We’ve seen it all before. User "get_more_followers_8782" follows you on Instagram, but you're smarter than succumbing to reciprocation, a verified artist on Twitter follows you, only to find that he or she has unfollowed you two weeks later or your Instagram page sees a surge of followers after one of your posts does really well, yet all of them unfollow you over the course of a few days. This is the rapid and ever-changing world of "connection" in which musicians and other artists live on a daily basis. This is how "fans", commonly identified today as "followers," are acquired in the 21st Century. This is the unfortunate reality of social media.
With computer software and internet marketing companies becoming more prevalent than ever before, everything from Facebook page likes to Instagram and Twitter followers can be purchased now. Believe it or not, there is always some snake out there offering quick schemes of social media success to aspiring musicians. Unfortunately, some are able to scam their way around reality, although this is not always the case. Knowing your way around the back alleys and dark pathways of inner-city social media is priceless as it will reveal the right's and wrong's in order to succeed as a musician trying to utilize one of mankind's most salient inventions. Knowing how to properly leverage social media the right way will help you stand out, construct a unique personality, and forge your own way to social media success.
There's a saying in the world of advertising: "Social media is used to build relationships, not to build profit." The very same thing applies to musicians. Your social media pages are not pull-marketing platforms to which you should expect people to begin flocking as soon as they're created. Rather, you should be utilizing social media to interact and share ideas with other musicians, artists, and potential fans. You should be utilizing social media for selfless reasons rather than selfish ones. For example, one of the best ways to grow fans organically on Twitter is to follow other musicians and offer your opinions on their work. Doing this consistently will yield reciprocation on their part as and expose your own work to a larger audience. Even consistently liking posts along with dropping a comment here and there will contribute somewhat to an organically grown fan base; and there is no better fan than an earned one.
"But what about paid services? Do they have any use at all?" you may ask. The answer to that question is yes. But paid social media services promising to grow your followers are gambles that could result in more loss than legitimate gain. Suppose you're planning your first tour. You've amassed an Instagram following of 10,000 people, 75% of which have been bought. You begin sending out the promotional material for your mini-tour and, about two weeks later, it's time for the first show. You walk up on stage and see a total of 10 people sitting in what you thought was going to be a sold-out venue, and you should not be surprised. Moreover, your Spotify statistics have not improved at all.
Followers that you pay for on social media are not following you because they like your music and would like to eventually see you live. In most cases, they're generated accounts with absolutely no substance that are programmed to search through popular hashtags and build attention via engaging with accounts that use those hashtags; and if they are real accounts, they're following you because they're expecting the very same thing that reeled you into paying for followers in the first place. Even services that promise to grow your fan base "organically" find ways to automate the process, such as the aforementioned hashtag searching, that are simply not as powerful as growing your fan base yourself.
This, however, is not to be confused with advertising your music on social media yourself. If you've managed to organically grow a solid social media following, paying for sponsored posts is a good idea; it will place your music, your promotional material for your next tour, at the forefront of your followers' attention, the forefront of real people who actually care about your work, and will yield organic results, i.e., real people showing up to your gigs. Paying to advertise your music on social media through each platform's own advertising service falls under the category of organically growing your fan base.
At the end of the day, the best marketing a musician can have is releasing quality content. If your compositions and performances are failing to garner the attention you had hoped they would gain, it's time for more practice and more improvement. Great work will take care of itself. The challenge every musician must face is how consistently he or she can produce such work to begin with. There is only one answer. Get out there, play live shows, write the best songs you can write, network like crazy, and most importantly, be a musician.
Luke McManus is a singer/songwriter and guitar player from Philadelphia.