Saturday, March 07, 2015

Professional Musicians and Social Networking

Last week, my "Communicating About Music" class discussed the ways performers might use social media to promote themselves and build relationships. I surveyed both sections of the class and discovered a few trends in how these graduate students use and understand the major social networking platforms.

1. Dedicated professional Facebook pages are less popular among students this year than last year.
2. most of the students seemed unaware of how to use " targeted lists" on Facebook
3. Many of the students saw Twitter as irrelevant or redundant with Facebook, although felt that hashtags were better implemented on Twitter.
4. Instagram is useful for facets of performing that are better expressed visually.

Very few of them mentioned blogging, yet most of them included it as part of their social networking plan in their mock grant proposals two weeks ago. I will not address blogging in this particular post. We also discussed LinkedIn, and various crowdfunding sites, all of which I may address in a future post.

I'm not pointing at the social networking sky and predicting its fall based upon two classes, but I do wonder if we have hit a saturation point--at least as far as professional networking is concerned.  I'd like to take each of the observations above and muse upon them briefly.

1. Dedicated Professional Facebook pages

Most of the students seemed to feel that unless one is an established performer or ensemble, dedicated Facebook pages seemed overly pretentious. One drawback is that friends and family may feel obligated to "like" and "follow," so your number of "likes" isn't really an indication of your potential audience. The benefits of having a page are rather obvious, but the biggest deterrent seemed to be the "self-promotion" aspect.  That's rather interesting, but not uncommon among students--many of whom make their livings gigging and performing, but don't yet see themselves as career professionals. I expressed a preference for professional pages when it comes to ensembles as I do not like to receive "friend requests" from entities (as opposed to individuals). As an alternative, we discussed:

2. Facebook audience lists

Recognizing that one's Facebook audience is not monolithic and that everyone is there for different reasons, the use of targeted lists is (to my mind, at least), one of the best and most helpful features of Facebook. I have about 10-15 lists, 5 of which I use most often. It was surprising to me how few of them post updates to select audiences. One real benefit of using a targeted list for professional activities is that the responses/comments are likely to be more relevant. It narrows the network in beneficial ways. Likewise, it can simultaneously foster more intimacy with audiences and professional distance. Beth Kanter and Allison Fine cite fear of showing one's "human side" as a fear that stops non-profits from using social media. (1)  And I think that's the part that is scary--the "social" aspect. How do you create a relationship with unknowns (and not simply broadcast information)? This is a mode of communication that is distinctive to our Internet culture. Representing yourself online is not only a skill, it is a challenge. But it can (and should) force us to prioritize what is important in a piece of communication. There are two questions with every post:
 1) Have I effectively communicated information? 2) What does this post "say" about me and how does it contribute to the composite image of me formed by my audience?

3. Twitter vs. Facebook

Twitter's value does lie in its brevity. Many of my students felt that Twitter was an effective supplement to a social networking arsenal because it could be used for event reminders and other announcements that did not require a lot of information. For me, I find this is true. I follow 1,974 people--I'm much less likely to respond to clickbait from my Twitter feed than I am on Facebook. I see Twitter as a stream of tiny hooks, all targeted toward specific fish. The difference is that you have less an idea of what's available to catch than you do on Facebook. But as a early-career performer, effective use of Twitter requires reciprocity and consistency. If it is used just to post upcoming concerts and the like, the full value of the platform is not being realized. Hashtags can be an effective way to enlarge the conversation and to "meet" those who share your interests--this is why carefully chosen hashtags (and the promotion thereof) are important. Mentioning (@_____) can be gratuitous (as can hashtags), but it is an important way to form alliances and associations as well. Kanter and Fine stress authenticity as a key element in using social networks.

4. Instagram

I was surprised at how many of my students seem to use Instagram (not specifically for professional reasons, but in general). I don't use Instagram on a professional level (mostly pictures of my cat and my food preparations), but that's largely because my fascinating musicological discoveries tend not to be of great visual interest, even with the "Ludwig" filter. But Instagram is a great place to post rehearsal shots or "in-process" shots for those involved in music. Early music performers can use it as a platform to demystify the instruments they play and to give audiences a "closer look." This is possible on Facebook and Twitter, but Instagram is arguably a more effective platform as it speak almost exclusively in pictures.

So, in the end, I think that social networking has become so much a part of daily life for a great many of us, that we begin to take it for granted. Performers may choose not to use networking platforms, but if they do, it is important to cultivate ways to use them that are differentiated from how we use them for personal means. On Facebook, this means lists or a dedicated page. On Twitter, this means hashtags and mentions. But as with "real life" relationships, effective professional social networking takes time, skill, and perhaps most importantly, desire to engage with audiences in this way. I don't think having an obligatory Facebook page or Twitter account is a good idea if the means and desire to maintain the network are not there. In that way, I do believe we have hit the point of saturation as far as the "innovation" of social networking. That said, just as with public speaking and writing, there are nuances and skills that performers who wish to engage with these platforms would do well to cultivate.

I must thank and acknowledge  Ed Justen (@edjusten on Twitter) for inspiring me to write this post.

(1) Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change (San Francisco: Wiley, 2010).

**Opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not represent The Boston Conservatory***

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Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea