Why might Twitter matter to bluegrass bands, musicians, festivals, labels and promoters? At its core, Twitter is a communication platform that is both intimate and public at the same time – not unlike a live music performance, except that it is a two-way channel. The most common way to explain Twitter is to imagine it as a giant networking event, with folks engaged in clusters of conversations that you can join from any location, at any time, and in the subjects that interest you. In bluegrass terms, think of it as the world’s biggest “shake and howdy” table – a place for you to connect with fans, industry, media and random passers by. In the end, the idea is to make real connections with real people, gracefully accept criticism and praise, and maybe book new dates and sell CDs and concert tickets along the way.
Just like with learning music, this knowledge did not come floating out of the ether to me, and I would like to acknowledge Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) and his book, Aaron Lee (@AskAaronLee) and Tweet Smarter (@TweetSmarter) as my main sources through many tweets and blog posts too numerous to link.
- A tool for connecting with people in your area of interest. For bluegrass bands this would be groups like: fans, labels, promoters, festival organizers, national and local media.
- A listening outpost for opportunities, feedback and industry news. Twitter is a popular place to spread news, blog and media links. Many venues regularly tweet their upcoming shows and community news outlets tweet events of local interest.
- An outlet for broadcasting your news and events to be shared and amplified by your fans. You may say “but I already do this on Facebook”, except that unlike Facebook, your message is also going out to another important group: people who are not your fans…yet.
- A megaphone. Remember – it’s shake and howdy time at the merch table. When a fan comes up to you and says “Your new CD is really great, I love your version of Cripple Creek”, you don’t answer with “Buy my new CD! I’ll be in Smalltown, USA tonight!” Twitter enables the connection, but it’s up to you to make it happen.
- A soapbox. You can only say so much in 140 characters. If you are going to write a bluegrass manifesto, write it on a blog and share the link.
- A necessary evil Twitter is not for everyone, and your use or lack thereof will not determine your success. Twitter is a vital business tool for some and a distracting waste of time for others. Like much in life, you get out of it what you put into it.
- Avatar – the image used to represent yourself or your band.
- Tweet – a message sent on Twitter, with a limit of 14o characters.
- Retweet – an easy way to share other peoples tweets.
- Timeline – the collection of all Twitter messages from the people that you follow.
- Follower – another Twitter user who has chosen to see your messages in their timeline .
- Hash Tag – adding a number sign, or hash tag, to a word makes it a clickable link in Twitter that displays all recent tweets with that tag. This can be useful for long conversations on broad subjects, such as #bluegrass.
- DM – Direct Message – a private tweet between to people who follow each other.
- Mention – when your @name is included in a tweet.
Name That Avatar
A Twitter name should resemble your own name or your band’s name as closely as possible and be easy to remember. In cases like mine, where you have a common name and all of the best variations on it have already been taken, you may need to get creative. Just avoid the use of random numbers or letters attached to your name, as these are often used by spammers.
Try to keep your name to 15 characters or less, as this will make it easier for others to remember your name and reference you in tweets. Hyphens should be avoided if possible, and underscores should be avoided altogether. Don’t fret if you have to change your account name to make it better – you will not lose any followers. Just don’t change it often or that will be confusing.
Choose a photo of yourself or your band for your avatar. Festivals and labels can get away with a logo or other image, but people should be represented by people.
Tweeter Do, Tweeter Don’t
Before I tell you my advice on how to tweet, realize that there is no one way to do this, and no one shoe fits all. That being said, the following tips should help you tweet your promotions without being annoying, make connections, gain followers and get retweeted:
- Say thanks for compliments, criticism and retweets.
- Respond to Mentions. Not every mention of your name will merit a response, but be sure to answer any reasonable question or informed comment.
- Answer all DM’s in kind.
- Retweet others more than you tweet yourself.
- Include the relevant date, place and links for your appearances.
- Only promote your CD’s and appearances – tell us something about yourself. Fans love tales from the road, from the studio and from the home. A few light, personal tweets can go a long way.
- Ignore your critics. You should thank them just as you do the praise. They are taking the time to give you feedback, even if it is negative. They care about you at some level, else they would not bother writing at all.
- Blast away your fans. There is no need to announce a months worth of appearances all at once, and a salvo of a dozen posts can be spammy. Trickle out your announcements at different times and see which get the best response. Don’t forget changes in local time and our bluegrass friends around the world.
- Engage in political, religious or other divisive topics. If you really must tweet about these subjects, I suggest a separate Twitter account for that purpose. If it is part of your identity as an artist, then do as your conscience tells you, but my experience is that bluegrass fans are from all ends of the political and social spectrum. Best to let some dogs sleep.
- Build a ghost town. It’s plum pitiful to see an account where the last tweet was hundreds of days ago. Don’t let your good name wallow in the digital weeds.
There is much more to say about how to use Twitter, but I hope this primer has gone some way into helping my friends in the bluegrass music community learn what it’s all about and how to get started on the right foot. Everyone tweets in their own way, and you will too. There is plenty of Twitter advice out there, so take it with a grain of salt, but if you choose to follow only celebrities and news sites, then don’t complain that you’re not making any connections. Just remember that you are at the ‘shake and howdy” table and you’ll do fine.
Want to add to this primer? I would love to hear your questions and comments below.