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Social Media, Blogs and Music: Some Philosophical Thoughts

These days the music marketing world is all abuzz with phrases such as - Social Media, Social Advertising, Facebook Ads, Mass Media Networking Advertising…..etc, etc.. In recent months I have been a panelist at the L I S A seminar in Portland and the Hawaii MusicTech Conference in Honolulu. L.I.S.A., which is an acronym for Lessons In Social Advertising, was aimed at marketers and advertisers who [for some reason] don’t understand social networks or haven’t yet worked out how to advertise effectively to them. It focused on topics such as ‘What is social advertising?’ and ‘How do you get young people to recommend your brand?’ The Hawaii MusicTech panel was presented by the Northwest Chapter of NARAS [The Grammy Org] of which I am a Board Director, and we discussed how musicians could effectively use social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to reach an audience and communicate with them.

Two sides of the table as it were. One group wants to advertise, or push, their messages to a mass audience, while the other wants to create a network of like-minded people who hopefully will pull content such as free MP3s and then “evangelize” on behalf of the musicians by spreading messages by electronic word of mouth. With no hint of schizophrenia I happily migrate between both camps. What follows here is an attempt to share my thinking with bands or musicians on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to embracing the many social networking sites that are available to them.

To understand and embrace social networking is to place the idea that says “technology makes this possible” to one side and embrace the idea of the basic human need to stay in touch with other like-minded people at all times. As Clay Shirky says “The desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct.” Think about rock concerts for a minute…..

Most people that take a position on social networking and advertising come at it from a technological point of view, as in “technology has created the means for everyone to be connected and to stay in touch.” I disagree with that statement because it removes nature from the game. It is entirely natural for humans to want to interact as often as possible as we are all social animals. Cities are no more artificial (technological) than the hives of bees. Therefore the Internet is as natural as a spider’s web. People who believe that technology is driving our interactions are missing the point - we ourselves are technological devices, invented by ancient bacterial communities as a means of genetic survival. Bottom line - social media is as natural as apple pie as we all want to be as connected as possible - we can’t help it. [A really good book from which I have borrowed some thoughts is ‘Straw Dogs’ by John Gray, professor of European thought at LSE, published in the UK by Granta.]

Online networks might be seen as antidotes to boredom at work, school or college. These new social networks do more than transmit information about their members, they change behaviour by propagating moods. These days we can all share “news” really fast, even about ourselves - for example, my Facebook or Twitter status might say “I’m heading to the beach in Waikiki…” and the mood that simple statement makes might become very contagious.

The Internet confirms what we have all known for a long time - the world is ruled by the power of suggestion but in the case of social networking it is “influencers” that lead the suggesting. Then suggestions might become “group think.” John Gray writes - “in evolutionary prehistory, consciousness emerged as a side effect of language. Today it is a by product of media.”

So, the question currently being asked by companies and advertisers is “how do we market and advertise to social networks?” Having to ask that question suggests the rocky ground that online advertisers are standing on. For instance, Jack Myers sees nothing but doom and gloom in online marketing: He says “Advertising is simply not a sufficient revenue model to sustain content companies into the long-term future.” And goes on -

“I have preached evangelically for nearly three decades about the bifurcation of the media and advertising marketplace into 1) a transactional commodity business model and 2) a relationship-based brand-focused premium marketplace. Most media companies and agencies are investing appropriately in the technology resources required for their transactional businesses. [But] Brand building, relationship-based business models and premium-priced enterprises require completely new and innovative models, and can take years before they generate returns that justify the investments. Industry realities place enormous pressure on executives to adhere to traditional business models, and companies that foster and advance innovation are often drained of resources before they can deliver the return-on-investment demanded by the stock market, equity rights holders and VC investors. Typically, implementation of new business models must be forcefully imposed by the CEO, need the blessing of investors, and they cannot be managed by executives trained exclusively in the ways of traditional media and advertising.”

Neil Perkin in a slideshow entitled ‘What’s Next in Media’ that can be found here says that today - Social Media is counter-intuitive to communications media. Here’s one of his slides that shows just how counter-intuitive things have become for marketing online:

Social Media?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1221690347172

[The right hand side of the graphics above and below are where bands and artists ought to be focusing their efforts.] Meanwhile, the old way of marketing is through push messaging and therein lies the mistake of many of today’s marketing managers. Take a look at this slide to see how things don’t stack up nicely into a marketing message or ‘drop’ that has been long planned waiting its turn on the calendar.

The Linear model above reminds me of traditional TV and Print advertising. Some people in advertising and marketing today still view the Internet as a “channel” rather like TV.

Let’s consider another buzz phrase - viral marketing online. The success of YouTube in extending an advertising campaigns length and reach is now common currency. We’ve all seen the videos, perhaps even this one - My girlfriend and the Wii Fit. 2.2 million views and going strong.

The viral aspect of YouTube pleases marketers as well as bands and musicians because they can take pride in the statistics - 2.2 million viewers, that’s great! Not so quick though. The wise online marketer and musician knows that it’s not all about page impressions. Broad use of metrics is far more important - users, time-spent, interactions and pass-alongs. The Wii certainly got a lot of exposure in that video but how can the results be tracked? Where’s the ROI?

Those YouTube stats don’t show the whole picture. It is clear that the video is very popular and it fits the rules of users, time-spent, interactions and pass-alongs, but there is no clear ROI except in its “value.” By value I mean that the brand or band is being talked about, the brand or band via the video is being shared, people are “spending time” with the brand and band. The ROI though is difficult to judge. Even if Wii sales were to jump by 5% in one week can we really say it was due to this “viral” campaign. Probably not. The video’s value will continue throughout its lifetime on YouTube. Talk of value over ROI makes marketing managers queazy and also may confuse musicians who don’t understand the concept.

Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and blogger at The Long Tail, has pitched in to the social media advertising conversation with a post entitled You may be on Facebook But the Money’s in the Long Tail. He also posits that social networks should be a feature, not a destination.

As Chris says, and I agree, “I’ve been thinking a lot about how to integrate social networking into websites better. Right now the world is focused on stand-alone social networking sites, especially Facebook and MySpace, and the fad of the moment is to take brands and services there, as companies build Facebook apps and MySpace pages in a bid to follow the audience wherever they happen to be. But at the same time there’s a growing sense that elements of social networking is something all good sites should have, not just dedicated social networks. And that suggests a very different strategy - social networking as a feature, not a destination.”

He has a proviso too - “social networking to me means the tracking of individual preferences and behavior and giving users the ability to draw upon implicit or explicit connections between them and other users to do something useful.” This brings me to Ning, a social network platform that both Chris and I like. As he says “Ning, suppresses its own brand for the sake of those of the microsites it hosts.” Go here to see how the hip hop/rap label, Rawkus, uses Ning as its entire web presence.

Chris goes on to say - “As I think about the current Facebook craze and the notion of it as an all-encompassing platform, sucking in functionality from other sites across the board, I find myself skeptical. With my Long Tail hat on, I think that one-size-fits-all will fail in social networking, just as it has everywhere else.”

Meanwhile MySpace admits that it is not making as much money through ads as it would like. See Selling Ads For MySpace is Hard Work. MySpace COO Peter Chernin said:   

“We remain incredibly optimistic about social media. But there are specific challenges 1) Tons of inventory. Lack of scarcity creates a liquidity challenge. Working on bringing big brands aboard. 2) People who are visiting social networks are there for different reasons, different uses. Figuring out how to target. 3) What’s the value of a “friend”? Trying to figure out new metrics to communicate with marketers.”

Bottomline: It’s the wild, wild west out there.

Anderson points out that ad rates on MySpace go for an astonishingly low $0.13 cents per CPM (one thousand impressions.) So that’s $0.13 on a general-purpose social network like MySpace and on his Ning-hosted network DIYDrones he’s getting $7.00. Even with a more generous scenario—$0.50 on MySpace and $5.00 on a focused Ning site—the difference is still a factor of ten. He believes that as big networks like Facebook and MySpace struggle to target ads based on the faint signals of consumer behavior in a generic social network, the smart money is going to the niche sites, where laser-focused content and community makes targeting easy. I couldn’t agree more. Also see: Facebook Ads Don’t Rock an experiment by Bob Gilbreath, an advertising executive who ran an ad on Facebook. It’s a real eye-opener. And another - Ad CPMs Are Higher In The Tail. And of course companies are springing up that think they have the answer to your problems in dealing with big social networks. Here’s one.

What this all points to is that musicians and bands should be advertising directly to those niche groups and networks that include people who would like to hear from their band or artist. A mass, scatter-shot approach to the large social networks will only fail.

Musicians should take note of what Anderson says above that “social networks should be a feature, not a destination.” That phrase worries me when I look at how many bands use MySpace as their entire online presence. I believe that is a bad practice. What happens when MySpace fades away as it inevitably must?

Musicians should have a blog as a blog is a micro social network. My blog garners around 130,000 unique visits a month and its adherents are seeking out what I have to say about music, technology and the web. I am well versed in those things. I have an opinion about them. I also provide free music downloads from artists that I have “filtered.” I only post music from artists that I like and I believe that my audience will like them too. In short I have become a trusted source [people like my opinions,] a filter [people share my musical tastes,] and I am an influencer [I push certain artists and online companies that I support,] as well as an authority [people believe that I know what I am talking about.] A band’s blogger or bloggers need to have all these bases covered if they are going to safely cover the band or artist’s communications through the blog.

Meanwhile band members or artists have to sit back and allow the comments, both good and bad, begin to flow. They can never interfere if they want the blog to be taken seriously. They will feel insecure and perhaps a little nauseous but if they wait it out it will work fine.

A band or an artist with a good blog policy will be listening to its fans and then shaping its communications around that data. It will also create content that is both relevant and hopefully surprising. Influencers will pass along the good stuff creating the viral moment that bands and artists pray for. Then people in the outer circle of the influencers will also start to talk about the band or artists, and as they do the bands and artists have to make it very easy for their core fans to spread the word. Do not fear negativity, it is just more communication - let it roll. There should never be a barrier to communication or interactivity. Remember, it’s not about technology, it’s about people. Bloggers have to be about having an opinion and sharing it but never about reporting….it’s a two-way conversation.

As I said at the beginning of this post, we are technological beings and we are naturally immersed in technology; it can’t be any other way. And you can’t enforce social cultures online as there is no central “being.” Facebook’s “soul” is merely the millions of disparate people who are members. When Facebook goes away, as it will, those millions will migrate to the next application that allows them to socialize freely and easily.

For bands and artists this is a huge dilemma. In social media we create a selfless or virtual “self” - for instance, in the Facebook friends network or on MySpace, one might see a coherent global pattern but that pattern only emerges from the activity of all its members (friends). The group or network seems to be centrally located but in fact it is nowhere to be found. No one has the slightest idea what these people do or want; they actually don’t exist. The good news is that within each of any of these social network groups resides at least a couple of influencers; again, bands and artists must wait to be invited in. These are parties that can’t be crashed.

Dave Allen, and founding member Gang of Four.

The following URLs link to people, companies, articles or stories that are referred to in this post:

Grammy’s Hawaii MusicTech Conference
Content Marketing = Brand New Marketing
What’s Next In Media
My Facebook profile
My Twitter
My music and technology blog, Pampelmoose
Clay Shirkey’s blog
Jack Myers’ Web Site
Neil Perkin’s Blog
Wii Fit YouTube video
Adrants Obama watch story
Obama watches web store
Wired Magazine
You may be on Facebook but the money’s in the Long Tail
Social networks should be a feature not a destination
Rawkus, a social network on Ning
Selling ads on MySpace is hard work
Bob Gilbreath’s Facebook ad experiment
Ad CPMs are higher in the tail
Blog reaction to Wal-Mart blogs
NYT story on Wal-Mart blog
WalMart blog

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (11)

What a great read. Some great points that are re-iterated by lots of leaders in the 'Social Networking scene'. I'm hoping to populate our Music blog ( and will definitely refer back to this post. Just Dugg it and heading over to the blog too :)

September 18 | Unregistered CommenterLee J

I think that you have covered all the points I've been preaching to our bands and people in the industry for quite sometime.

The end all be all of myspace and bands online presence is absurd. The STN (signal to noise) ratio is beyond what anyone has time for on myspace. I know musicians who don't even take band requests for friends anymore. I mean seriously what does that tell you.

If bands what to focus on something constructive that will get them a career in music then it should be building a real relationship with their future fans. A mass spammed comment on a page will get you ignored 99% of the time. It doesn't make sense to me to waste space when you could be developing a real connection by posting something relevant and interesting that makes people want to get to know you and your music. Like you said, a 2 way participation is key to establishing new fans and a musical career. As soon as more bands understand that their music is a 24/7 job and there are no shortcuts when it comes to getting new fans and garnering attention the sooner the STN ratio will swing in their career direction.

September 18 | Unregistered CommenterDale Adams

But if I'm already on Facebook and MySpace, why am I going to join I did -- I definitely checked it out because I felt obligated to, after writing a rather disdainful article on the "Rawkus 50" business model, and you know what I saw?

A whole bunch of rappers, producers and DJs -- hip hop artists -- all marketing to each other. On Myspace and Facebook, there's hundreds of millions of living breathing potential fans, but if it's nothing but musicians, that's a much smaller pond. Plus, every single artist I found on Rawkus were people I'd already networked with on Myspace. Rawkus is not alone, either -- you could have cited a few dozen other record labels trying to replicate this same formula.

Neil Perkin's slides didn't really convince me, they pretty much lost me at the first line. How are myspace and facebook NOT defined by the media owner, who coded and designed the parameters of the cages that the users decorate? Myspace makes huge ad revenue selling their front page, because everyone has to visit that. Most of the functions of myspace are not customizable and reflect myspace branding front to back.

Although social networking represents a shift, it's only a matter of time before a new generation of Bernays-style thinkers figure out how to do perception management and social engineering on a global, digital stage. It's already underway.

Great read, though -- I don't want to sound dismissive or unappreciative, I enjoyed the thinkpeice.

September 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

One thing the Rawkus network did very right was picking up a few excellent hip hop blogs and getting them to be part of the network. They've got multiple streams of quality content going and it's all branded and integrated into their network -- that's definitely keeping their traffic and visibility high, and it's something few other label-owned networks are doing.

September 19 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

If the music industry dies alone in the middle of the woods, and no -one is there to hear it moaning, will there still be a sound?

Great article, also enjoyed J. Boland's dissenting view; I don't know that marketing to other musicians is a complete waste of effort; at the local level, many are tastemakers themselves. Finding the more relevant blogs to fit/inform the scene your site is part of seems like a good strategy for growing your brand.

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

With the advent of social media (or the slightly older term many prefer, social bookmarking), opportunities to connect with like-minded people online - whether for business, education, or simply doing good deeds.
Internet Marketing

October 18 | Unregistered Commentertanyaacatherine

Times change - there is nothing we can do. Technology is always going to change and become more updated as time goes by.

July 13 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

things always change, thats just life and the nature of this business. even when i go for acting jobs it changes...

July 17 | Registered Commentermar men

The best way to define social media is to break it down. Media is an instrument on communication, like a newspaper or a radio, so social media would be a social instrument of communication.


Hello! I say that There are not many places to find free legal music downloads but the public domain may be one place to start.

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