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Using Twitter: top tips for musicians and bands

Twitter logo

Twitter logo

Although Twitter’s been around for quite a while now (since 2006, if my memory serves me correctly), it’s still not fully understood – or used to maximum effect – by a lot of bands and musicians. But many do seem to have a sense of its importance, and “can you get me a bigger Twitter following?” is one of the most common questions posed by bands to Prescription PR, making us feel as though we are the musical equivalent of plastic surgeons. “For a price,” is a common answer, as we reach for some strange-looking implements. But today, dear reader, we’re giving you some free advice on using the medium – and as you’ll find out, size isn’t everything. Here’s our survival guide…

1. Pick the right username

A very obvious point this, but if your little four-piece is called, say, “The Beatles”, then don’t try to be all clever about things and pick “@YokoOno” as your Twitter handle. Pick a username that is as close as possible to your band’s, because the people who want to follow you on Twitter after seeing you play that gig at the Cavern in Liverpool are as just as likely to whack “” into an address bar of a browser as they are to search for “The Beatles Twitter” in Google. Or at least that would have been the case had Twitter been around in 1961. It wasn't, which is why the Beatles didn't 'make it' on Twitter. They actually played a few gigs and wrote decent songs - worth doing that too, by the way.

2. You’ve got a biography: use it

Alright, a biography comprising a mere 160 characters is not nearly enough to describe the incredible things you’ve been through as an artist and to impart your views on the price of cabbage – but it is what will come up in Google when somebody searches for your band’s Twitter page (see example below).

So get to the point – put decent, concise content in your bio that enables people to spot your profile easily in search results, and distinguishes you from the American sports hero who happens to share your name.

3. Look professional

Twitter gives you the option to brand your profile nicely – you can upload a dinky profile picture and a background of your choice. Use these tools to make your Twitter profile appear consistent with your band’s general online presence. In short, don’t rely on one of Twitter’s default backgrounds and a blank profile pic – be professional about things. Otherwise you will look like the Twitter novice that you are. Pay particular attention to the profile pic, because this is what pops up in other users’ news feed when you post your latest inanity about a gig down in the Dog and Duck.

4. Follow the right people

Don’t be tempted to use automated ‘adders’ or dodgy sites to grow a Twitter following. The 10,000 followers you get from such services may a) not exactly be real people and b) simply won’t be interested in your latest double album. They will however, be interested in regularly offering you an oil inheritance from Nigeria or shoving a pair of fake breasts in your face (sadly these offers rarely translate into reality, believe me). Instead, try to follow bloggers, journalists, writers and musicians that you respect and that are relevant to you – for example, bloggers that write really interesting stuff about the nu-metal-cum-chillwave-shoegazing scene that your band is trying to break into. A proportion of these hip bloggers and journalists will follow you back, meaning (as we’ll see below) that Twitter will inform other similarly hip bloggers and journalists that you are an interesting person worth following, generating more hip followers for you.

5. Take Twitter’s advice

When you log into Twitter, you’ll see a ‘Who to follow’ panel, with suggestions from Twitter's algorithms regarding people that you might find interesting. These recommendations are based on who you are already following on the network (and who's following you), and assuming you’ve taken my words of wisdom above on board, Twitter will be suggesting interesting, relevant and (shock!) “useful” people to follow. (If not, it’ll be prompting you to follow more oil barons and big-but-pretend-bosomed ladies. Nice and all as they are, these individuals might not be all that much use to your music career). So take a careful look at the suggestions, check out each profile suggested, and if you think the algorithm has sussed you out correctly, start taking Twitter’s advice on who to follow.

6. Follow back – where appropriate

When somebody follows you, take a look at what they do / write about, and if they seem like a "fit" for your band, then by all means follow back. I’d suggest not following everybody back – otherwise it makes it harder for Twitter to make accurate recommendations about who you should be following and who should follow you. As with points 4 and 5 above, the “quality” or relevance of follower / following is everything here.

7. Remember: content is king…

…but not necessarily your content. By all means post links to your band's new videos and MP3s from time to time, but do not get too fond of doing so; otherwise you’ll just look like a jerk. Believe me, when it comes to overcommunicating about my own music projects, I’ve been there, done that and bought the t-shirt…and despite waxing endlessly about the importance of musicians keeping schtum for five minutes, I still see artists (who should know better) bore their friends, family and remaining fan to tears with hourly Facebook updates about their latest creative endeavours. Nobody cares after a while (if they ever did in the first place). Instead, post links to great content from other sources – whack links up on Twitter to scintillating articles which don’t happen to be about your music (and rest assured, there are a lot of them). Or make witty observations about cheese. In short, get a reputation for being an interesting dude, not a self-obsessed bore. If you post a lot of fantastic content on Twitter, guess what? It’ll get retweeted, meaning your lovely face will potentially pop up in thousands of Twitter feeds. Meaning you’ll get more followers, which you can then eventually bore with stuff about your band (which, after all, is why you’re reading this post in the first place).

8. Interact

Although it’s great for broadcasting news to millions of people, starting revolutions in dodgy regimes and so on, Twitter isn’t a one-way medium and by using the ‘reply’ or “@username” options provided you can interact with people and engage your followers (whatever the hell that means; writing the words ‘engage your followers’ is obligatory in any article about Twitter, so I had to include it somewhere). In a nutshell, if you take the time to respond to enquiries from fans or comment on tweets from the hip bloggers you follow, you will build up a rapport with both groups; this can lead to goodwill for you being generated amongst your two key audiences – fans and tastemakers – resulting, hopefully, in more sales and coverage for your band.

9. Ask for retweets – but only when it’s REALLY important

You can ask your followers to “retweet” stuff –  for example, share posts about your latest video, or a big showcase gig. However, don’t prefix absolutely every tweet with “Please RT!” – only do so for posts that are really important. Otherwise you will become the boy who cried “retweet!” and so jaded will your followers be with this carry-on that nobody will ever retweet anything you post. So there.

10. Be regular

Don’t set up a profile on Twitter and then forget all about it. Doing this will a) guarantee that you don’t have much of a following or b) make you look like you don’t give a monkeys about social media or c) don’t know how to use it. None of these inconvenient truths will impress those skinny-jean wearing A&R guys from Shoreditch who are all queuing up to view your Twitter profile right now.

11. Be visible

Remember to promote your Twitter address outside of Twitter. Put it on your album art, your website, your posters, your drumkit, your head – anywhere people can see it. This will help increase your following.

12. Use hashtags to increase the visibility of your tweets

If you're tweeting about something topical - for example, Louise Mensch - use a hash ('#') followed by a relevant tag - i.e., '#louisemensch'. This increases the visibility of your tweet, because people often search for popular hashtags on Twitter to see what the latest news on a subject is, or simply to steal a funny tweet and pass it off as their own. So with the example given, people who are searching for '#louisemensch' (and there are a lot of them) may encounter your witty, and quite possibly rude, tweet about her. This may result in more people, particularly those of a non-Louise-Mensch bent (and there are a lot of them) retweeting your witticism or following you (or both).

13. But size isn’t everything…

Finally, another reminder that like your girlfriend said, SIZE IS NOT EVERYTHING. Having thousands of dodgy followers you never communicate with is less important than having a smaller group of influential followers who hang on and retweet your every regular, interesting 140-character utterance. Think about it: if 200 tastemakers with audiences of 10,000 each are following you, and 50 of them dig you to the extent that they retweet your post about your latest video, you’ve just hit 50 x 10,000 people…that’s your video broadcast to a potential audience of 500,000 (many of whom may retweet it again). And crucially, those 500,000 Twitter users you’ve been exposed to are more likely to take you seriously, because they heard about you from a credible source, not the oil baron with the big boobies.

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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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