) not placing too much faith in the power of social media to shift units and b) being very wary of social media gurus who offer all manner of expensive solutions / seminars that promise to take you, via Facebook or Twitter, from being a nobody to a superstar in a matter of weeks. Although a big part of my job here at Prescription is working with bands to improve their digital offering, I would never want artists to think that it's the kind of dream ticket to stardom that is often sold by digital marketing agencies to bands.
Rather, my own view on social media is that it's something that complements promotional activity and, depending on the context, can sometimes be a key part of it - but it's certainly no substitute for having great songs and a reason for people to find your act interesting in the first place. After that, when it comes to online marketing activity I'd be inclined to focus overwhelmingly on building up a great collection of email addresses - both of industry/media contacts and punters. Having this email database will mean:
- you can approach industry people about your band - still hugely important
- you can sell direct to fans
- you know your messages will, at the very least, get to people's inboxes instead of being hidden by a Facebook algorithm
- you can import all the email addresses into social networks anyway.
Obviously I wouldn't neglect social media entirely; the point is that it often gets prioritised over more important stuff - like songwriting, or potentially more effective methods of online promotion.
So do check out Morrison's article. It's a bit of a reality check! You can read it on the Guardian website here.