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SXSW Panel Blog: Courting your Fans - How to Make the Romance Last

Since this was my fifth year moderating a panel at SXSW (this year’s topic: Courting your Fans - How to Make the Romance Last), I was nothing if not prepared. My previous panels – perhaps you were in attendance! – were:

2010’s Getting a Digital Ass Kicking?

2011’s Fan Analytics for Dummies

2012’s On the Web, Biggest Opportunities that Others Miss

2013’a The Brand Called YOU: A New Take on an Old Theme

By now, I knew what to expect.

…But what I didn’t realize was how many other music professionals would show an interest in this topic, and how many would made the time in their busy SXSW schedule to attend. I don’t take any offense when someone walks in to the room where my panel is about to take place, sits down, realizes they’re in the wrong room, and gets up. Funny thing is, no one got up this year. Not one person.

The cross section of industry folks (plus one fellow tech music entrepreneur) raised the stakes for me. Thankfully, I had a lot of good information to impart on how to not only engage fans, but to keep them coming back for more. 

I was joined on my panel by Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Suzanne VegaBerklee College of Music’s Associate Director Magen Tracy, Online Mktg & Social Mediaand Dan Silver, VP of Creative for Riptide Music Group. It isn’t a big reveal to acknowledge that utilizing customer care can engage fans. However, with so many choices, what’s the best route for an established artist to stay in touch with their fan base and remain current? How do new artists cultivate an audience that will stay interested?

It has honestly become a challenge because while success in the music industry still has to be about your talent and the caliber of your music, social media engagement has become all-important. Creating genuine, long lasting relationships is one of the most significant things an artist can do for their career. 

One subject we all agreed on was the importance of maintaining authenticity. Suzanne Vega used to have a team of people running her social media but she didn’t think it represented who she was authentically. Two years ago she took back the reigns on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and now quite enjoys the repartee she has with her audience. There is fine line between honesty and transparency, and Suzanne was clear that she walked it. She has to feel comfortable with what she posts (“no selfies without make-up”) but not remain so polished that her fans don’t feel like they’re getting a glimpse of the real her. She recently posted a selfie of herself with her dog sitting on her head – it wasn’t staged, it was a spur of the moment event she wanted to post. It was a genuine and personal moment – and one of her most shared and commented on postings.

Magen from Berklee talked about how she worked to engage the school’s alumni base while Berklee were creating a new building on the campus. She engaged people through photos and blogs on the buildings progress, which made the alums feel both vested in the process and INVESTED in the project that they may have donated money to. She was bringing people on the journey with the school. All the panelists agreed that this resonates best with your social audience. Fans want to support you and spread the word about how great you are, but as your base grows the dynamic changes.  It is the artist’s responsibility to respect those who have been there from the beginning, while courting new fans. The consistency and tempo of your messaging can help to set an expectation you are able to maintain – but remember, you can’t please all of the people all of the time

Dan from Riptide discussed crowd sourcing, using your fans as a source of content as a way to keep them involved. Section 101 clients Carina RoundBUSHDiane BirchJonatha Brooke and Duran Duran have all used this to great effect. Carina asked fans to submit video clips that they felt represented the meaning of her song “You & Me” and she created a music video from that. When BUSH was on tour 2 years ago, they had fans tweet photos of the band from their point of view each night. Duran Duran and Diane Birch both worked with a company called Genero.TV to promote a fan driven contest to create a video from a song off their new albums.  On the website for Jonatha Brooke’s new Broadway show, My Mother Has 4 Noses, she has encouraged visitors to her site to share their experiences in dealing with elderly parents. A band Dan works with called Standing Shadows asked fans to send in photos of shadows and they used them to create their album artwork. All very smart ways to not only keep fans interested, but also engaged.

Another point the panel discussed was that getting LIKES and FOLLOWS isn’t as important as your engagement rate, which is having people talk about, or pass along, what you’ve posted. In other words, going viral. People need to discuss you, not just LIKE you. There are several really great tips we discussed but I am saving that for another Blog! 

We all agreed that social numbers are now an important part of an artist’s career. If you don’t have any short cuts to a music career (ie: an Uncle in the music business), having a strong foundation on social media says a lot to the people who could be interested in working with you. That being said, there’s nothing more important that owning your own website and making that your central hub from where everything else extends. A fan can explore your history, watch your videos, look at your photos and more. In addition, you can build your email list from your own website – which, by the way, is still the #1 most responsive method of reaching your fans and encouraging them to make a purchase. 

 Making your website and social media effective, maintaining it, growing it and staying authentic will most certainly have a positive impact on the longevity and success of your career.

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