Saturday, May 05, 2012

Twitter for Musicians, Writers, Filmmakers, And Other Malcontents

There is a great way to use Twitter and a terrible way to use Twitter. If you're a writer, musician, filmmaker or in some other arts-related business and you're using Twitter to reach your fans, gain new fans, keep your fans, and "market" your work and it just isn't happening,  this post is for you.

Why me?
I'm a software engineer and a musician. I've produced and published several music projects, and I worked in San Francisco at a social media/games company called "Slide" (which was, alas, acquired by Google and then subsumed into the great, primary-colored googley googleness of a googleplex on the peninsula), most significantly on a Facebook app called "Top Friends", which was a very successful social-network-in-a-social-network. It was also the largest app on Facebook for a long time.  I'm talking, literally, millions of users.

Great. So you probably know what you're talking about. Get on with it, I'm on a deadline.
One of the biggest lessons learned from building successful social products was this:  Fostering personal, meaningful relationships between people was one of the keys to growth, retention, and scale.  

"Well, duh,", I hear you cry, "Isn't this obvious?"  Yeah, I know, I'm stating the simple and obvious. But it isn't always easy, at least not for some people, even though it's simple.1

Well, look. Here's the simplest way I can explain it: speak to people on Twitter like you're speaking to someone in person. Write about you, what you're doing, what interests you, things that happened and are happening right now. Be personal in your conversation, and re-tweet things that personally interest you. Your fans want to connect with you.  What your fans do not want is a spew of advertising copy.

Speak to them as people, and not as targets of online marketing.  

When I follow my favorite writers or musicians, or when I discover new ones, I want to read what they have to say and read about what they're doing or thinking that may or may not be directly related to their projects or products. The speak with me, not to me.  Most of the time I don't reply. I nod in interest or agreement at the screen (figuratively or literally), but the opportunity to reply is implicit in the original tweet.

Think of tweets that could elicit a response from your followers (And by response, I do not mean "OMFG STFU already").

Do not fill their twitter feeds with marketing noise, advertising crap, or other non-personal stuff that's the equivalent of junk-mail. 

There's a lot of horrible advice out there about using twitter as a medium for marketing copy. Don't follow it.  

Build fans and customers, or shoot yourself in one of your toes.
Twitter (and Facebook, among others)  is a great product with which to build and maintain meaningful, valuable relationships between you and your fans & customers. It's also a great product with which to shoot yourself in one of your toes and end up with diminishing fans and decreasing followers. 

Here are some examples of both. 

Bad
"4 out of 5 moviegoers loved what they saw at the screening! You will too! http://..."
(Try something like "Great screening last night at X. Lots of compliments, I'm still grinning like an idiot" instead)

"Big sale today only in our gallery come on down http://"
(Advertising. You're not speaking with me, you're speaking to me.)

"Have you read my new book? http://... "
"Have you read my previous books? http://..."
"Customers love this book I wrote in 2009 http://..."
"Review of X: http://..."
"Review of Y: http://..."
"Review of X: http://..."
(and so on. My twitter feed was filled, FILLED I tell you, with these from a self-published author. I unfollowed in a hurry.)

A good rule of thumb: if you'd hate to see it in your feed, or it's pure advertising copy, or it isn't some form of personal communication, don't tweet it. 

Another good rule of thumb is don't spam your followers. A steady stream of tweets from you in sudden succession looks like spam. And, uh, that's because it is spam.

Good
"Wow. Cool thing on my walk to my office: http:///"
"Dogs barking at a terrifying, aggressive maple leaf on the patio, stopped me at 2200 words. Got my quota for the day."
"Off to Free Jazz CD day. Won't forget to buy something while I'm there"
"Woke up to awesome reviews this morning! Feeling vindicated! http://..."
"Listened to new XYZ music while I painted this morning. Inspiring! New art soon."
"The amazing Fred sketched this from my novel X. Very cool http://..."
"So-and-so's article on free digital music downloads. Agree completely http://..."
"This asparagus is huge. Monsterous. I expect it to start chasing me around the kitchen."
"RT: @someone My book is out today! excited and hopeful"
(re-tweets are personal; they're still a tweet from you, and so are personal communication. 

And so on.  In general, be yourself. Consider tweets about what you're doing, what you're thinking, what inspires you, wild sudden thoughts, what you agree with, what you disagree with, what you hate, what you think deserves attention, sudden flashes of inspiration, what you're doing to procrastinate... all within the scope of what you're comfortable talking about, of course. Look, just be you. And you ain't ad-copy. 

Homework: Ask yourself, "Why do I follow the people I love to follow?"
And, conversely, ask yourself "Why did I just unfollow that person?". 

What is it about your favorite artists, your idols, your mentors, that you enjoy when you read their tweets? What connection do you feel with them?   One author I follow tweeted that the wolf-howls in Skyrim are so realistic that they drive his dogs nuts. Hey, now I know that one of my favorite authors plays Skyrim. I play Skyrim! We're connected!  The meaningful connection between customer and artist  has been reinforced ever-so-slightly-but-significantly. And the image of his dogs freaking out at the sound from the game is pretty amusing.2 Will I be inclined to pay attention to his next release? Yup. The meaningful signal coming from him is greater than the background noise of the interwebs-social-webverse-thingy, so without much effort from me I'm inclined to pay attention to it.3

More Homework
Ok, so what about tweets about upcoming books, performances, and so on? How do you get around just spamming marketing copy in these cases?

Here are some ideas. I'm sure there are more ways out there besides these, but the basic tenet is be personal.

Got a show coming up? How are you feeling about it? When is the last time you were there? Playing new songs that they haven't heard yet? Pick one and add it to your tweet. It has to be real, though - if you're feeling nothing about playing this gig, uh, you may have other problems than gaining Twitter followers. 

Open a word processor and write some tweets about professional events. Make 'em personal.

Here are some (somewhat generic) examples.
(Note: don't spam a bunch of these.. pick one or two and go with it. Maybe two over two days or so. Use your judgement. If it feels like spam, it's probably spam)
"Playing J's Pub on the 16th. Can't wait, haven't been there since '09"
"Playing J's Pub on the 16th. Hope the chandelier doesn't fall this time!"
"Playing J's Pub on the 16th then jumping into the van to Cleveland for next gig. All night drive"
"New book out tomorrow. Can't sleep, critics hiding under bed will eat me".
"Book signing alert: J's Bookstore. See http://... for more info. Come by, it'll be fun"
"I normally hate flying at 3am, but I love the venue for this reading. Beautiful place, can't wait to get there"
"Talking to a distributor today. Fingers crossed. They saw film at the festival, loved it"
"Great time at the awards last night but head now hates me. I drank how much?"
"Film at the festival today at 4. Please come, I'll be hanging out afterwards, come up and say hi" 

That's it
Alright. That's enough lecturing for today. Bottom line: be real. I want to hear from you, not from your marketing copy. 


1. The inspiration for this post came from a new-to-me author whose tweets filled my feed with ad copy. Nothing personal from them, just a rapid-fire spew of reviews, links to books, "buy me now" type stuff that drove me nuts. The post was further inspired by some companies out in the midwest whose approach to twitter was "all-spam-all-the-time" who followed me, expecting a follow-back.  It turns out that their "social media expert" recommended they use twitter as an ad platform. As we say in web engineering circles: FAIL.

2. Back when I owned dogs, I used to record their barks in my music studio and later play it back at random times. The two of them would freak the hell out. They're run around the house, barking, trying to locate the sound of their own voices. "WTF? That sounds familiar! Holy cats, it is familiar! Like, what the crap, where the hell am I? I have got to find me!  Quick, I'll flush me out by running around all of the furniture, barking at me!" Eventually they'd make their way to my studio, tails wagging, and barking at nothing. "Whoa, dude, you sounded just like me! I was like all freaked and shit because I was down there looking for me and I was up here and now I'm not down there looking for me, I'm up here, which is exactly where I was barking when I was downstairs barking at me barking from up here where I am now but I wasn't and, wait... what? Aroo? Oh, fuhgeddit, if you're not gonna gimme a pig's ear, I'm going back to sleep. My head hurts."

3. Another artist I follow posts "found art", which are cel-phone pics of odd shadows, interesting juxtapositions, and so on, and they're usually wildly cool. It gives some insight into how he thinks about art in general. Very interesting.  And there's the writer with an incredible penchant for tweeting puns; I bought a couple of his books based on his sense of humor. Through these two and others I've discovered other writers and musicians as well as podcasts, blogs, articles, and more books and music.  The social-proof that's gained from trusting the tweets of one person can (and usually will) be beneficial to them and to the other artists in your network.  Social-proof itself is a topic for a different blog post.