Let’s make one thing clear about Facebook for musicians. I’ve received arguments lately that “it’s not about the likes. It’s about the music” and “it doesn’t matter how many likes you have”. Ok, those are very common, safe arguments usually meant as a barrier to action on Facebook. Have you ever not been able to afford something and said “I didn’t want it anyway.” This is a common psychological trick we play on ourselves, and it’s one of Aesop’s fables (The Fox & The Grapes). From the story’s description, “A fox spies some grapes that he cannot reach and starts to be critical of grapes. The moral shows it is easy to despise what you cannot have.”
That’s what many of us do when we get upset at promoted posts, advertising, or seeing artists and companies buy likes. We shut down, thinking the game is rigged. You know, musicians aren’t the only ones complaining about Facebook. Many business owners and bloggers do, too. And they’re usually not very successful. After all, complaining is a time-consuming activity.
Bottom line: When we say Facebook doesn’t matter, we’re cheating ourselves.
1) Facebook represents your real world audience online.
Now, let’s get one thing clear. Obviously, the music is paramount and it needs to be amazing, awe-inspiring. That’s clear. However, in a large way, your Facebook audience is representative of your real world audience, and if it’s not, you have work to do. If you’re selling out shows but have no momentum online, there’s an imbalance that’s preventing you from reaching as many people as you could. People, from everyday music listeners to major industry execs to late night tv shows to music festivals who want to consider you, will check your Facebook page as a snapshot of where you’re at and what you have to offer. If you have 50,000 fans, they imagine reaching those fans, having them spread the word, etc. You are now a big time business and you start attracting success. This is a fact, whether you like it or not.
2) Facebook is neutral.
Another point to make clear. Facebook is neutral. It’s where we socialize. I don’t personally feel it’s all that important, and my own preference is to socialize in person with friends and family. In fact, I rarely use it on my own. For ANY business, artist or public person/entity, though, Facebook IS important. This is where we often get mixed up.
3) Facebook represents DIY, grassroots methods that have migrated online.
“What did artists do before Facebook?” Artists set up promotional street teams, posted flyers, mailed out promotional packages, advertised their events in local print publications, spread the word among members of their scene, created incentives to show up. While it’s critical for artists to still do these things physically (and that’s more than half the battle), it’s clear to see that many things have migrated online. Now you can set up online “street teams”, spread online posters, email digital promotional packages, advertise your event with a targeted Facebook event page, spread the word amongst your Facebook followers and their friends, and create incentives for your followers to share your music and message.
4) It costs money to advertise.
Many people begrudge Facebook because they need to promote a post or advertise in order to reach a critical mass of their followers. Most of your followers are not even online when you’re posting. The message needs to appear repeatedly in order for more people to see it. This is advertising, and instead of complaining about the way things are, learn to do it well. Not everything is free online, nor is it in the physical world. You’d need to pay to flyer your neighborhood or send letters to all your friends/fans, after all. Include a call to action. Target specific bands, genres and locations that would have an interest in what you’re doing. Keep experimenting until new listeners are coming in by the boatload. Invest. It’s your life, your path. Think long term. No one is going to do it for you.
5) Don’t worry about artists who buy likes. It’s obvious.
When we refer to artist likes in this article, we’re referring to an actual following. You know that emo band who seem to have 50,000 Facebook followers but there’s only two likes on each post, and it’s one of the band members and their girlfriend? You may begrudge the band, but it’s not necessary. Most of the public can see what’s happening, especially those with somewhat discerning eyes. Engagement is critical on Facebook, even more than likes. This is why it’s important to advertise, to make sure everyone at your live shows joins your online community, and it IS a community. If it’s not, that’s where your work lies.
6) Your perception of yourself on Facebook reflects your perception of your place in the world.
See this one clearly. We often look at the world with frustration and confusion. How can we break through? Why won’t anyone listen to us? Why is there so much corruption? We don’t understand the world, and because of that we judge it and simplify it rather than engage it with grace, confidence, and kindness. Bring these confused views online and you have a recipe for virtual quicksand.
7) Facebook acts as your online calling card.
This is true. When artists say “it’s all about the music”, what they really mean is this. They wish there was a panel of endless A&R reps, waiting to objectively listen to every unsigned artist, offering free opportunities to all good music. That’s what they wish would happen on the business side, as it reflects all of our internal love for music. We all feel that great art should be recognized. Does it? No. The Dillinger Escape Plan create great art and have been doing so for a long time. The reason you know their name, though, is because of a patchwork of things. If they decided to work an hour a day on promotion and jam twice a week, they would probably be an obscure name right now, however still creating awe-inspiring work. They took it from all angles, grassroots, building a team, touring, and yes, using Facebook and other online techniques to their maximum potential.
Here’s what really happens. Anyone who is going to check out your music doesn’t have a ton of time. Why? No one has a ton of time! Don’t fault a festival owner, label rep, TV show or potential manager for not looking into every detail of your album. They need to know you’re bankable. They need to get something out of the exchange, too, and that’s where artists’ selfish belief systems often get them into trouble. They don’t leave room for reciprocation. How would you become an attractive option to, say, Conan O’Brien’s booking people? By demonstrating that you have fans and momentum. That’s valuable to them. Of course, you need great music, but you also need leverage. If you have fans, they will be tuning in, sharing the links, creating buzz. Facebook acts as your calling card, and is a big part of how these decisions are made.
Likes are not the be all and end all, but they do provide an accurate snapshot of where you are at any given time, and this is the most popular snapshot the world goes by. Don’t believe me? Find me a highly successful artist with 200 Facebook likes.