I don’t do any form of social media but I recognise some of its positive qualities. In an often solitary occupation it can forge links with other writers and make meaningful connections with readers. If it’s done in a sustained and interesting way I think it clearly has value but having friends and people who want to be friends, telling you that your work is wonderful shouldn’t be mistaken for a meaningful critical sounding board. Done badly the danger of course is that it runs the risk of being not much more than a series of coy selfies…
Back around the year 2000, my friend Dave and I started up a wrestling e-federation message board. It had its up and downs, but man, we sold the hell out of it. Before Web 2.0 even happened, we managed to spread the word and recruit players from across the globe – true online success. (Eventually, it was taking up too much time – 13 year old me was spending up to ten hours a week “writing” and coding content for the fictional wrassling match-ups involved – and I gave it away. Regrets, I’ve had a few.)
In a lovely Irish Times column, author David Park talks about some advice to younger writers, but in the quote above he plays towards something I’ve been mulling for a long-time: the illusion of certain level of online success.
About six years ago, I produced this video, which gained around 2,500,000 ‘loads’ (as Vimeo referred to them) in the first six months. In theory, that’s 2.5 million pairs of eyeballs passing over the content: a big hit. The speaker, Wilson Miner, delivered probably the greatest presentation I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh (here’s the rave review in Wired as testament to the hype.)
So in my mind, there’s one marker of success. But is that success a result of marketing (or more often, self-marketing)? Or is it because the content is of such outstanding quality?
Perhaps I’m not thinking at the level of big-name YouTubers or Twitter phenoms here. Let’s start again from a different angle.
In my past few jobs, successfully promoting events and content on social media has often been a focus. Hundreds of likes and clicks, thousands of impressions, each milestone celebrated with a certain degree of fervour.
I often feel like I pour cold water on the joy of others when I ask:
‘Ok – but what does this actually mean?’
A clear model of where I’m going here may be the local music industry. Back in the dark ages, success was easily measured in two ways: how many CDs you shifted, and how many people showed up to the gigs. (For the record: quite a few, but not enough.)
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed several musician friends struggling a little as to where social media fits in the business plan. It doesn’t cost much to get a couple of thousand followers, other than time and effort. But whilst, in popular terms, that might feel like success, followers don’t put food on the table.
In their recent, ‘We’re done with this’ announcement, Irish alt-rockers Fight Like Apes summed it up like this:
It’s a deadly time in so many ways to be in a band; you can have so much control over your work if you’re clever; you can release it how and when you like and in our opinion, right now, Ireland is the healthiest it’s ever been in terms of talent and diversity.
But, there are massive challenges for a lot of bands, mostly financial, that make this a tough job and sadly, those obstacles have become too big for us.
I think we all know that we’re going to hear announcements like this more often. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that we can’t keep producing records if you keep not paying for them. Bands are having to sell beautiful albums for €2.99, labels can’t give you as much support since they’re losing income too and our alternative radio stations are practically non existent now, meaning so many wonderful bands will not get a chance to get played on radio as they’ll be competing with huge pop acts.
Please buy your music in independent record stores or directly from the band.
Don’t fool yourself in to thinking that your £10 subscription to Deezer and Spotify helps us at all. It does not. Look how many bands are on there and do the maths.
Please go to gigs. Please buy merch.
FLA were a band I absolutely aspired to as a young musician – festivals, touring with big name acts, a sackful of awards, prominent in the alt rock scene. They accumulated millions of plays on YouTube, and millions of streams across the web.
They’re also a band who had to Kickstarter their last album just to raise the capital, and ultimately gave up because they couldn’t afford not to.
What is social media, really? Because I’ve quite literally had the job title ‘Social Media Assistant’, and I’m damned if I know.
Maybe David Park’s right:
I think under the radar is not always a bad place to be. You get to keep more of yourself.