Thursday, May 14, 2015

How To Lose Friends & Piss People Off With Social Media!

A couple weeks ago I played an open mic at a local coffee bar. I like to do that every once in a while; it's a great incentive to write new songs, and performing alone or with one other person is a great way to stay sharp and hone my stage skills. That night I played several songs alone, and several more with my friend B, and the crowd loved it. The same night, a group of young men played an acoustic set at the cafe. They were energetic, fairly skilled, and their harmonies were pretty tight. After their set I asked one of them the name of their group and when he told me, I looked them up on Facebook, figuring I'd give them a "like" and stay up-to-date on what they were up to. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that these young men  had more than fifteen thousand "likes" on their Facebook page! (And now they had one more- nice work, Gentle Machine.)

It's something I've been thinking a LOT about lately, given that I'm competing in my 3rd contest in a row, and social media has played a large role in all of them. This is the new reality, folks: life IS a popularity contest, no matter what your mom told you. This winter I applied for a tour-guide job in which a large part of the application consisted in sending in a short video telling the company why you'd be perfect for the job. Well and good- making that video was fun. Posting it to Facebook and getting my friends to vote? Well, that went against the grain a bit, as my very quiet, English, don't-make-waves sensibilities came to the fore. But I posted, and people voted, and although I didn't get the job I was so happy with my friends' endorsements and votes.

Contest #2: CBC's Searchlight competition, with Lone Crow Jubilee. Emboldened by my first social media contest, I plugged this one more strenuously, and I know that several bandmates went all out (and more power to them) to secure us as many votes as possible. Sadly, we lost in the second round. This contest is entirely based on popularity, at least until you get a few echelons higher than we did. Now I'm not being sour-grapes about this. I know there were other reasons why I didn't get that tour guide job (not bilingual, wrong demographic), and why we didn't advance in the Searchlight contest (new band, lack of experience, need better recordings), but sometimes I feel trapped by the social media machine. How can I get better at manipulating it without letting it take over my life and alienating my friends?

May has been an exciting month. My guy and I finished our first collaboration and- at the stroke of midnight, give or take- submitted our entry in the Telus Storyhive music video contest. A month of writing, arguing, laughing, filming, drawing and recording was over... but the hard work was just beginning. Because for the last 2 weeks we've had to throw all our energies into the publicity machine, and the publicity gods are always hungry. Now I had the bit firmly in my teeth: I was shameless. I messaged people. I emailed friends, family, co-workers, ex-lovers... just about anyone I could think of. I have posted daily, on Twitter, Facebook (both on my artist page AND my homepage), Google+, LinkedIn...  We've honestly tried to make it interesting. We've started a production blog on Tumblr, so fans can check out our work-in-progress. We've shot short, funny videos about location scouting and costuming for the video. (How I wish I'd had the forethought to film last month, when I was recording my song... but I didn't.) We link to YouTube, where our videos live.

And still we languish in the bottom 50 percent of contestants. I know this, because I receive encouraging emails from Storyhive every few days, telling me so. So what did we do wrong/what did we do right? Sometimes they're one and the same...

  • Posted every day, sometimes more than once. I admit, I probably over-saturated my market. Like I said, I tried to keep it interesting... but I'm sure my friends are probably sick of the very existence of this contest by now. Seeing as we only had 20 days to get votes, we had to hit people hard and often, but it's a fine line, right?
  • Bad timing: It was the THIRD contest in a row for me! If my poor friends never see the word 'vote' on my pages again, it'll be too soon. Not much I could do about that... except give everyone a well-deserved break from any kind of online shilling for a good long time after this.
  • Had some fun: J and I shot some really fun videos yesterday: a location-scouting one, which I edited into a Bollywood-style 'movie' trailer (thanks, iMovie!), and one where we scoured a funky vintage store for the music video perfect costume... and found it, to boot. The vids are short, snappy, and funny. I've posted them on Youtube, linked to them on Twitter, FB and elsewhere, tagged and hashtagged the @#$% outta them... and still, they are little-viewed. Sigh. 
  • Small audience. Most of my "fans" are still also personal friends/coworkers at this point. I am so very grateful to them for everything they've done... but until I start getting other fans- and I mean people who don't know me personally- I will have a very small group of people getting bombarded with too much promotional material. I really want to keep my personal life and my professional life more separate; to post promotional stuff ONLY on my artist page/website/Twitter and keep the personal homepage simply for fun, but right now that's just not possible. 
  • Your allies are important: J and I are the project leads for this contest. I value his skills very highly... but he doesn't have a huge network either. I made a half-hearted attempt to find our team a social media strategist, but I didn't try hard enough. If I had the chance again I'd have hired someone before we even finished submitting our pitch- hell, I should really hire someone NOW...for next time. I'm a good writer, J is a wonderful artist, and we're both spending a LOT of time on the internet, plugging our project. But a social media strategist might have had links to newspapers, websites we didn't think of, a fan base we haven't uncovered.
  • Too late: Now was NOT the time to start building a fanbase/social media empire. The ideal time would have been a year ago... or more. But honestly, a year ago I didn't think I'd be competing in a music video contest, having my solo material professionally recorded, and reaching out to the music community in search of accordion students. You do what you can, WHEN you can. It's never too late. 
If you were to hold a gun to my head, I'd have to admit that I don't rate our chances of winning this contest very high, based on our popularity out there in the ether. 
The two of us have learned an incredible amount from all this. We learned that we could work together. We solidified our creative vision for this little song of mine, and shared it with as many people as we could. The "popularity contest" aspect of this competition has forced us to work harder than we otherwise would have... and I've had an amazing time learning about publicity, from hastagging to Reddit (okay, still figuring out Reddit. It confuses me).
I've spent time watching our pitch over again, and watching other artists' pitches for this contest, and you know what? We have a damn solid idea, and to be fair to Storyhive, they are judging all of us by other criteria, not just popularity. I see some great lyrics, a unique design concept, a realistic creative treatment and budget. I am honoured and delighted that the person I love wants to make art with me. 

If I pissed you off this spring with all my self-promotion, I'm sorry. These projects all meant a great deal to me, but that doesn't mean that they meant anything to you, and I get that, because I feel exactly the same way about your projects most of the time. When you want something from me and you reach out to me through social media, I promise to be more generous with my attention than I have been in the past, because I've learned the hard way that this stuff takes a lot of work. And I will try not to respond based solely on how YOU supported ME during this terrific, challenging, crazy, creative month. 

Well, I said I'll try. But I'm not making any promises. 

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