This article will not ensure your next social media post reaches a million people. It won't tell you to post a photo of Steve McQueen at 8:32 pm on 26 April.
What it will do, however, is give you (whether you’re just starting out, or are 15 albums into your career) some inspiration, ideas, and “best practice” advice to help you rethink your use of social media, and to maximise your time spent.
What you want to be thinking about is moving from the people howling at you in the front row, to getting the people at the back dancing. And all the while growing that crowd.
Literally everything online from your aunt’s dinner to National Geographic’s latest gorgeous photo from New Zealand is fighting for the same space as you. You need to find a way to stand out and cut through. It isn’t easy.
How you explain who you are is about putting your life, music, song or piece of merch with a cute cat sitting in a synth into context (someone has already made a whole account out of this last idea).
Tip One: You need to research your own brand
If you don’t know who you are and what kind of music you make, how is anyone else going to find it, and form a deep bond with it/you? How are you going to choose visuals that help to represent it?
The same goes for churning out endless “We’re playing at X” and “We just released Y” posts, because without some context and clarity of your identity, all that most people will ask is, “Who Are Ya?” – and that includes people who are already following you!
Here are a few simple questions you should try to answer:
- If you could share a bill with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? (and not just because they’re massive!)
- If your music was used in film, TV or video games, what would happen in the scene?
- Do your lyrics (or something about you) represent an idea or concept that if you typed it into Google you could be one of the few results
- What do you really-really hate about how certain acts or brands use their social media accounts?
These answers help not just in writing a great Twitter bio or sense-checking whether endless cute cat memes are right for your death metal band’s Instagram (sidebar: black metal cats is more appropriate), but they could also snake through an entire album marketing campaign/career.
From looking at your answers, you may instantly spot some patterns. If not, you should have a list of things to ponder or research further, whether it’s dates for a content calendar or people you could collaborate with, or artists whose accounts you could leave friendly comments on, in the hope that some of their fans might click on your profile and have a listen.
From all of this, you should be able to set some parameters for your tone, visual design, and most importantly, find some germs for ideas to reach into the world – whether that’s ensuring your song about crepes is promoted on #PancakeDay or making sure your concept album about victorian toilets has a chance of surfacing if someone else with a shared interest in such things searches the internet for them. Shared interests are as good a place to start as any.
Exercise: If you’re about to release a new track or album or want to promote something from your archive, write or make a voice memo with an in-depth director’s commentary. Try using 750words.com to help pull it out of yourself over a few days or keep a notes doc on your phone to add to for five minutes at a certain time every day.
Read these notes back a week later and scribble down any recurring themes or words or names or references. If it helps to think visually, maybe make a Pinterest board of any movie posters or book covers or locations.
Why do this? Because you may find looking back at this imagery reveals some patterns you could riff off of or borrow ideas from or notice a similar shade of red or something seemingly random. You may even notice a trope or two to avoid to allow what you do to stand out. Use these ideas when deciding what imagery to use, or how to write your captions.
Tip Two: Be succinct
Reducing a sentence down to its essence helps with clarity. Short sentences also avoid walls of text that people scroll past. There’s still definitely space to inject tone and personality into your wording, even if that’s through emojis rather than a third adjective. But less is often more.
One key thing to consider is that if you’re making a video clip or Instagram story, is there a pay off at the end, even if it’s just your website address or band logo? For instance, if you’re doing an advert, is it clear that you’re even a band and that you’re marketing an album?
If you have to write loads of copy to go with a video, perhaps consider how that information could be incorporated into the video or the first comment/reply to your own post. In fact, leaving room for people to ask questions means you can potentially make someone’s day by replying to them.
This also extends to your bio. Whilst we can’t all be as succinct and inspired as Lana Del Rey’s “the gangster Nancy Sinatra”, you can find your own twist on this. Think of a way to intrigue and excite people by setting your tone in a phrase or sentence or two (using words from Tip One), without feeling like you’re being hideously reductive.
Once you’ve got some succinct “we’re the heavy metal Prince” summary, perhaps that’s copy you can use on your adverts, emails and DMs.
Having said that, sometimes a 50 tweet thread, a four paragraph Instagram caption or a 90 frame Insta story may have a place – but consider when and why you might do that, and whether spreading it across a week may have more impact than a deluge when people are busy.
Tip Three: Connect with your audiences using images not links
Do your best to avoid posting links. On Twitter, very few people click on links and on Facebook you will essentially be asked to pay a toll for your link to even show up in someone’s feed. Consider any excursion away from a social platform as something you should either run an advert for or that you tuck away in the comments. If someone can’t find it, you seem nice by replying with the link.
If people want to find something, they’ll search for it.
So if not links, what should you post? Photos of human faces looking back at you tend to make people pause when scrolling. Thumb-stoppingly familiar faces even more so. If your existing fans know what you look like think about getting some interesting shots done that fit your aesthetic.
Images that tell a story visually and lend themselves to captions are also worth thinking long and hard about. And if you have the resources or brilliant low-fi ideas, consider making videos, as most social media platforms are now video platforms.
Tip Four: Engage your fans through conversations and unique ideas
Social media is all about engaging people. If all you do is talk about yourself, like the bore at a party, people will stop listening. Like the gregarious person in the room, consider conversations you can spark with your fans and a wider audience.
You can build a deeper connection by having open discussions with your audience, and you may find them speaking amongst themselves too. Just try to keep it relevant to your music (see above!) and consider how these conversations can deepen your connection to your fans.
I like to think of these queries and shareable posts (think tangential bits of knowledge, inspiring quotes from Nick Cave or your fun twists on memes) as being kind of like a DJ slowly filling the floor, before playing something people didn’t know they would love. The opposite is being mindlessly self-indulgent and no one dancing.
The algorithms seem to test whether to show your post to more of your audience by the initial reaction of your most recently engaged fans. So if you’re about to announce something big, consider how you can re-engage your fans a few days before. It doesn’t need to be “Beatles or Rolling Stones: Who’s better?” but keep ideas in your back pocket, even if it’s “Where would you like to see us play live?” (The answer is always somewhere amazing sounding in South America, isn’t it?).
From getting to know your followers, you’ll also slowly, instinctively, get a sense of what might work. Even if it’s something as niche (it’s clearly a very big niche though) as this tweet.
Or something a little out of context – loads of bands on the road tag "Low" to show off how they’ve packed their van, and the band do little reviews. Or this text book example of how to do a deep and engaging Twitter thread.
Tip Five: Experiment with when you post
Get in the backend of your accounts and look at when your followers are most active. Twitter analytics, Facebook insights, and Instagram Insights have a wealth of info. Schedule your posts to hit when users are most likely to be online.
During the current lockdown people’s daily rhythms have shifted, so don’t assume that your busiest time will still be “after work”. Perhaps people will be looking for a record to listen to around 9:00 am. Maybe they will want to hear your podcast recommendation at 7:00 pm just in time for their walk. Experiment.
Also think about your audiences in different countries. Consider time differences and maybe re-posting/scheduling to make sure you are reaching your fans in different time zones. On Facebook you can even limit posts to certain locations, so give that some thought.
It can take anywhere from three hours to three days for your posts to be surfaced by algorithms, so think about leaving plenty of time, and try to use the name of the day instead of today or tomorrow.
Tip Six: Stop repeating yourself
Less is more: Don’t bombard people with variations on the same post because you think it will drive the message home.
Consider only using adverts for sales messages, if you can afford it, and keep your organic posts to moving forward or expanding your story and engaging your audience with questions, insights and little projects for them to feel part of.
Top Seven: Post sparingly
Quiet is the new loud. Most platforms have algorithms that prioritise new posts from users that haven’t posted in a while, so if you have some big news brewing, maybe think about a floor filler post and then holding back and going silent for a few days before you want your big news to impact.
Think quality not quantity. This will be far more manageable for you and far less scattergun for your fans.
Tip Eight: Tell your story
This might sound obvious and repetitive but social media is a medium for conversation and storytelling. Whether it’s a succinct newspaper headline and story summary, or literally an Instagram Story. Even if your ultimate goal is to sell a song or an album, your primary focus should be on telling the story, no matter how tangential it might seem.
For instance, if you spent time ensuring that the record had recycled paper, explain that you’ve done it and explain why it’s important to you.
Songs often grow from somewhere or feel a certain way. You don’t need to demystify and discuss the pedals you use (unless your fans are guitar geeks, then definitely do talk about your Big Muff) but try to give people a little bit more than “here’s our new song.” It doesn’t need to be an epic essay, but a few lines can offer a glimmer that you can come back to shine a light on when people know the track better.
There’s lots of room to be playful. Without meaning to sound like an inspirational Instagram quote – your approach to social media doesn’t have to be true to life, but it needs to be true to your music. Take whatever you want from that.
Consider that many people will be switching on to your story on episode six of season two, so it may be worth working out how you would make sense of the world you’re creating online and the music you make. A song can take years to reach people and if they’re obsessed with it, they may like to know about you as well as the song. You don’t need to wait for Genius or Song Exploder to come knocking.
Tip Nine: Research your existing audience
Think about what might appeal to your prospective and current audience. Look at your analytics. Do they respond well to photos? Do they like to interact and share their love or knowledge of music with you? Do they like to see behind the scenes? Would they (or you) prefer you kept an escapist facade?
Tools like Crowdtangle can be useful for this but Facebook and Instagram Insights are a good place to start.
Randomly click on some of your followers. What are they posting about? Are they using a certain tone of language? Are they sharing YouTube links rather than Spotify or links to long reads? If they’re all into movies as much as you are, could you like the Italians Do It Better label – bring a movie poster aesthetic to your posts?
Tip Ten: Stalk your competitors
See what’s working for others. Forget Liam Gallagher or SZA’s feeds, they may inspire ideas but it’s unlikely what works for them and their diehard fans will work for you unless you’re also blessed with a huge following.
Crowdsource your ideas from looking at other bands and artists working in similar genres and aiming at similar audiences. Pinpoint two or three other artists or bands who are working a few steps ahead of you and analyse their posts over the course of a few days. What strategies work for them to engage their audience? Try and emulate their types of posts.
Tip Eleven: Create a content calendar
Whether it’s in the calendar app in your phone, a wall planner, a notepad or just a text document with dates, this can be super useful. Even if you only add your release history, it can give your posts some structure.
Go through all the people, places and related topics that came up when you researched yourself, and see if there are any key dates. For instance, if you have a song about Winston Churchill, you might want to post on his birthday or the anniversary of his death. Or if you have a song about Dogs, look up when National Dog Day is. If your music would be perfect soundtracking Star Wars, is there a way you can re-promote a track around an important date?
If you have a new release coming, try to write a plan for ten weeks building up and ten weeks after release. You don’t need to put lots of detail in, but thinking about how you will build up your engagement (as – to repeat this again – people who have most recently engaged with you are most likely to see your posts!), get new people on your mailing list, set the tone for a track arriving. Research places and people you might want to post about your track: if you’ve written a song about Jane Austen, why not see if the museum will share it?!
Tip Twelve: Consider live streaming options
You might be thinking about adding live streaming to your calendar. It’s certainly all the rage, but don’t feel the pressure to do a live performance. In fact, unless you’re doing a performance on a platform that pays performance royalties, you should be careful, especially if you’re performing covers.
Instead, if you’re thinking about “going live”, ponder how you can offer fans insight into your music or collaborate on ideas with others. Charli XCX’s catch-ups with friends on her Instagram Live chats have been interesting, allowing for some fanbase cross-pollination. Anderson Paak’s dance parties and Jarvis’ DJ sets have been fun – but beware that due to the fact none of the songwriters are getting paid performance royalties by the artist or platform, this kind of activity can be pulled by content ID.
Most importantly if you’re thinking about going live, have at least a three-day plan of how you’re going to promote it, as if it was a gig IRL. Also think about what moments from the live recording you can edit and repackage to use at a later date.
Do some research into yourself. Make some plans. Have a think about what your floor-fillers might be. Find a way to turn the volume up on telling your story to your fans and amplifying who you are to the rest of the world.
Questions? You can find out more from Sean through his Twitter and Instagram channels.
Read more advice for live musicians dealing with disruption due COVID-19.