Viewing entries tagged
E-newsletters

Why bands shouldn’t put all their eggs in Facebook’s basket

Facebook

by Chris Singleton

An article in today’s Guardian caught my eye: “Ello might or might not replace Facebook, but the giant social network won’t last forever.” To save you the hassle of actually reading the article, Ello is a relatively new social network (an ‘anti-Facebook with a conscience’ apparently – given that it’s funded by venture finance capital, I won’t hold my breath about the conscience bit); it is growing at a rapid rate and might one day replace Facebook as the world’s dominant social network (or not).

I suspect that reports of Facebook’s death are likely to be much exaggerated at this point – however, it is worth thinking, from a band’s point of view, about what would happen if Facebook did pop its clogs; it could have serious ramifications for an act.

Right now, bands often focus on building up a Facebook following at the expense of a lot of other stuff. This is usually because a label wants to see a big one before getting the chequebook out (ooh er). As such bands go to huge lengths – sometimes spending a lot of money on advertising – to ensure that they have a healthy number of fans associated with their Facebook page. It makes sense on paper to do this: you get the ability to communicate with a group of people who might one day fork out for a t-shirt, and an A&R guy gets to think that you’re actually popular.

But what happens if Facebook disappears? It sounds like a crazy thought, but it’s not. We’ve been here before after all - remember getting RSI from clicking ‘add friend’ repeatedly on Myspace, and building up an impressive number of said friends…only for those friends (fairweather at best; saucy ladies punting saucy services at worst) to bugger off to Facebook a year or so later?

If Facebook does get supplanted by a newer, hipper network then you may find yourself in the situation of having spent thousands of pounds developing a following that is no longer there. You may have promoted your Facebook page religiously whilst on tour…only to find that the fans you made on tour can’t be contacted, because the only relationship you had with them was one that took place on a now defunct Facebook. This is not a good place to be in.

So how do you protect yourself? Well, by all means continue to advertise your band on Facebook; but don’t just focus on using advertising spend simply to generate ‘likes’ (this, after all, sort amounts to paying Mark Zuckerberg so that YOU can segment his database). Try to capture email addresses as well, by offering people content in exchange for their email address (at the moment, most bands just offer this content in exchange for a like). Or, if you are dead set on generating likes for your advertising spend, follow this up with some Facebook ad promotions aimed at converting the new ‘likers’ into subscribers to your mailing list (run an ad which offers them a second free track by going to your website and joining a mailing list, for example). At gigs, prioritise capturing email addresses over Facebook likes.

The reason it’s so important to capture email addresses is because 1) you are future-proofing yourself somewhat from the doomsday scenario of your Facebook following disappearing and 2) you gain more ownership over the artist-fan relationship – you are in control, generally speaking, of whether somebody sees a communication about your band or not (i.e., you are not relying on a Facebook algorithm). And email addresses allow you to invite people to follow you on other social networks too – you can generally just import your list and send out invites automatically. It’s much easier to convert an email address into a ‘like’ or a follow than the other way round.

I reckon our Facebook followings are safe for a little while yet; but it is worth thinking about what’s round the corner, and considering other ways to bombard people with information. Speaking of which it would be rude at this point not to invite you to join Prescription’s mailing list (please see below).

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How to create a great band e-newsletter

Band e-newsletter

For a lot of bands I talk to, an email database or e-newsletter is really a bit of an afterthought; they are more concerned with building up a Facebook or Twitter following that is big enough to impress that A&R guy from Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar." But actually, a good email list and a great series of e-newsletters represent an extremely important way to stay in touch with your fans. You are in control of the communication - not a Facebook algorithm - and, through use of strong visuals, you can really make a statement about your act, and hopefully, flog some t-shirts. Below you'll find some tips on how to turbo-charge your e-newsletters.

1. Start with the most important thing: your database

Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, think about the ‘who’. You probably have an existing database of fans tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, your fans live in several very messy spreadsheets (or indeed on scraps of paper that you brought along to gigs to scribble punters' names down on). Before even thinking about sending an e-newsletter to anybody on your mailing list, it is a good idea to consolidate all your files into one clean, well-organised spreadsheet. You should also ensure that this is ‘segmented’ as well as possible – i.e., ideally you should have a field in it containing information which lets you flag data as people who attended gigs, people who've bought your albums in the past, music industry contacts and so on. If at all possible, try to get some geographical info onto your database - this can be invaluable for you if you intend to tour (because you'll be inform alert fans living beside the Dog and Duck in Scunthorpe exactly when you'll be playing). The basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to the appropriate person at the right time.

2. Create an e-newsletter schedule

The next step is to plan your communications carefully - ideally by creating an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out what you are going to send out in an e-newsletter, to whom, and when. As you might expect, this can be very handy if you intend to promote particular gigs in particular areas, or map out a series of communications around the time of an album release. You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go. And because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see above) you will always be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts - i.e., when your latest single comes out fans will receive an e-newsletter imploring them to buy it, and your radio DJ contacts will get an email beseeching them to play it.

3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletter

For many bands, sending e-newsletters means compiling a mailing list in Excel, then copying and pasting the addresses into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Hotmail message. This is a horrendously time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also very ineffective, because it doesn’t allow you to a) send very nice-looking e-newsletters or b) accurately measure important stats like open rate and clickthroughs.

It is a much better idea to use a dedicated tool for sending your e-newsletter. There are many web-based solutions available now: big-hitters include Aweber, Getresponse, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and MadMimi. These all allow you to import your database, create attractive templates, and send out proper ‘HTML e-newsletters’ that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!). At Prescription, our favourites for band use are Getresponse and Mad Mimi, chiefly because they are inexpensive by comparison to their competitors, easy to use, and pack in an awful lot of functionality. Both come with free trials:

4. Get the visuals right

Once you’ve decided upon which bit of software you’re going to use for your e-newsletters, you need to design a nice HTML template for it. Getresponse in particular comes with a lot of designs that you can modify easily enough. If your design skills are not all that strong, you might consider hiring a designer to set up your email templates. Ultimately your e-newsletter template should look professional and uncluttered, and should feature your band logo and photographs prominently. 

5. Split test!

Once you’ve got your database, your e-communications schedule, your choice of software and your template sorted, it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters. But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible. This generally means 'split testing' your subject headers and/or content. Split testing means trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your database. You might, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with different subject headers, and send it to 500 fans on your database – after a day or so, you can identify which subject header led to the best open rate, and then use that header for the remainder of your data. Note that this is only worth doing if you have a relatively large database – if your band database is only a few hundred records in size, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly informative results (whilst taking a fair bit of time to set up).

6. Use good landing pages

It’s not just essential to have attractive, well-constructed e-newsletters: it’s important that the links in those e-newsletters take you to pages that actually ‘convert’ readers into taking further action too. Generally speaking you don’t want to send people to a page that contains a huge number of competing calls to action or links – it’s better to present a page that encourages users to take one specific action, be that buying a CD, liking a Facebook page or completing a form. Your landing pages should be attractive, easy-to-use and focused firmly on 'conversion'.

7. Measure success

Most e-newsletter tools come with detailed reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate and more. Study these stats carefully, as they will help you create better e-newsletters that generate more sales of tacky merch in future.

8. Allow people to sign up to your mailing list directly from your site

Most e-newsletter tools allow you to easily embed sign-up forms for your mailing list directly on your website. Make sure you do this, as it will save you having to repeatedly upload spreadsheets of data to your e-newsletter service. Additionally, by connecting your website’s mailing list form directly to your e-newsletter software, you can make use of autoresponders or ‘drips’ – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list via your website, they will automatically receive messages of your choosing at intervals of your choosing. For example, a subscriber could get a welcome message immediately upon signup; a discount code for a download one week later; an encouragement to follow your band on Facebook two weeks later and so on.

It's also important to 'incentivise' data capture on your website, for example by giving people who sign up access to an exclusive download or stream. 'Join our mailing list' enthuses nobody...

9. Allow fans to share your e-newsletters

Most e-newsletter tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletter. Make use of them! It means that your content and offers get a better chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list.

10. Oh, do be nice

And finally, if you want to run an effective e-newsletter campaign, there are five important things to remember:

  • Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it
  • Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages
  • Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimise unsubscribes
  • Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe
  • Adhere to data protection laws

Now off you go to create an e-newsletter in Hotmail that you send out 20 times a week to 5 people.

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What does the new Gmail 'promotions' tab mean for your band?

Gmail

If, like me, you have an unhealthy interest in HTML emails, you will have noticed that Google (who run one of the biggest free email services on the planet) have helpfully decided to take ‘promotional’ emails – along with ones sent from social networks – out of your Gmail inbox and file them away in a new ‘promotions’ tab. At first glance, this appears to be a pain in the bum for anyone using HTML emails to flog anything, and that, of course, includes musicians (who probably send more promotional emails to unsuspecting members of the public than MPs, religious zealots and attractive ladies from exotic countries with large inheritances to share combined). Thanks to Google’s changes, your band’s beautifully designed HTML e-newsletter is now rotting in the promotions tab, meaning that your biggest fan(s) will forget all about you (leaving only the NSA to read your emails). Right? Well not quite. There are a few things you can do about this.

1. Warn punters about the 'promotions' tab when they are subscribing to your e-newsletter

Place some copy on your sign up form, confirmation email and ‘thank you for subscribing’ page asking people to add your e-newsletters to their ‘primary inbox’ in Google. This is a simple case of the user looking for one of your emails, right clicking on it and choosing ‘Move to tab > Primary’; after that, all emails from you – providing you send them from the same email laddress as the first one – will go into the primary Gmail inbox.

2. Make existing fans aware of the situation

Use other communications channels available to you – for example, your website, social media presences or even stage patter at your gigs – to let your fans know that Google have hidden your band e-newsletters and where to find them. Again, you can explain the ‘move to tab’ business to them so that they can get all your emails safely in future.

3. Mention the Gmail issue in every email you send out

Add a little piece of copy in each email you send out informing people how to ensure their email turns up in the right Gmail inbox. That means that if your fans are pootling about in their ‘promotions’ inbox, and happen to open your email, they can observe your sage words of advice and take action to ensure your e-newsletters go into their primary inbox in future.

4. Concentrate on creating great content

If your emails are along the lines of ‘hey John, the band just had bagels for breakfast and please come to our overpriced gig tonight’ then it doesn’t really matter what Gmail tab they end up in: they are not going to be read all that often, and certainly not enjoyed. Basically, you should be aiming to create content so great that if your fans notice it’s not in their inbox, they will wonder why, and go nosing around for it. Creating a great newsletter always boils down to offering something of benefit to the fan in each email – be that a really interesting blog post, a free track, a 2-4-1 gig ticket deal or a video. You should only ever send an e-newsletter if you are in a position to offer something of value. Otherwise don’t send it.

Ultimately, of the above 4 tips, the fourth is potentially the most important. If your newsletters are genuinely of interest, Gmail users will miss them if they suddenly disappear – and my hunch is that they will use their noggins and look for them in the promotions tab. So, in a weird way, Google might have all done us musicians a favour...by reminding us that if we want people to read our e-newsletters, they’ve got to be good in the first place – regardless of which inbox in cyberspace they end up.

See also

Article by Chris Singleton, Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR

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Using Google’s services and apps to further your music career

Google

Google and its all-seeing algorithms may be watching you and controlling your thoughts, but in addition to being the latest Big Brother on the block, the company are also the provider of a host of free and very powerful tools, many of which have really useful applications for musicians. As musicians are a heartless bunch who would happily lay down their grannies' lives in exchange for success, in this article we’re going to willfully ignore Google's dark side and show you how its products can help you be an efficient rock and roller.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are the chagrin of music PR companies – because they let bands keep an eye on what journalists, bloggers and the public at large are saying about them. So if you’ve hired a PR firm and Google Alerts isn’t, er, alerting you to anything, this probably means they aren’t doing the business for you and you should hire us.

Setting up alerts is simple – you just go to http://www.google.com/alerts and enter the phrase you want Google to keep an eye on, along with your email address. So, for example, if happen to be a U2 tribute band called The Achtung Babies (God bless you), you’d just enter ‘The Achtung Babies’ into the relevant field, select some communication preferences and every time somebody mentions your lovely tribute band online – whether they’re a journalist, blogger or fan – you’ll get updated.

Google Analytics

If your band has a website (and if not, why the hell not - it's 2011) then you’ve got to get Google Analytics installed on it. It provides you with incredibly detailed stats – you can find out what keywords brought people to your band's website, where your visitors are located, what your most popular content is and a truckload more info. In short, it lets you snoop on your fans. But in a good way. We think. Well, we've got it installed on our site and now we know where you live. 

Installing Google Analytics is really easy - you just sign up for an account and give Google your web address. You are provided with a snippet of code that you cut and paste into any web page on your site you want to track and Bob's your uncle.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is useful for bands in two main ways. First, for organising rehearsals and gigs. This may sound mundane but diary management is actually surprisingly important to most bands, because trying to co-ordinate several people’s diaries can be a real headache, and bad diary management means that turning up to a gig without a drummer is a real possibility (or a fantastic achievement, if you're into drummer jokes). By sharing a Google calendar all the band members can highlight the times they’re not free in the same calendar, meaning that identifying  the next free slot for a rehearsal becomes much easier. Yes, it's around Christmas 2016.

Google Calendar cam also be used to create a diary of gigs for your fans to access. You can embed Google calendars easily on your website, meaning visitors can see a list of when and where you’re playing next (and you can update these dates very easily - this is particularly handy if your website doesn't have a content management system). Your site visitors can also subscribe to your calendar via XML or any progamme that reads the iCal format (Outlook, Apple iCal etc.), meaning that your fans will know exactly when you're playing next, and not turn up.

You can read more about sharing your Google calendar here.

Google Feedburner

Google Feedburner is an incredibly useful tool – and possibly our favourite Google product. First, it lets you tart up your RSS feed (for, say, your news page or blog) into a much more readable format and allows people to subscribe to it easily in a reader of their choice; but perhaps more importantly, it lets you create a very effective, free mailing list for your band using your RSS feed.

The latter aspect works as follows: every time you write a new blog post, Feedburner uses your blog's RSS feed to convert the post into a HTML email - and anyone who has subscribed via Feedburner's email subscription service will get a copy of that post delivered straight to their inbox. Additionally, Feedburner provides you with in depth subscriber stats and a suite of tools to help your RSS feed travel further (and potentially make money for you too). Incidentally, we use Feedburner ourselves to allow people to subscribe to The Prescription via email and RSS. If you're reading this in an email, it's thanks to Feedburner.

NB: For full instructions on how to use Feedburner to create a mailing list please see our previous post about creating an e-newsletter for your band.

Google Mail

An obvious point this, but your band needs an email address – and probably one with the band name in it – i.e., info@yourbandwebsite.com. Google Mail (or 'Gmail' as we ahead-of-the-curve-hipsters call it) is better than a lot of its webmail competitors, because it provides free IMAP accounts that (a) come with large storage and (b) allow you to whack your domain name in the email address. IMAP accounts are great because they always stay in sync, even if you are accessing your email account on a variety of devices. For example, if you are using your Gmail account on an iPhone and delete an email, the same email will be automatically deleted on your webmail, or in Outlook, Apple Mail etc. No matter what you do with your email account and no matter what device you do it on, you'll always see the same messages in your inbox and sent items. Try using the alternative, POP3, and you'll soon discover how useful IMAP is.

To configure your Gmail account so that it has a domain name in it, you’ll need to register for Google Apps. This comes in a free or paid version - the free version is available at http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/group/index.html. The process of creating email addresses with containing your domain name is a little bit fiddly, and you might require the help of a web-savvy friend, but once you’ve set it up it all works great.

Google Trends

Perhaps one for more-established artists this, but if you are lucky enough to fall into this category, then you will be able to use Google Trends to chart peaks and troughs in the number of Google searches for your band, and identify pieces of coverage that drove people to look for your act. Just enter your band’s name or your album title into the ‘search trends’ box at http://www.google.com/trends to see a pretty little graph highlighting how popular you are (or aren’t) or were (or weren’t), and any news stories that caused a spike in interest.

Google Videos / Youtube

In case you didn't know, Google also own Youtube. And unless you've been living under a rock since the 1980s (not the worst idea, particularly during the 80s themselves) we're sure you'll know how useful pop videos can be for bands, so we're going to gloss over this one for now. However, you might want to check out two recent Prescription articles on how to use Youtube effectively:

And what about Google+?

Finally, a note regarding the latest Google product, Google+. No, we haven't forgotten it. You might be interested in exploring what this new social network can do for bands, but the latest we can ascertain about it seems to imply that it's not really much use for them (yet). This is because its terms and conditions currently specify that you can only use it as an individual, not an organisation (yes, a band counts as an organisation). This means that singer-songwriters who are using it under their own name - the ever-so-talented [sic] James Blunt, for example - are probably alright, but most of the stuff we've been reading about Google+ leads us to believe that if you set up a band account, it'll get deleted. For more information about this issue, you might want to check out this article on Google+ by the Music Think Tank.

Right, we're off to the pub. Hope these tips are of use. You might even be reading them in a Google product, who knows. Now for our plug: don't forget that like Google, Prescription PR offer a wide range of digital services (not to mention good old-fashioned print PR) to promote your band - feel free to contact us if you're interested in working with us. We won't control your thoughts - but we will help you get noticed (and if we don't, no doubt that Google Alert you set up as a result of reading this article will no doubt tell you so...oops).

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E-newsletters for bands on a budget

We often get approached by bands and artists wanting to know how to sort themselves out with e-newsletters. They usually ask for a data capture form that allows people to sign up to news, and a means of sending news updates to their mailing list.

We generally set them up with a dedicated e-communications system like Getresponse, which allows bands to do a lot of snazzy things - create custom data capture forms, program automated follow-ups, view detailed stats, design fancy HTML email templates and the like.

A system like that is still our preferred option for clients, because users are provided with the means to create highly targeted, professional e-communications, and to monitor open and click-through rates effectively.

However, if you're looking for something very simple, or you don't have any cash, there is another option: using your blog and a service called Feedburner to generate newsletters.

Here's how it works:

1. Register with Feedburner and 'burn' a feed using your blog's RSS feed (it's all very simple, the Feedburner site takes you through the process in an easy-to-follow set of steps).
2. Go to their 'Publicise' tab.
3. Click 'Email subscriptions' and activate the service.

(If you don't have a blog, there are a host of free blogging services you can use - Blogger being perhaps the most obvious example).

Once you've followed the above three steps, you are then provided with simple bit of HTML code which you can embed on your site. This gives you a form which captures email addresses. From then on, whenever you post a new blog entry, the content will automatically be emailed to the people who have used the form to sign up for updates. The email that gets sent is a simple affair, but it is in HTML format and you can tweak things slightly (add logos, change fonts etc.). And it's an entirely free service.

The only thing to remember is that once you've set Feedburner up to work in this way, whenever you post a blog entry, it always goes out to your entire mailing list. So you may need to think carefully about what you post and how often. If people are receiving frivolous items in their inbox every five minutes, they may quickly unsubscribe from the list.

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