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Facebook

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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The new Facebook Timeline: what it means for bands and musicians, and how to use it properly

Timeline

In case you haven’t noticed yet, big changes to Facebook pages are around the corner. That Facebook page that you lovingly filled with crap – sorry, interesting content – about your band is shortly going to become a ‘timeline’ rather than a good old-fashioned virtual wall.

That’s nice, I hear you say – and I suppose, yes, it will make your page look a lot prettier and there are a couple of nice new features. However, there is one fairly significant downside for bands: the new format page won’t let you set a default landing tab, which spells the end of that nifty little trick whereby bands (or indeed brands) could set up their page so that users visiting it were automatically presented with ‘locked content’ – i.e., content you get in exchange for liking the page. From 30 March, if a Facebook user visits your page, they see the timeline, period. That said, it’s still possible to use Facebook ads and other links to take users to an app on your page containing locked content; it’s just that the switch does reduce the scope a bit for artists to increase likes by default, and it’s annoying for anyone who paid a developer to build a nice locked content landing tab.

But we are where we are, and regardless of how irritating you find the changes to your Facebook page, it is still for the foreseeable future going to be an important communications tool for you. So, in this post, we thought we’d give you, in our ever-generous way, our top tips for making the most of the new page format.

1. Upload a great cover picture and profile picture

The cover picture is a new banner that goes across the top of your page and it provides you with a good opportunity to make a visual statement about your band. Ok, a pretty basic suggestion this, but important nonetheless: use a really good picture of your act. You should use an image that 1) works well when cropped to 851 x 315 pixels and 2) screams ‘I’m serious about my music’ to any A&Rs, journalists, promoters or indeed any industry bods in tight pants who casually peruse your page. Don’t use a really small pic of your dog that looks rubbish when scaled up. The same sort of advice applies to your profile pic, which is the smaller image that appears in your fans’ news feeds whenever you post some boring information about said dog. A note of caution: Facebook aren’t too keen on letting you use your cover pic as an advertisement, so be careful about whacking big ‘buy now’ text all over that picture of your dog. Or you’ll get a spanking from Mark Zuckerburg. Ooh.

2. Choose your ‘featured apps’ wisely

Just underneath your profile pic you’ll see 4 rectangular ‘app’ boxes – these are effectively the old ‘tabs’ from your facebook page. You can feature up to 12 apps on your page, the rest of which users can access via a little drop-down arrow. It’s important to choose which ones to feature in the top 4, because people don’t hang about long on Facebook pages and you want to make the key stuff very obvious. My advice would be to put your ‘free download’ app fairly prominently at the top, along with any other useful apps that you’ve got – videos and a music player generally being the priorities. I have to say that even after all these years, and with a new timeline to boot, adding apps in Facebook actually remains a really cumbersome process which I don’t have time to go into, so good luck with that (some googling of ‘how do I ad a new Facebook app’ should help…a bit).

On the plus side, apps on Facebook pages are now fairly unmissable – compared to the old tab icons, they are huge. And however difficult it is to add apps, they do come in handy once they're there.

3. Set a ‘founded date’

A 'founded date' marks the start of your musical odyssey and the point from which you can start filling in your band’s back story on Facebook. If you’ve been around for a while, your band may predate the existence of Facebook, so you’ll definitely need to enter a founded date if you want to add information about your musical activities pre-2007. I can’t quite remember how I entered my founded date on my Facebook page, but I think it involved scrolling right down to the bottom of the page and clicking some sort of a pencil icon. As ever with Facebook pages, it’s not madly intuitive.

4. Add milestones

Adding milestones is a good bit more straightforward – just click the ‘milestone’ link which is located at the top left-hand side of the page, underneath your cover photo. Use this option to add significant dates and events in your band’s career, like when you released a record that nobody bought, or did a gig for an audience comprising your mum. On a more serious note, it’s worth taking a bit of time on this, as it does give your band an opportunity to provide something that is of real interest to your fans. Or at least the ones wearing anoraks.

5. Pin and star stuff

You can now give a particular post, link, video etc. greater prominence on your Facebook page by pinning it to the top. Simply hit the little pencil icon beside any post, and hit the ‘pin to top’ link. It will then hang around at the top of your page like a bad smell for a week. This is useful for flagging up particularly important content, like that time you saw Boy George walk into the local corner shop.

Starring stuff is another way to make a post more prominent on your page – if you click the star icon beside a post, it will be expanded to a full-size article.

6. Use messaging

One of the more significant new features of Facebook pages is that fans can message you directly and privately – i.e., not just write embarrassing stuff on your wall. Great if you’ve got a bunch of record companies or hot groupies keen to contact you; not so great if you’ve got a raincoat-wearing brigade wanting to get in touch. On balance though, I’d leave the messaging option switched on; it’s a form of fan engagement and you can always ignore the weirdos if you have to. Of the new features being discussed here, I think the that the messaging option is potentially the most significant, because it allows potentially very helpful people to establish a connection / dialogue with you about your music.

7. Use the ‘build audience’ features

By clicking the ‘build audience’ button at the top of your page, you’ll be presented with various tools that you can use to spread the word about your page (including a handy option to use your mailing list to invite people to follow you). Although these tools are not all strictly speaking new, they are presented in a  simple and comprehensive way and you should definitely take a look at them.

But remember…

Regardless of the above new features,  it’s really important to note that that most of your fans won't actually look at your Facebook page that often (if at all!); rather, they'll see content that you post on it pop up in their news feed. This is why, for all the nice new features, it’s still more important to think about what you actually post on your page than how well the page itself is presented. The better and richer the quality of the content you post, the more you will engage people and define a good online reputation. On that note, I’d actually suggest that you take a look at our recent post on managing your online reputation – it's got a lot of pointers on that score. 

Right, I'm off to put a lot of interesting and perhaps not-entirely-true milestones on my own Facebook page. Like the time I was number 1 in Belgium.

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Don't forget the er, music

Music - don't forget it

 

Reading back over 2011’s Prescription articles it seems as though I spent a lot of my time telling you young whippersnappers to ‘forget about the music’ and concentrate on adding loads of funky content to your site or Facebook page.

There’s a lot to be said for that; if you keep going on about your band ad nauseum, people will switch off and think you’re a dreadful bore (believe me; I know). Whereas if you write an interesting blog post about – oh, I don’t know, Megan Fox in nice underwear or something – you’ll get a shedload of visitors to your band’s website, and of course they’ll simply love your music. They might all be pervs, but yes, of course they’ll buy your records. And that’s all that counts in life obviously.

I’m going to start the year anyway with a slightly different, and I suppose contradictory, thought: remember the music. Because as important as blogging, social media, data capture, SEO, analytics, online business models and all the rest of it are to the independent musician…these new-fangled entities have one huge drawback, and the start of a new year seems like a good moment to face up to it: they take up LOADS of your time. Time that you could be spending on what you as a musician are meant to be doing in the first place: writing and recording music.

Think about it: how many times have you been writing a song, only to put down your guitar to go over to a computer and check the number of Facebook fans you’ve acquired that day? And then got sidetracked by some funny post your witty mate has posted on your wall? And then thought how now would be a good time to check your site’s Google Analytics, followed by a couple of hours tweaking the tags on the Youtube video for your latest single? And after that it only seems only right surely to spend the evening emailing some MP3s to some taste-maker blogger types…

It’s easy to see where I’m going with this: all these online gizmos and services are great (and in general I’m a big fan) BUT they are also involve a huge time commitment – either in terms of the hours you spend on putting a decent online promo campaign together, or frankly, the amount of hours you waste religiously checking web stats, friend counts, song plays and so on (not to mention getting distracted by those wits on Facebook).

And the irony is this: really good music arguably doesn’t need half as much of an online push as you think it does. Because aside from making you spend every living hour reading inane Facebook status updates, one thing the internet does really well is help good stuff travel. If a song is truly a great one, it will get shared online. All those little ‘share’ buttons, dodgy torrent sites and perhaps even some humans will happily see to that. Yes, there are ways to maximise a track’s visibility online, and these are worth putting time into, but only after you have made your song as ‘shareworthy’ as possible. And this, translated, means only after you have made your song as good as you possibly can. And you are not going to make your song as good as possible by looking at your Google Analytics account every hour.

So, here’s a new year’s resolution for you: turn off your wireless router for a week, lock yourself in a room with a guitar and spend every hour the Lord of Rock gave you making some art worthy of the name. Write yourself a nice tune, pen some tasteful lyrics and embellish it all with a production that even Alexis Petridis would find hip. When – and only when – you are convinced you’ve got something great to share with the world, switch the internet back on and start spreading the news. 

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The death of email?

A visual interpretation of death

Mark Zuckerburg is in the news again; and this time it’s for pronouncing the email dead. This official pronouncement of death conveniently went hand in hand with the launch of Facebook’s new messaging system, but we’ll leave cynicism about what makes a good headline to one side (you are reading this on a PR company’s website, after all) and take a look at his bold claim and what the implications are for musicians. Should you shred your virtual mailing lists and start spamming potential fans using yet another Zuckerburg invention?

We don’t think so. There are several good reasons to hold onto your mailing list and your beautifully crafted HTML email templates. The first is that er, email isn’t dead. In fact, as one Very Important Email Boffin, Nathaniel Borenstein, told the BBC recently, its use is actually growing. And, although teenagers may currently be eschewing it, they are effectively forced upon entering the world of work to start using email; most businesses do not encourage their staff to spend all day on Facebook (they encourage them to CC everybody on pointless round robin emails instead). If you saw Prescription PR’s inboxes, you would know that the email is, perhaps sadly, rather too alive and well.

Having established that email isn’t actually dead, the second reason for continuing to communicate with your fans via email rather than relying solely on whatever Facebook offers you is that – as hard as it may be to believe now – Facebook could just be a fad. You may think that with its 500 million plus users I’m mad making a statement like that. However, the pace of change in web technology is frenetic and in the space of just five years we have already seen the rise and fall of another huge social network, Myspace. The point is that if you invest all your time, energy and money exclusively in Facebook communications – whether that’s spending money on advertising to increase ‘likes’ of your page, or trying to work out how best to use Facebook Messenger to give your ten fans the impression that you are huge in Japan – you are screwed if things in Facebook land go tits up and everybody who liked you on that network has upped sticks and is now hanging out somewhere else. That’s precisely what happened with Myspace – just remember all those bands who got RSI from clicking ‘add friend’ on Myspace only to have all those very dear pals bugger off to an entirely new network altogether. Harlots.

The third reason you should value the humble email address is the degree of control it offers you. When you post a message up on your Facebook page, not everybody reads it or even sees it (you can find out why here). Admittedly, the same can be true of email – particularly if you write very boring messages to people all the time – but you know that when you send an email to a fan, it will generally go into their inbox (unless you are flogging saucily-titled albums that spam filters don’t like; how very dare you). Additionally, you can format the email how you like – add branding, photos, links and so on. And, depending on how clever you are, you can use a tool like Mad Mimi or Getresponse to run A-B subject header tests; schedule a broadcast time; measure open rates and clickthroughs; even see where your fans live (yes, seriously). Facebook messages or status updates do not offer anything like this level of control over communications.

Finally, regardless of what happens in the future, and whichever social network is king in 2050, the email address is probably going to be involved in some shape or form, and the more of them you have the better. For all Zuckerburg’s hyperbole about the death of the email, you still need an email address to er, sign up to Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Myspace. And all of those networks encourage you to ‘find your friends’ or invite people to become fans of your band (poor sods) using your email address book or by importing your mailing list. So in effect, email addresses are turnkeys to every social network out there – both in terms of joining them or, more importantly from the musician’s point of view, locating existing fans who use them.

So given all the above, the official Prescription line is to hold onto that mailing list, and continue to grow it if you can. We’ll leave you with a parting thought though: if you are reading this article in email form, it’s further proof that the email address is still alive, unless this article is an email ghostie haunting your spooky Hotmail account. 

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Managing your online reputation

Online reputation - a star rating

If you read The Prescription religiously – and there are worse things to read religiously incidentally; try a Jilly Cooper novel; a Melanie Phillips column; or that bit in the Old Testament where Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt – then you’ve probably picked up on the fact that a hell of a lot of my advice to you young musical upstarts involves the internet. And this, quite simply, is because the internet is now the fulcrum point around which the music industry is turning; the current rumours that the major labels are to abandon the CD in 2012 in favour of selling files only underline this point.

The net gives most independent musicians something that they otherwise really would not have had – the opportunity to have their music heard by a large number of strangers (this was previously largely the preserve of signed acts). But it does something else too: it allows musicians to communicate directly with these strangers in rather sophisticated ways, through all manner of powerful tools: social networks, live video streaming services, email, the good old-fashioned website...the list goes on. This means that not only can strangers judge your music, they can judge you ­­and form an opinion on how hip / sexy / annoying you are (delete as appropriate). And sadly, with the music industry being what it is, it’s often (perhaps usually!) the latter judgment that is of most importance to your career prospects. So getting your online reputation right is really important. Besides which, your online reputation is probably the only reputation you have. Sorry to be a bit downbeat about things, but the chances are that if you are reading this article, rather than sunning yourself in Barbados, then you are part of that non-exclusive club of musicians who are getting no press or airplay whatsoever and have turned to the internet in a desperate bid to compensate for the lack of general attention from the media. Understandable enough – but too often, musicians use the only tool available to them to come across as complete idiots.

Now, I have an admission to make: I’ve been a bit rubbish at managing my online reputation in the past. There are several traps that I’ve fallen into, possibly with the result that the music world thinks I’m an irritating Irish man who posts status updates way too often, and usually about his cat. I’m sure that as a result of my poor use of social media and email, there is a large section of the population that finds me more objectionable than Frankie Cocozza (who, incidentally, now has 331,000 people following him on Twitter; how did that happen?). Anyway, as it seems to be my role in life right now to let other musicians learn from my mistakes, in this article I thought I’d share some do’s and don’ts about managing your reputation online, so that you can avoid ending up as unhip as me.

1. Think about who you want to be online

Before you go near a computer, think about who you want to be online. Are you Jarvis Cocker or Cheryl Cole? Or the bastard lovechild of both? It’s very easy to set up a Wordpress site, a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, but whatever online tools you use to create your online presence, it should absolutely embody the kind of artist you want to present yourself as. Too many musicians just set up an online presence because they can, but really, you should only put anything up online once you have a very clear idea of who you want to present yourself as, and how you want to communicate. Just as you would not create a CD cover without thinking of the kind of music that’s on your album, you should not create a Twitter page only to use one of their default backgrounds and their standard egg-like profile picture. Your choice of photography, design elements and your tone of voice  online are going to define your reputation on the web; get these wrong and you’re off to a really crap start.

2. Don’t overcommunicate

Social media makes it hideously easy to share your thoughts. In ‘real’ life I generally try to avoid articulating every thought I have, as they’d probably get me arrested or at the very least lead to some very embarrassing moments, but Facebook and Twitter seem to scream ‘Go on! Say it! Share it with the world!’. And a hell of a lot of bands seem to take Facebook and Twitter up on this offer, posting boring inanity after inanity (or in my case, lots of fairly non-rock-and-roll trivia about my cat Millie, who is a rather extraordinary black and white creature with a big tail…hang on, I’m doing it again). Anyway, what I’m getting at is most people aren’t interested in reading the drummer’s innermost thoughts on cheese every five minutes, so be careful not to overdo it in the tweeting and status update stakes. The same goes for email – do not send an e-newsletter every day to your hard-earned mailing list informing them what you’ve had for breakfast, unless you particularly enjoy seeing your unsubscribe rate treble.

3. Don’t undercommunicate

Just as it’s easy to overdo it, it’s easy to underdo it – some musicians are loathe to use social media at all. Sometimes it’s because they are too ‘old school’; sometimes it’s because they don’t understand its relevance or importance; sometimes it’s because they think their music is so good that a big, fat record deal will come along without any online effort on their part whatsoever. Whatever an artist’s reason for not taking online communications seriously, it’s a big mistake. You absolutely need to keep any social media profile, blog or site you run up-to-date with interesting content: for A&Rs, journalists, DJs and even those boring, normal people who may be inclined to check you out, these are generally the first port of call – and if it looks as though your online presence consists of an out-of-date Facebook profile with 10 fans (11 counting your mum), they’ll quickly draw the conclusion that you generally don’t give a shit. And consequently, neither will they.

4. Don’t spread yourself too thin

There are so many free online music services available to bands that it’s tempting to feel that your band has to have a profile on absolutely every single one of them. Or that if your band does, it will somehow become more successful. But it’s much better to focus on a few key areas rather than setting up 20 different profiles which you never update. Pick 2 or three profiles, and use them well; ensure they are well-promoted and always packed full of interesting content. Personally, these days I’m mainly concerned about Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud, but whatever tools you use, use them wisely, give them love, and keep the content fresh.

5. Don’t go on about your band all the time

Yes, you are primarily setting up social media profiles, websites and so on with a view to promoting your band’s music; and yes, the people who follow you will in theory like the racket you make. But even if your devoted fans think you’re the greatest artist since Daniel Bedingfield [we need a word - Editor], the chances are that your music is only going to form a small part of their lives (unless you’re dealing with the weird stalker type – I’ve had a few American fans which I’ve filed under that category, and I’ll fess up to being slightly proud about that). In short, your followers will not want to only ever receive updates about your latest album; they’re real human beings with interests outside of your music and will find you more engaging if you talk about stuff that relates to aspects of their lives. That could be topics like other artists’ music; politics (although be careful there); art; leather pants – whatever. But nobody likes a self-promoting bore – and as somebody who considers himself something of a self-promoting bore, I can tell you that for nothing. You will lose friends and alienate people if you only ever talk about your own music.

6. Remember your production values

The digital revolution hasn’t just made it easy for people to set up a Facebook page; it’s made it infinitely easier than it was even 5 years ago to create astonishingly professional-looking videos and photos, and fantastically well-produced music. Consequently, there is now a very high level of expectation from music fans regarding the kind of production values they encounter from an unsigned or indie band. OK, so you may want to be deliberately lo-fi, which is fine when done well. But in general, don’t post tracks that sound like they were recorded in a toilet, videos that were recorded on a phone, and photos that were shot by your Aunty Mavis on a family holiday in Torquay (unless she’s a great rock photographer). They just make you look crap.

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