The Top 5 Social Media Lies
Posted by Justin Boland on Aug 03, 2010 | 25 comments
When television was first being marketed, everyone was buzzing about the incredible potential of new technology to improve our lives. Citizens could stay informed and children of all ages could educate themselves at home. Fast forward a couple decades and you’ve got Fox News, Wife Swap and some guy named Steve-O stapling his nuts to his own leg.
That’s exactly the same transition that Social Media has experienced, only instead of taking decades, it happened pretty much immediately. In a time when marketers, journalists and politicians all agree that Social Media has changed everything, I’d like to crash the party, rush the stage, and grab the mic, because you need to stop lying to independent artists. Stop repeating empty slogans and start being honest about the ugly stuff.
1. “Social Media is Free.”
Only in a culture as sick as this could priorities be twisted enough for people to say this with a straight face. It doesn’t cost money…so of course Social Media is Free, right? Folks, social media is very expensive indeed when it comes to time, and time is life itself. Every single artist I’ve talked to in 2010 has voiced the same complaint: promoting music on the internet is mostly wasting our time. Poorly designed and coded, needlessly complex, dozens of competing and non-compatible systems, an ocean of forgotten passwords and abandoned accounts.
We keep putting time in, though, because it’s the only way to make it in 2010, right? We’ve been seeing these success stories for years now, where independent artists just like you and me hit the jackpot thanks to this new miracle technology. It’s inspiring stuff. It’s designed to be.
These success stories look like a business lesson, but they’re actually a sales pitch. These stories are the main currency of “Social Media Experts,” entrepreneurs who have figured out how to make money off a free service: they will charge you money in order to teach you how to use Social Media better. They are all liars, though, because nobody is remotely capable of guaranteeing you results in exchange for your money.
2. “Success Stories are Repeatable.”
Social Media “case studies” are not recipes, they are autopsies. Promotional stunts and tricks that have already worked for someone else will not work for you because they have already been done. That’s why Seth Godin can keep re-writing the same book every year. His sole point is something that few marketers ever actually get, but always love to hear: Be Creative. Marketers love to think they’re being creative, and that’s why they’ll pay for entire bookshelves full of nearly identical manifestos about originality and authenticity.
Music business bloggers have been in the same holding pattern since 2005: we keep reporting on the latest success story, breaking down every detail into “actionable” advice, and then throwing it all out the window when the Next Big Thing shows up about 2 weeks later. We keep searching for The Answer, the new formula that makes it all work, because nobody wants to face the horrible truth: the music business, like most other industries right now, is mathematically doomed.
The Answer is the same thing it’s always been — the problem is, now it’s not enough, because there’s constantly less and less to go around…
3. “Audience and Attention are Renewable Resources.”
Most of the internet traffic we get is kids, people without jobs or people who are bored at work. Clay Shirky has written on this “Cognitive Surplus” of idle human brains in front of computer screens that makes Viral Marketing possible. He argues, eloquently, that we can start using this Surplus for bigger and better things, but I don’t think it’s going to last long enough for that to happen. Actually, it’s already over. Most of the people who are bored at work this year will be unemployed in 12 months, or working somewhere with way less free time.
Also, Shirky won’t discuss is the fact that for most of the world, “Cognitive Surplus” is a luxury that simply doesn’t exist. (White Privilege is like that.) Even here in the United States, economic conditions continue to deteriorate. Every foreclosure, every lost job, every bill past due in America is having the direct effect of reducing this Surplus. The middle class has been DEVASTATED and no matter what business you think you’re in, that’s your customer base getting eroded right before your eyes. The “Cognitive Surplus” bubble is deflating very quickly right now.
Even ignoring the ongoing global economic catastrophe, we’re still playing a losing game here. Hip Hop is over-saturated beyond belief. Established acts are losing ground and seeing their income drop, every year. New artists are competing against more people for less money, every year. We can’t all have 1000 True Fans - it just doesn’t scale. It can’t scale. Do the math. In order for any of us to “Make It” in any meaningful sense, most of us will remain small time local acts until we get too old to keep taking ourselves seriously.
Most of what the music biz experts are pushing is a feel-good fairy tale. There is absolutely no success waiting for you anywhere. It’s already taken, and there’s a war going on every day for any given piece of that success. Fans are a (very) finite resource, and they’re not created out of Social Media magic — they’re taken from someone else.
4. “Ubiquity Matters.”
Post-MySpace, pretty much every single social media site, service and system that gets introduced destroys value. They all want you to believe they matter, they’re growing, they’re “new”…and you’ll achieve stunning success by being an “Early Adopter.” In fact, each new start-up is more worthless than the start-up before it, because this endless parade just keeps diluting the value (and audience and timeshare) of all that came before it.
Social Media Experts are sick parasites who feed off your attention in order to live. They want us to keep thinking that ubiquity matters — that we have to jump on every Next Big Thing that comes along. You really don’t. The more time you invest in social media, the more likely you are to see diminishing returns and increasing workload. Which brings us to the final whopper…
5. Things Are Getting Better.
This one just kills me. Social Media is making everything better, right? Well, let’s see…it’s enabled increased surveillance (government and corporate) into our private lives and daily activities, and it’s definitely increased the reach, accuracy and saturation of advertising. All technology is a double-edged weapon — the Machine giveth, and verily, the Machine taketh away.
It gets disturbing fast when you actually think about the major innovations Social Media has bestowed on us. Words like “CrowdSourcing,” which is an exciting new way for corporations to replace paid professionals by running massive contests, where they get thousands of free submissions they will always own the rights to, from people they will never have to pay. Now that’s Capitalism.
Don’t get me wrong — I know very well that people are making money off Social Media. I’m saying that’s not really the point. People make a lot of money off landmines and crack cocaine, too…and both of those things are “changing lives” every day.
Different is Just Different
You might think I have an personal problem with “Social Media” — some kind of grudge or vendetta. Actually, though, I think of Social Media just like I think about my toaster. It’s just a tool that I use. I don’t write articles about my toaster, but then again, there’s no movement of white guys making money off TED manifestos and visionary books about my toaster, you know?
Those guys make money because they’re saying something that Fortune 500 companies and major investment banks like to hear. It’s ad copy about how Social Media empowers the little guy, and it’s simply not true. The big winners are the aggregators, the central nodes in the network, and those are all owned by the same people who own everything else, here in the Land of the Free.
You know what’s most impressive about these 5 lies, though? The market penetration. Almost nothing else gets said about Social Media, anywhere, aside from these 5 hypnotic talking points. There have been literally millions of pages written within the last decade, from marketing blogs to the New York Times Bestseller List, and it can all be summed up in a single paragraph.
And that single paragraph is horseshit.
Thanks for the post. I've been saying something similar. There is no system that is going to let everyone succeed. If it works for one person, others will copy it and then it becomes less effective. Yes, there are perennial trendsetters who are always coming up with new promotional ideas and that keeps them in the public eye. But after that, the tactic isn't newsworthy anymore.
Remember how everyone had street teams? I haven't read anything about street teams for awhile now.
Posted at 9:57 p.m. on August 5, 2010
Holy rant, Mr. Boland. Tell 'em why U MADD, SON!
I kid slightly, as you make great points. But seriously, artists don't hardly use social media well enough to merit such a supportive stance. It becomes cyclical when people come to me for new ideas on how to wrangle eyeballs for a new mixtape, single or album project. It's ridiculous. I ask, "have you been in touch with people on your e-mail list?" or "I didn't see you mention the mixtape before you released it. Did I miss a tweet or Facebook update?" The answers are always no.
You are right. Social media is just a tool. When I talk about it, I give practical ways to use it and how it can benefit. It's common sense that requires a commitment if you want a return. 95% of the population cannot handle such responsibility, but wish they could. It's that reason that guys like Seth Godin can repurpose content and make a nice check.
You want to know what's funny? Most artists that put out multiple projects, especially in hip hop, are guilty of doing the same ol' shit as well. That's one of the reason why I rather not listen to rap. Very few are bringing anything new to the table.
Posted at 11:08 p.m. on August 5, 2010
A lot of bad info in this article, sorry.
"There is absolutely no success waiting for you anywhere. It’s already taken, and there’s a war going on every day for any given piece of that success. Fans are a (very) finite resource, and they’re not created out of Social Media magic — they’re taken from someone else."
Sigh....where do I begin?
Success is what you define it to be. For one artist, it might be selling 1 million albums, for another, it might be selling one, or five, or maybe a few hundred.
Fans as a resource are about as finite as are the number of people who listen to and enjoy music.
Fans are not taken from someone else. Someone who becomes my fan, does not stop being a fan of the music they already enjoy. What were you thinking?
This article is just filled with negative and bad information. Social Media has and will continue to revolutionize the landscape for independent artists. If you find this to not be the case for you, then maybe you need to rethink your approach or re-valuate the "product" you're trying to market.
Posted at 11:56 a.m. on August 6, 2010
We mostly agree with each other, but when you casually throw out stuff like "revolutionize the landscape for independent artists," that kind of breathless hyperbole is exactly the kind of ad copy that got me started in the first place.
"Success is what you define it to be" is technically true, but it's usually a pep talk for people who aren't achieving what everyone defines success to be: making a comfortable living off your art.
"Fans as a resource are about as finite as are the number of people who listen to and enjoy music."
That's exactly my point, yeah. Just around 7 billion people. That seems like a lot because you're not thinking about scale but in a genre like hip hop with 10,000+ releases a month, the demand for that seemingly limitless finite resource suddenly scales up to a resource shortage.
I get that you don't believe me on 'fans' having an actual cognitive limit on the number of artists they can really be fans of, so clearly that's what I need to write about next. When we're talking about "fans," after all, we're really talking about attention, memory, behavior -- and there's definitely neurological limits in play there. I stand by my point that when you convert a fan, you are taking over a percentage of their attention that was previously occupied by other artists.
I always appreciate critical comments, especially polite and thoughtful ones. Thank you, A. Skunk.
As for my product, it's dope, so I've had great success with Social Media -- but that's because of the music. Social Media is still just another toaster.
Posted at 12:27 p.m. on August 6, 2010
10 Otto Maddock says...
What a strange time for marketing. Everything you said is factually true but the facts just aren't distributed yet.
Just look at the Topspin aggregate numbers --- email converts at 30% and all the Social Media "heavy hitters" combined add up to less than 10%. Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, none of it matters.
A year from now, after Forrester Research catches on to their own data, your points will be taken for granted. Wait until Lefsetz catches up to you and you'll be cool again, Justin.
Posted at 9:08 p.m. on August 6, 2010
I was very inspired by this post, thanks. I produce dubstep, grime and weird house but this stuff really applies to any artist even outside music. I linked to your post and added some relevant stuff by Tim Ferriss who did a great presentation on this topic from an author/blogger angle at my site below.
Great thoughts man, thanks for sharing. Matt Shadetek
Posted at 1:47 p.m. on August 8, 2010
Fans as a resource are about as finite as are the number of people who listen to and enjoy music.
I don't know if you have ever tried to promote a local show, but you begin to grasp the sense of fans being finite when you hear. "Hey, I'd love to come, but band X is playing on the same night so I am going to that."
You also run into it when you realize that most people have a limited amount of money to spend and when they spend it in support of one band, they may have less to support another.
Posted at 7:44 p.m. on August 8, 2010
Lots of great points - some I don't agree with 100%, but that may be more of my own unwillingness than anything else as something the truth hurts. But that being said, BY FAR the best point here, and the #1 lie that EVERYONE lives with on a day-to-day basis, that 'social media is free'. It is this devaluation of social media that is the cause for people's improper use. If social media was thought of as an expensive, worth-while tool, and not just a low-barrier, free way to promote music, it most likely wouldn't succumb to the ignorant, uneducated usage that it has. Since its free, people don't feel the need to actually do the research and learn the proper ways to use it. IT TAKES TIME and time is money. There is nothing free about it...
Posted at 10:02 a.m. on August 9, 2010
16 Catherine Hol says...
This is a fab post - my favorite in ages .... must tweet about it and share it on Facebook!
Posted at 9:10 p.m. on August 9, 2010
Sick points Justin, I have to give you props on this one.
Your point on social media is not free is the damn truth. Time for me became an issue once I realized alot of it had passed me by and alot was invested without the results I wanted, but I had to test it out for myself.
I've been trying to figure out different ways to promote music socially for years and the more in depth I try to go, the more I fall back on simplicity. The main reason is I am a minimalist and I hope that focus will allow me to centralize my thoughts on trying to heighten that creativity on music promotion, not just a formula.
I do agree with @HubertGam with the point of there are some fundamentals that need to be addressed for artists such as website, email capture, and social promotion. These are tools and that common sense approach will get you started.
I really like the point you made: look for the business lesson and not the sales pitch. We aren't guaranteed anything, no matter what products we buy.
I'm really focused on return on investment recently, whether justifying time spent on something or counting digital sales. If I couldn't justify why I used a social network, I left it alone. Live and learn and get better. Audible Hype keeping us grounded.
I do hope some of these toasters pop me out some more bread!
Posted at 3:32 p.m. on August 10, 2010
I skimmed through it a few times and was ready to leave but something kept me reading because the points were there and it actaully made sense. I dont really like to read negative stuff but these points were REALITY. Nice one. Thanks for the read. Glad I read the whole thing HEHE.
Posted at 1:48 p.m. on August 12, 2010
(jumbled thoughts and artifacts from the memory banks)
I read recently a list of "predictions" from a futurist think-tank (can't remember which one), and the idea that I'm now reminded of is that, "in the future" (I believe within the next 20-30 years if I recall correctly), music will be:
B. Something that people make for themselves and their friends.
This is something to consider. For at least 2 minutes.
I'm still reminded of Terence McKenna on Art Bell talking about the possibility that language translators were on the horizon for this wonderful new thing called the World Wide Web. And Art gasped at the thought.
I think Skirky's emphasis (at least from what I've read and understood) was overall about the idea of mobilizing communication to achieve real-world change, which is the positive aspect I've found in his whole sales pitch. Everything else about the Viral Engine I agree with entirely.
Is the problem really "the public," as Carlin thought? Is that a selfish and ego-stroking thing to say because "we" understand things that "they" do not? Isn't this how The Owners think?
Also, try looking at things from the perspective of the fan. How do they go about interacting with independent artists? How does that dynamic play out in 2010? And how is it different from 5 years ago?
"Love the Machine, Hate the Factory"
Posted at 9:26 p.m. on August 14, 2010
22 jeff somers says...
ive always thought the same thing as a lot of this article states. Social media doesnt really help the little guy unless you were among the first to jump on. Now that everyone, big and small and their mother is on there its the same people competing for the same fans as it always was.
Back when myspace was poppin, some dudes jumped off and it was kinda cool. They had a page with music and thats where you could hear new shit. Then all of a sudden snoop dogg has a page where hes hyping his link of tv shows and commercials. Now the big boys with big money are in the same pool.
I also agree that unless youre the first one in its not the wonderland others make it out to be. Only thing to really be gained from social networking your music is people you already know may actually listen to it now. "oh wow, dan from high school has a band. I got three minutes to listen to his trash. Wow that sucked. Never again. "
Posted at 4:24 p.m. on August 25, 2010
While at first, I did have the feeling that this article has a negative outlook on social media. As I continued to read up until the end, it really grew closer to the "unspoken" perspective that I, and most others, have when competing for attention on social media networks.
Posted at 4:56 a.m. on September 16, 2010
I learned a long time ago that in music there is no ONE formula. It's different for every single artist in every single genre. Really, that's a great rule to live by for life in general. There is no one path. Social media will never do anything to change that. So the people that right these Amanda Palmer, Drake, Radiohead inspired articles don't know shit about shit. I can't put it must simpler then that. They haven't lived a day out of their offices (or bedrooms as it were).
In any case, at the same time, there is NO reason to fear social media. The government has been monitoring us through tax returns, car and home loans and credit cards. Them knowing whether I had a really good sandwich or a really good show doesn't bother me compared to that.
Use Social Media to your advantage and have fun with it. Social media is MUST. So make sure you make that MUST into something that you enjoy. You're all creative people reading this, you know what I mean by that and know how to do it.
Posted at 2:05 a.m. on October 4, 2010
25 Urbanizer says...
Refreshing. Glad to see someone calling bullshit on social media hype. They make it so easy to do you'd think more people would be writing articles like this.
Richard Florida has recently been outed as a cheap fraud, Clay Shirky's probably next in line.
Posted at 8:48 a.m. on January 5, 2011