Artist Promotion and the Social Paradox

By Mike More, CEO and Co-founder of Headliner.fm

Back before there was Facebook, or Twitter, or even the Internet, bands developed a following by playing with other acts that had a similar sound, and with it similar fans. It’s how local music scenes emerged. Think Manchester’s rave scene, Seattle’s grunge, New York’s punk movement. The list goes on.

I don’t bring this up out of nostalgia, but rather to illustrate how different things are today in the era of the Social Web, and the paradox it has created for today’s artists. While social networks offer the unprecedented ability to reach a global fanbase almost immediately, the noise created by competition from countless other artists make the task of connecting with new fans more difficult than ever. 

In theory, digital platforms should be making things easier. New technologies allow artists to record in their own home, services like CD Baby and Tunecore handle the distribution to digital services, and social networks allow free promotion. But there’s clearly a disconnect somewhere when only 1% of Tunecore’s artists sell more than $1,280 on a given month, or when just barely more than a thousand albums sell more than 10,000 units in a given year. 

Leaving aside that some music is just plain bad and not worth buying, the broader challenge is awareness. We agree that making good music comes first. But making sure that music is heard is a very close second. 

So with so many opportunities to reach new fans these days, what’s the problem? Much of it has to do with HOW people use Facebook, Twitter and social in general. 

For starters, artists as a whole have not done a very good job collecting Facebook likes or Twitter followers. The average artist has less than 1,000 likes on Facebook and fewer than 500 followers on Twitter. The exceptions are the superstar artists who have already achieved success (70% of the most popular Facebook pages belong to artists).

Second, engagement on these platforms is relatively low and will likely stay that way. The average engagement rate on Facebook is .017%, and for Twitter it’s .023%. This is true for even the largest brands, such as Procter & Gamble and Coca Cola, where a recent study found that just 1.3% of Facebook users following the top 200 brands engage with them after the initial “like.” What’s more, these metrics only track an artist’s existing fans. And while a great way to keep current fans engaged, a smart social strategy should always strive to find and engage new fans as well. 

Third, social advertising is expensive. The average cost of a new Facebook like is $1 (want 50,000 new fans, be prepared to pay up to $50,000). And with a conversion rate of 1%, each converted fan would have to spend $50 each to recoup that cost of those new fan acquisitions (tough to do when you’re selling $1 iTunes singles).

So what counts? A recent study by Decipher media, a UK-based independent reached firm, showed  the following:

Brand recall and brand association rose 7 percent among viewers who had peers recommend the videos versus viewers who found it by browsing; 73 percent of respondents who viewed a peer-recommended video recalled the brand when prompted versus 68 percent of viewers who had browsed to the video directly.There was a 14 percent increase in the number of people who enjoyed the video following a recommendation versus those who had discovered it by browsing; People who enjoyed a video were 97 percent more likely to purchase the product featured in the video.

In other words social recommendations are very powerful.  

Finally, relying on fans to generate new fans – while cheaper – is slow. As pointed out above, engagement rates or only 1% (meaning only 1% of your followers are likely to forward your new single to their fans when you ask them to). And who’s to say their friends share the same taste in music? 

With Facebook’s recent changes (such as the new Timeline Apps feature that expand interaction beyond “like” to things such as “listen” or “read.”) and Twitter’s continued evolution, these stats may soon change. But at Headliner.fm, we believe the most effective social marketing and promotion campaigns are those that best leverage both the features and the spirit of the social Web. Artists throughout history have introduced their fans to new music. Fans flocking to their favorite artist’s gig often become fans of the bands that open for them. Artists collaborate with each other and put out songs that pique the interest of their respective followers. It’s as old as music itself, and finding the right way to replicate that in a virtual world is Headliner.fm’s primary mission. 

Rather than paying for ads on social platforms (which is very much an “old media” strategy being shoehorned into a “new media” practice), we believe artists working together to introduce other artists to their fan though the power of social recommendations is the way forward. Yes, artists can do that now on a one-off basis, but Headliner.fm aims to apply a technology platform to this practice and thereby make it easy and far more widespread. 

Our virtual currency (known as Band Bucks) rewards artists who do recommend other artists, which in turn allows them run their own campaigns at little to no cost. Therefore artists don’t pay for exposure with money, but with participation. What’s more inherently “social” than that? 

The debate over social marketing and promotion is only just beginning, and we certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. But we hope that we’re asking the right questions and are dedicated to providing some degree of answers where we can. We look forward to discussing these issues and more at the coming Rethink Music Conference, during the weeks leading up to it, and beyond. 


Mike More, CEO and Co-founder, Headliner.fm