Music Marketing

Instead Of Building A Fake Following On Twitter, Why Not Build A Fanbase?

Grateful-dead-stickerSome folks advocate building a Twitter following by following others who might follow back. There are even accounts dedicated to giving you more followers if you follow them or retweet their tweet. You may also have been offered the opportunity to acquire large numbers of Twitter followers for a fee.

While such offers and ideas may be tempting if you have few followers and envy those with high numbers, the problems with using such methods to gain followers is that they don’t constitute a true fanbase and will undermine productive use of Twitter for music marketing in the long run.

During my previous incarnation in hip hop media I was given the opportunity to guest tweet on a combination of hip hop Twitter accounts that totalled over 25,000 followers. Those tweets rarely resulted in more than a handful of retweets and certainly did not receive anything like the number of retweets that tweets from Hypebot’s Twitter account receive with a similar sized following.

Those Twitter accounts with lots of followers all had a similar number of accounts they followed. That means they were either following back everyone who followed them or were following people in hopes they’d follow back and then periodically deleting follows when they were not reciprocated.

Some people feel this is a legitimate way to market music by following potential fans or music writers in hopes of getting some attention. Occasionally it does result in positive returns. For example, I do check out relevant acconts that follow me and have sometimes covered companies that I discovered in that manner.

However, because I use Twitter as a news source and look at every single tweet that appears in my feed, I only follow Twitter accounts that are primarily news accounts. That means that about a third of the people who follow me during any specific period will disappear a few days to a week later. In addition, when I’m followed by a “beautiful woman” who is clearly an operative for a spam account, I block them immediately. That keeps my follow count down but it also keeps it real.

Taking a follow everybody approach means that you’ll end up with a bunch of followers who are just there to be followed back and so much noise in your newsfeed that the best you can do is sample it. In those cases most people stop looking at the feed and start just paying attention to whoever sends them a direct message or connects in public. But when you’ve built a following of people who are just there for their marketing needs, those channels will also gradually become overwhelmed with noise and spam.

A quicker route to a useless, spammy following would be to buy followers thus giving yourself big numbers that will impede your ability to identify and communicate with those who actually care about your music. Either way you’ve wasted time and/or money to build a hollow empire that won’t monetize even if you join one of those tweet for money services that pays you based on clicks. Seriously, if you’re not checking your newsfeed because it’s an overwhelming stream of shoutouts and marketing tweets, why would those people be checking their streams and clicking on your links?

If you want to use Twitter to help build a fanbase and make business connections, focus on real people who clearly care about what you’re doing or who have something to say. If you become incredibly popular, you’ll just have to accept that you won’t be able to keep up with your newsfeed but at least you’ll have reached that state in an honest manner and know you have real support.

Believe me, I’ve experienced what it means to have tens of thousands of fake followers not respond to my tweets. These days I’m not worried about numbers and I know my followers are a lot more real than the followings of many with higher counts.

So focus on connecting with real people and build a supportive following over the long term rather than going for the numbers and acquiring an imaginary fanbase.


[Grateful Dead graphic created at MAKESTICKERS.COM]

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) maintains a business writing hub at Flux Research and blogs at Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. I make music and it doesn’t feel right to ask people for much in return, I grew up buying music before I started making it, and to get it out I would give people cds, then cds became obsolete as everyone I knew would download music, and buy only what they couldn’t find or that was rare or on vinyl. I say obsolete, but yeah of course people buy cds and dvds still, it just takes so much to make the music then turn around and try keep abreast on where it should go as there are seemingly infinite service claiming to provide an outlet. I don’t know, I don’t worry about it, I just look and try.Thanks for writing this

  2. Well done. All I can say after over a year of using Twitter quite actively (promo & looking for contacts) – people there are more interested to talk about themselves rather than read others. A pattern of using Twitter may be like this: a quick thought, a moment of wisdom, link to video or an image – rushing on Twitter, leaving a message then occasionally checking out on random tweets being displayed at the time and logging off. Twitter is more of a private (yet public!) diary for millions rather than a communication or promotional tool. Blame 140 letters which are good for robots but not for intelligent people with more advanced skills of expressing their thoughts. At least 300 letters would do much better. Twitter forces intelligent people to abandon grammar and language specific styles just to fit into 140 letters. Come on. Is the future of social apps about learning a binary code (01101) and requesting its use instead of our own languages just for making this kind of communication faster? That’d be quite ridiculous.
    A cure for too many followers and their issues are the lists which work as a filter. If you notice somebody retweets you often, responds to your tweets, followfridays you etc. then make a list to include these supporters, use some app like Tweetdeck (AIR version! ;)) to display their updates in a single column and there you go with people who care.

  3. i don’t think you make your case here. you do make the case that a lot of twitter followers won’t monetize if the followers aren’t all genuinely engaged, but…so what? maybe some of those other followers will convert to more diehard fans, and if not, no harm done. you have a longer stream of incoming messages to sort thru–not a big deal. it only takes a glance to see which are directly relevant.

  4. Good points, Clyde. As for me, I’m into reciprocating. Of course with my 15K following/followers I use lists. It’s such a great feature that seems to be overlooked by many.

  5. Good point on the lists. I think your case is a bit different. Though musicians would benefit from thinking of fans as communities, you’re actually building mutual support networks and making related moves so it makes a lot more sense.
    My initial experiences were in hip hop media where all the negatives get amplified in self-marketing noise. Which makes things even tougher for new hip hop artists.

  6. Then again, do you reciprocate when it’s an obvious marketing ploy with no interest in you?
    For example, my location is marked Asheville so I get followers that are Asheville businesses with no relation to music, no direct contact with me, no connection other than location.
    I don’t block those followers but I don’t follow them either.

  7. For some reason my earlier response didn’t get treated as a response. Typepad still sucks.
    That said, it really depends on your volume of followers. Once you get into the tens of thousands you just won’t be able to do that. But given that you’re not really identifying yourself I doubt you have that big a following.
    My case is a little more extreme because I go through so many news sources in the course of the day that I can’t really allow a bunch of irrelevant content into any stream that I monitor. It’s frustrating because there are people I would follow back that I like and respect but most of their streams tend to be off-topic or conversational and I just don’t have time for that.
    It’s hard enough for me to keep up with direct contacts and I’m really a minor figure in music business media. I’d like that to change but I don’t want to suddenly go from interacting with almost everyone that contacts me to ignoring people and alienating them. I see more well known people doing that because they can’t do it all and they don’t want to pay somebody else to do it and it makes them look snobby and uncaring.
    I may be an elitist but I’m not a snob!

  8. Music Xray is in pre-launch on a fan acquisition product that targets people who are likely to enjoy your music. Real people. Not empty followers and “likes”
    How much time, effort, and money should artists spend online acquiring new fans?

  9. Hey I feel you, when your enthusiasm drops when you start talking about the good ol’ days of cds, since you know they’re not coming back. But I think it’s not hopeless… I think we have to start thinking beyond selling songs. But so many artists put so much of themselves into music, ostensibly, yet alot of musicians have energy to get up and tour.
    I know making a song complete and mastering it is draining, much less an album, but that’s just the fact. What if we put as much effort into connecting genuinely with fans as we would into touring?

  10. the fact that people don’t have much time and are overwhelmed by information isn’t changing soon. so we gotta get used to it. so that’s why there’s 140 characters. and the “not for intelligent people with more advanced skills of expressing their thoughts” I find to be oxymoronic. Poets are great at expressing thoughts in short verse.
    Why are musicians different? Can’t we be poetic? Or at least funny?
    There’s this weird luddite rebellion amongst artists, including musicians, to embrace new things. I get it, but to a point..
    Comedians have taken to Twitter and built huge followings. They’re artists, too..
    I think the problem is alot of musicians aren’t comfortable with their personality in writing, or they feel all that should be left up to the music? Like shattering the mystery would make their music less appealing?

  11. I agree, you don’t want to ignore and alienate people.
    My question is: Why are we striving for tens of thousands of fans, anyway? Despite the assumption that it’s necessary, is fame really where it’s at?
    Say 10,000 people buy one of your songs, and you get $10,000 from various outlets like iTunes (not sure, they changed their price recently). I’m leaving cd’s / records out of the equation.
    Or, say just 1,000 true fans pay a little each month to get access to your process, and you get to make a living doing music, getting better at your craft instead of worrying about touring, promotion, contracts, etc.
    Which would you choose? Fame comes and goes, doesn’t it? Sure, true fans stick around, in the old schema, but you can’t expect them to anymore. And do you want to be beholden to promoters or club owners forever? Or even labels?

  12. “You choose a song you’d like people to hear.
    1. For every dollar you pay us, we guarantee three potential fans will hear your track.
    2. Upon hearing your track they can decide if they want to become a direct fan of yours (in which case you get their email address and can establish a direct relationship with them just like all your other fans).
    3. Upon hearing your track, they can also decide to tip you.”
    Buddy, I just don’t think songs should be like a meal or a cup of coffee, so why are we reducing an artist to ‘tips’?
    Isn’t this just busking? Except, you’re asking to borrow a dollar out of the guy’s hat or guitar case and saying “Hold on, I’ll be right back with a few people who may or may not like you enough to give you a buck or two…”
    No offense, Mike, I just think that this is not the way to go! It sounds like another way of selling dreams to poor suckers who make music…
    I mean, we’ve all likely heard really talented people on the street before busking, right? I always feel sorry for them, like it’s a little bit pathetic in terms of a marketing approach. Unless it’s really really fun and it’s really making them happy (like Geordie Little, I’d imagine…)
    And I’ve even heard people busking who I thought “Hey, let’s get together and record something and put it out!” but then I figure, why not let them get better and better and the world will sort them out? Which shows that even if you’re talented / skilled, it doesn’t matter without a connection.
    There’s that belief in music that if you’re ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ that success will just come. We’re looking too narrowly, there is no universal ‘good,’ there just isn’t… Everyone is not going to like the same thing. It’s hard enough to get 1,000 people to agree on one taste.
    And if they do, then you should hold on dearly to them, as an artist.
    It’s not about being ‘good enough’ but finding people who believe you are great and offering them your whole experience. Not just the songs.

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