Facebook Pages. For a musician, they are an increasingly frustrating proposition. Their functionality, features and business model are still developing while over 42 million users can only observe and react to the changes taking place. <onth after month, it seems, your Facebook page’s non-paid reach is less and less. Facebook has simply become another advertising avenue aimed at acts and businesses with deep pockets.
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. Yes, the platform is free. But when fans that have taken the trouble to ‘like’ you on Facebook, it seems only fair that they should receive your updates rather than have the site’s content generator getting between you.
So what can we do about it? I hate to say this, but your annoying pro-Facebook buddy is actually right: simply complaining about how a free site performs won’t get anything changed. The other week – at the Music Biz 2014 conference in Los Angeles – Facebook representatives had no answers for an angry artist who asked why he has to pay to reach his own fans. Like it or not, we have to face the fact that we can no longer use a Facebook Page to pass on information and expect a result without paying for the service – so our approach to using Pages needs to change.
I manage a Band Page on Facebook with nearly 24,000 fans. That may sound like a lot, but between albums and promotional pushes, that Page can be a profoundly lonely place. Photos 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 – a photograph of Flea with his bass guitar unplugged, say, or a funny-looking shot of Iggy Pop or Beyoncé – which gets heavily shared and seeded from our photo upload. The reach these successes gave our profile was welcome, but they were not without drawbacks. Complete strangers to our band responded to the posts with direct hostility, assuming we were attacking the artist. A few established fans actually ‘unliked’ us, accusing us of gossip-mongering. Engagement in a hot topic may be a route to Facebook Page traffic, but getting hundreds of “shares” didn’t add much to the page’s actual purpose. I was getting fed up with Facebook.
FED UP WITH FACEBOOK
At first I went on the offensive – these were our fans, god-dammit – why shouldn’t they automatically receive our updates! Surely all we had to do was persuade everybody who “liked” our page to also choose the “Get Notifications” option. Like many a band before me, I created a little graphic image showing how to do this, and shared it with all our fans in a mailout and even – pathetically – on Facebook itself.
It took a while to realise that for this to have any tangible effect I’d have to do it at least once a week – cluttering up our feed with these demands for attention – taking up a precious post that could be used for some engaging, original content. It has always irritated me when bands make whiny “please buy our CD” demands on their audience at gigs, and while blogging about that very subject (see Songeist article here) it suddenly dawned on me that I was doing exactly the same thing online: begging our fans to complete some convoluted process just because ‘Facebook isn’t fair’. Looking back, I should think myself lucky that nobody posted a ‘Call the Wambulance’ meme.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
As emerging artists and businesses we may not be able to change Facebook’s algorithms, but can change our own approach. We need to assert ourselves during quiet periods and deliberately stoke the coals of our user’s reactions. This home truth inspired me to put a little thought, creativity and work into creating a small branded promotional image that has gone on to achieve nearly half a million impressions in little more than a week
The idea came to me when I happened upon a ‘What’s Your MC Name?’ Facebook post from a radio station. 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 it had accrued millions of impressions.
I realised it worked on a similar principle to a viral video which claimed that 95% of people, when asked to complete a maths problem then think of a colour and a tool after, come up with ‘red hammer’. The real percentage is very much lower, but enough people actually do think of ‘red hammer’ to be amazed by the video’s ability to read their minds – and so they share it with their friends.
The penny dropped. The key to engaging people is providing an 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 chart reveals a person’s distinctive MC name it strikes them as unique, original and worth a share. (In reality, of course, the same names come up again and again.)
WHAT’S YOUR SKA NAME?
So that night, after a quick Google search to make sure that the idea was original, I threw together a variant on the radio station’s original widget: our very own Ska Name Generator. I took care that the Sonic Boom Six logo and hashtag at the bottom of the image were small enough not to get in the way of the content. 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, so that every name was original. After adding a few vector graphics of dancing ska men, I processed the image using Adobe Illustrator and posted it on our Facebook.
Just to get the ball rolling, I then messaged a handful of the ska sites around the world. When posting about it on Twitter and Tumblr, I was careful to always link back to the Facebook post – there would be no point cannibalising my audience. After two days the sharing really began to take off exponentially across other acts’ pages.
It’s important to stay on top of the shares and track where your viral image appears. With any successful image, it’s inevitable some people will re-upload it themselves without sharing it directly from your site – but you don’t have to stand by and do nothing. One of the world’s leading ska bands innocently re-uploaded our image, depriving us of page impressions. Rather than ignore this, I messaged them politely and they were good enough to re-share it direct from our own 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, though we do have to work.
It is now over a week since I posted the image. Slowly the engagement is creeping back down to its previous level. Whether we get upset about that or not, there’s not a lot we can do about it. I’m not attempting to justify Facebook’s commercial decisions here, just to face up to them. And if there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s the way it forces us all to reconsider the way we communicate with fans: it’s certainly focussed our own band’s attention on how we interact with our audience beyond Facebook.
Sonic Boom Six – click image to zoom in new window
Ultimately, no artist should put all their eggs in the basket of some external site. We’ve all seen band concentrate for years on building up their Myspace page – or more recently their Tumblr – only to lose all that equity once those sites fade from popularity. To go with the hare and tortoise analogy: working steadily at maintaining our own independent website and mailing list is a slow process, but it means we’ll be protected from the whims and decisions of whatever happens to be the ‘hot’ site of the day.
But this exercise did prove one thing: if you need a free boost from your Facebook page, then a touch of creativity and a little hard work can deliver results. Every day I’m thinking of different ways to engage and this episode has 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.