Social media has…

…been marketed as one of the possible saviors of classical music.  And, I mean, it’s done a lot for it, don’t get me wrong.  If nothing else, it’s created a spot for a social media intern, someone who’s (maybe?) getting paid to tweet/Facebook on behalf of the orchestra…and that’s gotta be pretty awesome, right?

I guess my problem is that while classical musicians have embraced social media, they’re not quite following the unwritten the rules.  My main criticism lies with Twitter-abuses, because Facebook is kinda beyond the point of redemption.  It’s not like ensembles are posting photos of their three-month-olds or trying to get us to joing Farmville, but now that it seems that every business in the world has to have a Facebook page, the novelty has worn out.  So yeah, I imagine that Facebook is where a group’s more stale, vanilla content is going to be, because that’s where my mom is a member.  It’s a cool hub for things to link back to, but it lacks intimacy, because it’s a virtual storefront.  It’s like a summer home from your website, but let’s be honest: it’s a summer home, but somewhere in upstate New York taken from a Joyce Carol Oates novel.

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Twitter, on the other hand, has that capacity to reach out in ways that still seem fresh and new, or at least not as about-to-become-MySpace as Facebook feels these days.

(Instagram hasn’t really caught on for classical music social media just yet because nobody cares what The Vienna Philharmonic ate for dinner last night, no matter what crappy filter you put on it.  Though, I would LOVE to see some selfies of orchestra members duck-facing into the bathroom mirror with a caption like, “tuxedo again tonight LOL!”)

To me, Twitter has so much untapped potential, but because it’s not used correctly, it’s not very effective.  The worst is when an ensemble uses Twitter as a place to plaster ads for things that could just as easily go on Facebook, often with a link to their Facebook page that tells you the exact thing you just read.  How is telling me that you’re playing Beethoven’s Fifth (ugh!) and linking me to your Facebook page telling me you’re playing *gasp* Beethoven’s Fifth benefitting your audience?  All it’s doing is driving fake visits to your Facebook page, which isn’t going to turn people who weren’t going to the concert into people that are going to go (“Well, I really hate Beethoven but I love Facebook, so I’m totally in now!”).  

Twitter is a place for you to offer gateways to meaningful content to people who care enough about your ensemble to follow you!  You can go a long, long way toward educating your audience with a well-placed link to an interview, article, or resource about Beethoven’s Fifth, which will enrich the concert experience for everybody who clicked the link.  Boom, instant lecture.  Suddenly, people are more engaged with the material, in a way that makes more sense than just telling me THAT you’re playing this piece.

The other great thing about Twitter is the assumption that you are talking to a person on the other end (unless you follow @Horse_ebooks, then your’e not…wait, you didn’t know that?  Oops!).  This is that perfect (and in many cases ONLY) chance for your ensemble to express its personality online.  Remember, Facebook Pages are more like virtual buildings in a virtual city.  Twitter accounts somehow signify individuals.  There is nothing worse than posting a boring list of bite-size press releases from a bored social media intern.  The job of the intern should be to constantly be interacting and cultivating an audience to your site.  To do this, the social media intern has to perform as the voice of the ensemble.  Granted, you’ve gotta have the right person for the job, but once you do, it makes a world of difference.

This offense leads to another offense, where someone combs through Twitter searches and follows me out of the blue. (“This guy said violin once, let’s follow him!”)  This is not the best use of your resources.  Let the people come to you, otherwise it appears desperate.

Random following also gets peoples’ hopes up.  I’m a composer, and I use social media for work.  I assume that on some level, an ensemble that follows me is interested in developing some kind of professional relationship.  Oftentimes, I’m then let down when all that ensemble wants from me is to donate to their Kickstarter so that they can get this other guy’s music performed/recorded/whatever.  Now, I’m no fool: I know that the New York Phil’s twitter intern is not going to get me a commission (no matter how much I beg…call me!!!), but for many of us on the front lines of new music, that can be a realistic goal!  Networking is about engaging your followers, not just spouting off what you want them to hear.  If you were in a bar, and some good-looking person at the bar sat down next to you and asked if you would buy him/her a drink, how many would you buy that person before you’d start to feel a little used?  That’s what it’s like when you follow every just-as-broke-as-you musician on the Web and then hei them up for cash for your project.  Identify who you are following, and what the implications of it are.

Twitter is the most powerful social media tool out there right now, so long as you use it effectively.  Not doing so can unintentionally paint you in the wrong light, and keep you from making the right kinds of connections online.

  2 comments for “Social media has…

  1. 01/03/2013 at 9:58 am

    While I do agree with the initial offense of “random following.” On the positive side, I will say that Twitter searches are an interesting way of discovering new music by living composers. Most people list their websites in their profile, one can then mosey on down to their working website and get a feel for what is out there in the world of modern composition. It gives people a chance to expand their world views outside of their own and for this seemingly “random” follows are worth it. Perhaps this is just me being young and idealistic but in mind that is a pretty decent trade-off.

  2. 01/03/2013 at 12:44 pm

    Totally right, Elizabeth. As a composer, I’m pretty desperate for anyone to listen to my stuff, and I’ve put my website right in my profile for just that reason! My complaint is with people who follow me without taking the time to develop a relationship with me at all. Some even go over the top and hit me up for cash! I do donate to stuff and support the community and all, but I’d like to actually know people first!

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