How Do I Get My Fans to Actually Submit Stuff?

Last time we talked about contests, and how it’s surprisingly hard to get people to want to win stuff. You’d think free stuff would be an easy sell! But sadly, it’s not. And if free stuff isn’t a no-brainer, you can imagine how hard it will be to get responses to fan submission programs where fans actually have to work for something …

Here are a few lessons from my experiences with fan submissions.

1) Don’t exclude most of your audience from the program.
Two separate times, I have run a fan submission program where we sought out fan photos for a slideshow music video — and oddly enough, both times we were looking for graduation photos. The reasoning behind requesting submissions was that if fans were in the video, they’d be more likely to share it around. However, requesting a photo from a particular demographic — in this case, the small percentage of fans who had recently graduated and were still excited enough by that to want to share their photos — was pretty limiting for our prospects. This meant that most fans weren’t even able to participate, and we had to count on enthusiasm from all of the fans in the group that could participate. Getting enough photos from each fan base was like pulling teeth. I even had to put old photos of myself in one just to finish the video. (No, for the sake of my own dignity, I’m not going to tell you what video that was.)
So, make your fan submissions open to everyone and hopefully you won’t have to humiliate yourself.

2) Let your fans show off.
My friend Brett Gleason ran a brilliant fan submission program for his first full-length album. The album cover was a photo of half of his face, so he asked for photos of fans holding up the album cover over their own faces. He then reposted these hybrid portraits as a “Selfie Series.” This both promoted the album and allowed fans to spread pictures of themselves through his social networks. Appealing to narcissism is usually a great strategy.

3) Think about what your audience wants to create.
One of the best fan submission programs I ran wasn’t even my idea — I was browsing the Facebook wall of an artist and noticed that someone had posted a photo of him with meme-type lettering added. This sparked the idea for a meme contest where fans could submit their own meme-type images of the artist. This program worked brilliantly because it played off of something fans were already doing and allowed them to show off their own senses of humor. We then had the artist pick his favorite so the fans could learn about his sense of humor in turn.

In the worst case scenario, your fan submission program will be the impetus for you to go through your own embarrassing photo albums. But in the best circumstances, it’ll allow you and your fans to create something together and have a shared point of pride. Just don’t ask for graduation photos.

Contests That Don’t Bore The Crap Out of Everyone

Online contests can be unusually hard. You’d think that wanting to win things is a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how few submissions you get when you’re running a giveaway. The average consumer is so bombarded with “Chances to Win!” and so few actual wins that it doesn’t even seem worth the time to enter. If you want to avoid playing Eenie Meenie Minie Mo between your only two entrants, here are a few ways to ensure your contest will be effective.

1) Consider the tech savviness of your audience.
Most of the time, you’re not just giving away free stuff because you’re feeling generous. You’re hoping that the contest will be a vehicle to spread the word about your show, new product, tour, whatever. So your first inclination is likely to choose a contest format that is as shareable as possible. Unfortunately, this may not be a method your fans are familiar with.

For example, I frequently run ticket giveaways. For a long time, I ran Facebook RSVP contests, thinking friends of fans would see their friends going to a Facebook event and think about going to the show as well. Simple, right? Wrong. Oftentimes I’d find myself choosing a winner from the six fans who had already RSVPed before I even started the contest. Choosing “Going” to a Facebook event is just not commonplace behavior for some fans. Particularly among older audiences, I’ve had much better luck with contests where fans can enter by emailing their information (and then you can add them to your mailing list).

2) Put yourself in the fan’s shoes.
If an artist you follow was running this same contest, would you go through the trouble of entering? You’d be surprised at how much your perspective will change from taking five seconds to think of yourself as a fan.

As a second example, I have run ticket giveaways by posting an image with the show information and asking fans to share it. Unfortunately, fans don’t usually want to feel like they’re spamming their friends with this image by posting it on their own Facebook walls, so I wouldn’t get a lot of entries. However, they’re not often thinking about how liking or commenting on the image will show up in their activity feeds, so this seems like much lower risk behavior. I have since opened up such contests to make likes, comments, and shares all valid entries.

3) Make the actual entry process fun.
How many times a day do you have to type out your own name? Most contests require this mind-numbing information. Instead, ask the fans to do something more creative, like leave a comment with their favorite song.

4) Make the package legitimately enticing.
Seriously, this should be basic, but it’s not. I’ve tried to run many a “contest” where I tried to give away a “prize pack” of merch we were trying to get rid of … trust me, there’s a reason no one wanted that stuff in the first place.

Next time, we’ll talk about the close cousin of contests— user submissions!

To Selfie or Not To Selfie

Everyone’s doing them. James Franco wrote about them in The New York TimesThey even have their own song!

Selfies are one of the most joked-about aspects of camera phones and social media. We all know that person whose epic duck face becomes the butt of all our jokes.

But kidding aside, selfies can also be a useful tool for artists. A lot of artists I talk to feel hesitant about posting selfies online, and they come up with all sorts of excuses not to do it, leaving a great wealth of social media material untapped. Here are a few common hesitations and their rebuttals.

Lame Excuse #1: Selfies feel really self-centered!

Have you ever had a crush on someone in the age of Facebook? Cycling through their photos is an impossible death trap. You’re completely smitten all over again when you see that picture of them back from high school prom. Oh, and what’s that? A new photo of your sweetie taken five minutes ago? You’re not thinking “Ugh, they’re posting about themselves again!” You have an immediate, visceral reaction of “What joy! Why aren’t we together?! Ahhhhhhhhhh!”

Your fans don’t all have crushes on you (I hope, because otherwise that would be a lot of stalkers to manage). But think about it: they’re following you because they want to hear more about you, and that includes seeing pictures of what you look like day-to-day. If they’re a big fan, unexpectedly seeing your face will give them a little rush of glee.

Lame Excuse #2: Selfies are self-promotional!

Yeah, selfies are self-promotional. But the five times you’ve posted about your new film or the seven thousand times you’ve invited fans to a show haven’t been self-promotional? You’re an artist. Unfortunately for most sensitive souls, being an artist also means tooting your own horn. Selfies are just another tool in your arsenal to make sure people are aware of you and your work.

Lame Excuse #3: My arms are too short to take selfies! (Yes, this is a real excuse I’ve heard.)

You don’t have to take literal selfies! It’s not against the rules of the Internet to have someone take pictures of you. There should just be pictures of you in your feed somewhere. It’s a reminder to your fan base that you’re a real person, not a one-dimensional posting robot.

Lame Excuse #4: Selfies are frivolous!

You are part of your art. Whether you like or it or not, your appearance affects others’ perceptions of your work. Ideally they’re rooting for, or maybe jealous of, the person behind the product. In any case, your image is not frivolous, so you might as well control that by posting pictures of yourself looking how you’d like people to see you.

Now send me your selfie! It’s Internet speak for saying Hello.

Six Ideas for Promoting Shows as Unique Events

One of the most frustrating things as a musician is to promote shows online. Your social networks and email list are usually the primary way to drive fans to an event, but it can be horribly boring to continually post about tour dates if you’re playing a lot of them. How can you keep promoting shows over and over without turning your stream of content into a mind-numbing list of “I’m excited” statuses?

You’ll need to have a bit of a perspective shift here. It may seem to you that your shows are carbon copies of the same event in different venues, but remember that your fans are all having unique experiences when they attend. Even if you never change your set lists, some things will be different from show to show — maybe there’s a memorably rowdy audience member, maybe your fans have finally seen you enough to know the lyrics and start singing along, or maybe some current event is making your emotional connection to your fans particularly poignant. It’s important to remember this different viewpoint that your fans have when you’re thinking about promoting your shows. For you it may be the daily grind, but for them it’s a special experience.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas for promoting your shows as if each is a unique event.

1) Have you played at the venue before? Post something about the last time you performed there. Share a photo from backstage, a live performance shot from onstage, or a story about the fans you encountered there.

2) Write a recap of your last show at this venue and explain what you’ll be doing new at this show. Are you playing new songs? Adding a 10-minute drum solo? Wearing ridiculous hats? Give the audience hints at what to expect.

3) Are you playing with other bands on the bill? Film a duet with another of the acts performing that night and promise to perform it at the show.

4) Give the show a theme! Perform all songs about a particular topic and add covers that fit. Or make it a costume night and encourage fans to dress accordingly.

5) If you’re just posting the basic details of the show, spice it up by saying you’ll take song requests in the comments.

6) It’s not too late to continue promoting the show on the day of! Post photos of your band outside the venue as you load in. You could also post a picture of the sign if your name is on it, or something fun from backstage.

Keep in mind that you’re in the entertainment business. Even if performing has started to feel like a job for you, it’s a fun escape for your fans. Remember that when you’re promoting your shows and you won’t bore yourself (and your fans) to death with insincere posts of “Can’t wait…”

Connect With Your Why For Deeper Fan Relationships

Have you seen this classic TED talk from Simon Sinek?

I love his point that people will intuitively react to your inner motivation even if you haven’t thought it out for yourself. It got me thinking about the different kinds of artists I’ve met — those who seem humble and unguarded, those who seem like they’re seeking attention, and those who use art as a platform for a broader message. How many of them have thought through why they do what they do? And how would their messaging and fan relationships change if they did?

Becoming clear about your inner motivation will provide you with a wealth of insight for connecting with your fans. Sit for a second and think about your why. Art is a hard business — there must be something deeper that keeps driving you forward through all the soul-crushing set backs that come with the territory. Somewhere in your heart is a little child with a mission that keeps you going. Whatever that secret mission is for you, even if it’s not pretty, own it. Refine it.

Is your motivation connecting with people? Then make music that’s open to interpretation and keep accessible, vulnerable dialogue going with your fans. Be open about your flaws and your fans will respond with kinship.

Is your motivation self-expression? Then paint, share your sketches, give your fans glimpses into your process even when it doesn’t feel ready. Invite them to share their creativity with you and repost their fan videos, artwork, and tattoos.

And if it’s truly about attention and notoriety, own that too. Turn your music videos into clever, crazy stunts. Start conversations that will create controversy.

Connecting with your why will provide you with a wealth of ideas for furthering your work and reaching your fans. Don’t leave that gold mine untapped by leaving your motivation unexamined.

You Are Not a Product

Imagine you decide to make artisanal pie for a food fair. You put hours into making sweet, gooey filling and flaky crust and you’re convinced it’ll be a hit. But then when you set up shop, you have to compete with dozens of other food vendors, and no one is buying your pie. What would you do?

You’d probably start shouting at passers-by to make them aware of your presence. You’d call over someone attractive to help you sell yourself. Maybe you’d start offering limited-time discounts to people talking, and discount yourself even more as you got down to the last stale slices. You’re feeling desperate, but it can’t be worse than the horror of your pie going unappreciated.

Fortunately for you, you are not a desperate pie maker. But you may have been acting like one.

Being an artist is an anxiety-producing state (to say the least). Everything that goes wrong feels like a judgment on our character. Our successes or lack thereof fill us with self-doubt.

If I don’t get recognition for this album, someone else will steal my idea and get all the credit.

If there aren’t enough people at this show, it means my music isn’t good enough.

If I don’t achieve this level of popularity by the time I’m 32, I’ll be too old to become successful.

So sometimes we get into this place where we start thinking of ourselves like that pie, a limited quantity losing value as it grows stale. We start thinking that if we just shout loud enough, give away enough tickets, send enough email reminders, people will come consume us.

But you are not a product. You are an artist, with — believe it or not — an unlimited supply of creative ideas. Treating your art like a commodity product limits you to a flash-in-the-pan relationship with your fans when really you should be going after fans for life.

Keep this in mind next time you’re trying to sell more tickets or get more fans. If you find yourself shouting, take a step back and think about what insecurities you’re feeling right now. Then remind yourself that you’re an artist after building relationships, not a stale pie. Here are a few tips:

1) Maintain your dignity.

When ticket sales are low, no one’s entered your contest, or only a few people have downloaded your album, resist the urge to start shouting. Express your gratitude for those who’ve supported you so far. You’re in this for the long haul.

2) Let people come to you on their own time.

Part of the joy of being a music fan is feeling like you “discovered” a particular artist or album. Make your music easy to find, but give your fans the space to decide to listen on their own terms, not because you held them at gunpoint with discounts or whining.

3) Don’t devalue your product.

Giving art away for free can be a strategy, but be careful with discounts and sales intended just to move product. If you suddenly make your music super cheap, your fans might feel like it’s not worth paying attention to.

4) Give yourself a pep talk.

Being an artist is a tough job that requires a ridiculous amount of bravery. Give yourself some credit for the fact that you’re strong enough to create something and put it out into the world. If you’re not getting the recognition you feel you deserve from the outside world, take some time to give it to yourself. Nurturing yourself is the most sure way to get through this with your head held high.

Five Ways to Promote Your Art with Your Facebook Profile

Last week we talked about why solo artists still need to use pages on Facebook even if they have profile pages using the same name. But hopefully you didn’t take that as a directive to go out and delete your profile! Your Facebook profile can be a really useful thing for promoting your art. Here are a few suggestions of how to make the best use of it:

1) Use your cover photo and your About You box to point back to your page.

Create a cover photo that shows what exciting stuff you have going on right now — maybe it’s a new product, or a tour — and then add the URL to your page so your friends can know to go there for more official news. In your About You box, say something like, “‘Like’ my Facebook page for more news about my music! facebook.com/yoururlhere.”

2) Organize your friends into regional lists for easy invites to events.

This is one of my favorite things to do with a profile. Pages don’t have the ability to invite fans to events, but profiles do. As new friends come in, add them to lists by state or country so that you have a Utah list handy next time you’re playing in Salt Lake City. Then when it’s time, you can invite all those folks to the page’s official event.

3) Keep a street team list of friends who will help promote you.

Just as it’s helpful to have your friends organized by state, you can also make a friend list of your most engaged fans to have handy when you need their help.

4) Send personal messages.

On pages, you can only respond to messages sent to you by fans. But with your profile, you can reach out to any of your friends to invite them to a show or ask them to hang flyers at their local coffee shop. If you take the time to write individualized messages that aren’t spammy, your fans will feel super special knowing you took the time to write them personal messages.

5) Send a message about the page to the friend requests you don’t have room for.

Once you reach the coveted 5,000 friends, you can send new friend requests a sweet message apologizing that you can’t be friends but asking them to “Like” your page to stay in touch.

These tips can also apply to individual group members who maintain personal Facebook profiles and get friend requests from avid fans. Think of what all of you could do with 5,000 friends each!

Five Reasons Solo Artists Really Do Need Facebook Pages

Many a time has an artist using her birth name as her stage name asked me, “Do I really need a Facebook page, or can I just use my profile? My profile has more friends, and I think it’s more personal. Plus people search for my name on Facebook and just send me friend requests anyway.” This issue has only gotten more confusing since Facebook added the “Follow” option to profiles.

The answer is yes, you definitely need a page. Here’s why:

1) Your personal profile will be capped at 5,000 friends.

Maybe you’re nowhere close to that yet, but think long term. What are you going to do when you reach 5,000 friends? Are you going to play the tedious game of trying to figure out which people are least engaged and unfriend them? Or are you going to create a second profile and start accepting friend requests there? It’s best to have a page without a ceiling.

2) The number of fans on your page is a better marker of your actual reach.

Unless you’re buying fans to artificially boost your image, your page’s popularity is a much better indicator of your fan base than your friend count. A high friend count could just be a result of aggressive online networking. Your new friends get an ego boost out of accepting your friend request because they can add you to their friend number as well, whereas “Liking” your page does little to up their cool cred. (Plus you don’t have to go through and approve “Likes,” so they can happen more spontaneously.)

3) Pages give you access to analytics and insight about your fans.

Pages come with a whole slew of helpful stats on your fans such as top cities, age groups, demographics, and languages. This information will come in handy when you’re trying to define your audience or your top markets, but if you wanted to grab this from your personal page, you’d have to do a lot of really annoying manual searches. Pages also let you see how many people are seeing your posts, allowing you to judge what kinds of content do best with your audience, whereas posting from a personal profile can sometimes feel like shouting into a void.

4) You can use all sorts of cool apps on your page.

Pages let you feature apps of your choosing on your tabs, and most of the best apps, like Bandpage, PledgeMusic, Bandsintown — we aren’t talking Candy Crush here — only exist for pages. You can add apps to your profile, yes, but they’re hidden on the “More” tab and often buggy.

5) Pages are a more reliable resource for official news.

If a fan’s looking for information about when your album’s coming out, they’re going to look for a page rather than a profile. Pages have that coveted official air about them that lets people know that you’re a serious artist, not just a hobbyist.

So go set up that page! Pimp it out with great apps and add a “Like” button to your website. But you don’t need to dump your personal profile or keep it separate from your business life. Next week we’ll talk about great ways to market your art through your personal profile.

Use Substance, Not Exclamation Points, To Express Your Enthusiasm

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’ve got a big show coming up and you want to express to your audience just how much this performance is going to blow minds, so you write out a nice little message for them telling how excited you are.

I’m so thrilled to be playing at Johnny’s Pub and Dive later this month! This show is going to be great! Don’t miss it!!!!

And their response? Crickets.

What happened?

Unfortunately, simply stating that you’re excited doesn’t create enthusiasm in your audience. It says nothing substantive, so it’s easy to tune out, just like all of the baby photos and ads for teeth whitening on Facebook.

What to do?

You need substance for your promotion to compete with all of the other content. Instead of just saying that you’re looking forward to the show, tell your audience why they should be excited. Maybe you’re debuting a new song, or maybe Johnny’s has $2 beers. Do you have a funny story from last time you were at the venue? What are your fans going to be missing if they choose to stay home on the couch watching House of Cards instead?

You have an opportunity here both to make yourself stand out among the noise but also to show a little bit of your personality. That substance is what is going to hook people to read your messages long term.

Last time we played Johnny’s Pub, the sound blew out and we had to finish our last song a cappella. We thought it was going to be a disaster, but instead that change up turned out to be so awesome that we kept it in the song! Come out this Friday to see what we’ve done with the set. (Oh, and $2 beers don’t hurt.)

This approach will help keep your fans from feeling like you’re crying wolf every time you promote something.

Addressing Social Media Writer’s Block

I just don’t know what to say.

I’ve met so many people who say this to me when we’re talking about their social media profiles. They usually follow up with “I just don’t get Facebook,” or “I just say the same thing over and over,” or maybe “I’m bored.” And they shrug it off like it’s not something they can fix, so they hand it off to be someone else’s problem.

But there’s a missed opportunity here. In some ways that social media void is just like any other plain ol’ writer’s block. To blame it on the medium is to miss an opportunity to learn about yourself. Address your distaste for social media and you’ll address issues that may be affecting other parts of your creative life.

Writers’ block is usually caused by fear — fear that you’ll say something stupid, fear that you’re not good enough, fear that everyone — or no one — will read what you write. The brain fart you feel when staring at the “Write something” box is no different.

What do you feel when you go to post? Push past the boredom or annoyance that comes up initially. What are you afraid of?

Maybe you’re obsessing over what time of day to post because you’re afraid no one will read it. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll say something that doesn’t fit with your artist persona because you haven’t entirely thought your identity through yet. Maybe you’re afraid you’ve run out of truly creative ideas.

Notice and acknowledge the fear. Just because it’s tied to social media doesn’t mean it’s not legitimate. If you’re feeling afraid of any of these outcomes, that fear is likely tied into your art as well.

Fear can only control you if you don’t address it. To acknowledge and accept it is to regain power over it.

If you’re feeling anxious, put more preparation into your posts. Make a schedule of what you’re going to post this week. Type your status in a text editor in advance and sit with it for a while. Have a friend or a bandmate read what you’re going to say.

But don’t just say “Facebook is stupid” and leave it at that. If you make that excuse, you’re letting your unconscious fears hold you back.