Let’s Get Engaged (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book)
A Guest Post By Songeist.com
Facebook Pages. For a musician, they are an increasingly frustrating proposition. Their functionality, features and business model are still developing while over forty-two million users can only observe and react to the changes taking place. Month after month, it seems that your Page’s non-paid reach is less and less. The platform has simply become another advertising avenue for acts and businesses with deep pockets to use. It’s easy to become despondent. Complain about this on Facebook and some bright spark on your timeline will quickly point out you’re moaning about the free resource you’re currently using. But while the platform is free, it seems only fair that fans that have taken the time to 'like' you on Facebook should receive your updates and not have the site’s content generator getting between you. So what can we do about it? The truth of the matter is, and I hate to say it, that your annoying Facebook-defending buddy is actually right; complaining about a free site performs isn't going to get anything changed. At the Music Biz 2014 conference this week in Los Angeles, Facebook representatives were less than forthcoming with answers for an angry artist asking them why he has to pay to reach his fans. With no indication that this trend is going to reverse it means that our perspective, techniques and understanding of Facebook Pages needs to change along with the technology. We might not like this fact but unless we’re going to pay for the service, we have to face it.
I manage a Facebook band Page with nearly 24,000 fans. That may sound like a lot, but between albums and promotional pushes, the Facebook Page can actually be a profoundly lonely place. Photographs struggle to get in double-figures of 'likes'. Unanswered questions bounce around the wall like echoes down a ravine. Every now and then, we'll have an unpredictably viral post, be it a photograph of Flea with his bass guitar unplugged or a funny-looking shot of Beyoncé, heavily shared and seeded from our photo upload. While the reach these successes gave our profile was welcome, they were not without their drawbacks. Many strangers to our band met the posts with direct hostility, often engaging with the content but not bothering to read the neutral accompanying messages and assuming we were attacking the artist. Some of our established fans actually 'unliked' us, accusing us of gossip-mongering. While proving that engagement in a hot topic is a route to Facebook Page traffic, unless I was going to change the site to a Superbowl half-time gossip column, these excursions into hundreds of shares weren't adding much to the page’s overall purpose.
BEYONCE. POST WITH CAUTION.
FED UP WITH FACEBOOK
In the face of such emasculation and loneliness I went on the offensive. These are our fans, god-dammit! Why should we have to pay to speak to them Facebook?! As have many bands before me, I sent an image in our mailout asking that fans actively add themselves into the ‘Get Notification’ category for the page. Rather pathetically I also did it on our Facebook and asked fans to share it. It never really occurred to me that for this to have any tangible effect, I’d have to do it at least once a week, cluttering up my feed with more requests for attention and taking up a precious post that could be used for some engaging, original content. I was fed up with Facebook.
It was while I was writing a blog detailing some mistakes that bands make when addressing crowds at gigs (which you can check out on Songeist.com HERE) that it struck me. There I was in my blog, complaining about the bands that stand onstage and tell their fans that they've ‘driven here for hours’ and ‘have no money’ so ‘please buy our CD.’ And yet, there I was doing the same thing on our Facebook page. I was practically telling our fans, ‘you like us’ so please ‘go out of your way to complete this convoluted process’ because ‘Facebook isn’t fair’. I sounded just like one of those whiney bands that always irritated me with their demands on their audience. Looking back, I should think myself lucky that nobody posted a ‘Call the Wambulance’ meme.
PLEASE BUY OUR CD!
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
We can't change what Facebook’s algorithms are doing to our non-paid reach, but we can change our approach. If we want to use our Facebook Page to boost our exposure, and not simply respond to it, it is no longer viable to simply use the page to pass on information and expect a result. We must actively engage and then use the fallout from the engagement to pass information on. For emerging artists and businesses in quiet periods we need to assert ourselves and deliberately stoke the coals of our user’s reactions. With this home-truth realised, I became inspired to see if I could make something happen on Facebook by grabbing some impressions and extending our reach. I came up with a small branded promotional image to test the theory. Just over a week later, the image has had nearly half a million impressions and is still going strong with no boosting and just a small push from me. It truly is just a case of putting a little thought, creativity and work into our Pages and reaping the rewards.
The idea came to me one afternoon when I happened upon a ‘What’s Your MC Name?’ Facebook post from a radio station and saw the colossal amount of shares it had accrued. It was a simple variant on the old ‘first letter of first name / first letter of last name to denote a new name’ gimmick. It wasn’t anything mind-blowing but here it was with millions of impressions. I considered the post’s success and I realised that this worked on a similar principle to another viral post I’d shared days before. A video which promised that 95% of people, after completing a maths problem, think of ‘red hammer’ when asked to think of a colour and a tool had duped me into sharing it. The amount of people who answer ‘red hammer’ is actually significantly lower than 95%, but it's enough that people like me, who did think of ‘red hammer’, are amazed by the video’s ability to read their minds. And so they share it. The penny dropped that a key to engaging people is providing the user with a post experience where they feel their own result is worthy of discussion. A list of rappers is mundane until you include the user's own name in the process. When the image reveals the distinctive MC name it seems unique, original and worth a share, even when, in reality, the same names come up again and again.
What’s Your MC Name? MINE’S DEADLY MONEY. So is many other people’s.
WHAT’S YOUR SKA NAME?
I went home that night and did a Sonic Boom Six variant on the name generator. After making sure that the idea was original by doing a quick Google search, I threw together my own ska name generator. I added a small band logo and hashtag at the bottom of the image, careful that the branding wouldn't get in the way of the content. The process of devising it was simple enough. I broke down around forty-eight names of old ska singers, making sure to never include a first name and surname that could together result in an actual ska act’s name, i.e. for ‘Prince Buster’ I would only use either Prince or Buster, ultimately meaning that every name was original. I added a few vector graphics of dancing ska men, neatly processed the image using Adobe Illustrator and posted the image on our Facebook. I then messaged a handful of the ska sites around the world just to get the ball rolling. While I did post it on Twitter and Tumblr pages, I was careful to prioritise the Facebook post in my efforts. The image was conceived to promote the Facebook Page and there would be no point cannibalising my audience. After two days the sharing really began to take off exponentially across other act's and promotion's pages.
One thing to remember is that it’s important to stay on top of the shares and track the places where your viral image appears. With any successful image, it is inevitable that some people will re-upload it without sharing it directly from your site but you don’t have to stand by and do nothing. The SB6 Page was deprived of impressions when one of the leading ska bands in the world innocently re-uploaded the image and posted it. Rather than ignore this, I messaged them and politely pointed out what had happened and they were good enough to re-share it direct from the Sonic Boom Six Facebook Page. By the end of the week, in a large part due to the band re-posting it, my page’s reach was over 800% further than the week before with hundreds of thousands of users 'talking about' the band. For days afterwards, my new photos were hitting double the 'likes' than they had previously. My little experiment proved that we don’t have to pay to get our Facebook posts out there, but we do have to work.
What’s Your Ska Name? Daft but half a million people have seen the name of our new album.
It is now over a week ago that I posted the image. Slowly but surely the engagement is creeping back down to the level it was at before posting it. Am I upset about that? Whether I am or not, there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do about it. This blog isn’t an attempt to justify Facebook’s commercial decisions; it’s an attempt to face up to them. Ultimately, I would never advise that a band puts all its eggs in the basket of another site. I’ve seen bands spend years concentrating solely on building up their Myspace, Facebooks and now Tumblrs only to lose all that equity once those sites outstay their moment of popularity. It’s a hare and the tortoise analogy; bands should maintain their own website and mailing list to have an independent platform protected from the whims and decisions of the ‘hot’ sites of the day. What this exercise did prove is that if you need a boost from your Facebook page you can realise that challenge with a touch of creativity and a little hard work. Every day I’m thinking of different ways to engage and it’s had a knock-on effect on my attention to detail on our own website, improving interaction between us and our fans beyond Facebook. If the silver lining of their campaign to monetise our interaction is that we all have to reconsider how we communicate with fans and give them a better user-experience across the net, that’s something. I’ve proven that something as simple as an engaging image can extend our reach. Now I just have to come up with the next one.
Think of a colour, and a tool…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barney is the community manager and guidance blogger at emerging artist website Songeist.com. He draws on his extensive gigging and DIY music business experience with rock / reggae / dance mash-up Sonic Boom Six who have released 4 studio albums, performed headline tours of Europe, America and Japan and have written and performed songs that have appeared on BBC Radio 1, Channel 4, BBC 2 (TV), Rock Band and Sims 3 video games. Barney takes his coffee strong, black and often and would one day like to visit Australia.