Social Media. It’s mechanisms, mysterious. It’s existence, omnipresent.
Well, kind of.
Let’s first take a step back and dispel the myth that optimizing your growth and following on whichever platform you seek the most success of, is some sort of herculean feat, an unattainable mirage outside of reach.
We’ve all seen Netflix’s The Social Dilemma. On one level we know the game is rigged – social media companies have even gone so far as to hire ex-casino strategists to increase addictive tendencies in users. Your little red Facebook notifications? They used to be light blue, until it was determined that colour didn’t trigger dopamine as effectively.
But this doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to play the house and win. There are pathways to utilizing this tool and using it effectively to leverage our trajectories as independent artists. But as is usually the case, it takes creativity, tempered expectations and above all, getting educated.
Let’s Pump Those Numbers Up
No matter which way you cut it, social media is here and it’s here to stay. It’s become the number one way for artists to push their brand and product on the masses – a simultaneously wondrous creation that allows us to connect with people all over the world and an albatross with frustrations and complications galore, depending on your perspective. Building a substantial following can feel like a Sisyphean task. You’re posting, but you’re not seeing growth.
Let’s start by looking at our accounts.
Open up your Instagram. Go to your followers. How many are bots? How many are actively engaging? Examining your analytics, how wide is your reach whenever you make a post? If these numbers are unsatisfactory, it’s time to shift the way you’re approaching your online presence. If you’ve used fake followers, taken any social media shortcuts and the algorithm has decided you’re on the outs, it’s time to consider a re-build. Drastic as it may sound, starting a new account from scratch and doing it the right way could prove to be crucial in the long run. You may have a hundred followers, you may have 500, maybe you have 2k. But if your engagement and growth has stagnated, it’s a futile exercise to keep pouring time into something with little potential.
Even after you clean up your followers of fakes and bots, which can quickly amass over time and you begin to carefully reconstruct your output, chances are you will see a more steady stream of growth but likely at trickle-in rates. To capitalize on your chances of exposure and to get the snowball rolling faster, Instagram tends to favour accounts that hit the ground running at their conception.
Carefully follow and engage with accounts that are producing content in the arena you both inhabit. Blindly going on a “follow spree” is unfocused, lazy and in practical terms, can (and most probably will) end up cluttering your feed. It will also render what you put out into the social media-sphere downgraded and lost in the algorithm. These accounts won’t be inclined to look at your material and that’s when the Agent Smiths of the social media matrix will alert the algorithm that your material just ain’t cutting it, and it will be brought several rungs down on the ladder of visibility. Which – to use another wily Wachowski reference, brings us to our next point of discussion.
When it comes to the curation of an effective Instagram, TikTok or even Twitter page, it’s all about crystallization and simplification. We need to take a thorough inventory of what makes us unique. Too often, artists try in vain to measure up to OVO level production quality, competing with trend setters and coming up short when trying to emulate. Never underestimate an audience’s proclivity for sniffing out bullshit. If you’re trying to be cool, you’re not. Instead consider looking at your own idiosyncrasies and running with what a smaller audience you can build on might relate to and find value in.
It’s much wiser to carve out a more selective but dedicated demographic you can grow from the ground up, than disappearing into a sea of faces all trying to be the Weeknd. Into vintage Atari video-games? Have a hidden soft spot for cheesy, 90’s romantic comedies? Do you have a surprising talent unrelated to music? Use it. You’ll be surprised how many more people who may have thought they were alone or embarrassed by a “guilty pleasure” wind up following and engaging with your account and relating to your content.
While you could argue Lorde was already superstar status before she began reviewing onion rings on Instagram, it’s this kind of philosophy that sets your account apart and wound up being a major talking point on her recent Hot Ones appearance. It may seem arbitrary, but news flash; that’s what the majority of social media is. Scroll culture.
Don’t be mad at it. Use it.
Trojan Horse Your Art In
The hardest thing to get your scrolling public engaged in is original content or in simpler terms, the actual music you want to change people’s lives with. Posting consistently on your Instagram story or creating eye-grabbing TikToks that marry juxtaposing imagery and unexpected twists and turns keep it fresh for the viewer. DAPS (Nicki Minaj, Migos) touches on a similar method when talking about his approach to music video directing. He calls it mixing the food with the medicine. In a fascinating interview with Indy Mogul, he outlines the importance of getting your message across while entertaining. It’s imperative we remember that social media’s biggest weapon is entertainment. Ask yourself, “Would I care if I wasn’t me?” “Would I stop to look at this?” If the answer is no, it’s back to the drawing board. Make it pop.
Music video director DAPS outlines the importance of juxtaposition in his video for ‘Bad & Boujee’ – “…to make something look more than it really is, put it against something that it’s not.” This same outlook can work wonders on social media. Your original content peppered in with aforementioned character quirks can endear you to your audience.
You’re a well of content. Mine it!
Don’t Be A Serotonin Slave
With managing as many accounts as we’re expected to these days, exhaustion can come on and come on hard. Brain fatigue is a real danger when you’re creating and curating content for TikTok, Instagram, Twitch, Discord and Facebook (among more that will and already are being conceived). This is why it’s imperative to be realistic about your time management expectations and to treat your energy as a finite source.
We tend to overwork ourselves in a lot of aspects of life and it’s easy to underestimate how draining and time consuming social media can be for an artist. You’re not only creating the music, photo and video content itself, but you’re working out how and when to put it out there too. So take a look at which platform you identify with most, which one you think you can best represent yourself within and focus on that.
Another myth? You need to be everywhere at once, or be dedicating the same amount of curation and effort into every single platform. Some of the most successful artists out here right now, only have an Instagram page. Take one of Toronto’s most in demand (and quickly rising) photographers, Hoeshell. The mysterious photographer’s work (once Daniel Caesar’s touring photographer) puts his promotional efforts into Instagram and a website alone, and he’s a master of aesthetics. He knows who he is and what he wants to say. There’s visual cohesion.
Sometimes simplicity is best.
And that little dopamine rush you get when likes start rolling in? Don’t be a serotonin slave, because not every post will hit the same as the last – and that’s ok. Nobody, anywhere in the history of the world has had a perfect track record and this shouldn’t be the heavy burden of pressure that weighs so many of us down and keeps us from trying new things.
If a post does well on TikTok but not on Instagram, on Instagram but not on Facebook, no sweat. If you want to keep all of your accounts going, a post that only pulls moderate numbers on one platform could be seen by the right eyes that day – and that could lead to a golden opportunity.
You simply never know.
There’s no blue-print and no absolutes.
Above all, remember that what you’re trying to do is build an audience – not temporary clout. Don’t undervalue the people that are interested, even if the current numbers are not where you’d like to be. Don’t be consumed by not having that 10k, instead nurture the 500.
Be creative, stay focused and get to work. You got this.