How Twitter works (and why you need to know about it)

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Following yesterday’s post, I had quite an interesting conversation with someone from the didn’t-retweet band. What transpired over the course of the discussion was that, by the band’s own admission, they didn’t really understand how Twitter worked. More to the point, I got the feeling that the label didn’t really understand the medium, either. Social media have come so far in eclipsing websites and emails that is very worrying if anyone along the chain isn’t engaging with it properly, so I’m listing my response here (redacting names) in the hope that it would be helpful to anyone else who doesn’t really “get”  how it works.

I didn’t specifically ask for a retweet, but it’s kind of the done thing (you’re the only one who didn’t), so when both band and label are (re)tweeting everything else except that one piece, it feels a bit personal. It’s not like I was sobbing into my keyboard, but I thought, “If I’m feeling snubbed, and this happens to other people, then that would add up fast.” It’s like how someone at a PR agency I worked for never, ever called anyone back. “You didn’t return my call” sounds like the pettiest and most insignificant of complaints, but do it 20 times …

Taking Twitter specifically for the moment: it’s a more “conversational” medium than anything else. It’s the kind of medium where you can tweet a message @ someone pretty famous and have a reasonable expectation of a reply, because they’re sat right there and it takes just a second. Like, for example, I made a video game mod where I made a character look like Buffy actress Felicia Day, who voiced her, and someone else actually sent her the link without my knowledge. She retweeted the link with something like “Oh cool!” – and that of course made my day when someone showed it to me. Took her maybe four seconds, boosts her profile, makes her look down-with-the-kids. Which is why Twitter culture has evolved that way – with the expectation on both sides of a retweet: it’s win-win.

Twitter moves very, very fast and is based on quantity rather than quality. If I was your label, I’d be retweeting each and every interview at this stage – first and foremost because it keeps the name [of the band] as a constant mantra in followers’ feeds (which might have 500+ entries per day). You don’t even have to put a comment, just hit the retweet button, which takes literally one second. [The label] just seem to be tweeting every comment (“great show last night!” from some random user) but few links to any interviews or articles on the band. All I can see is something from [print magazine], but as a fan I’d be wanting to see everything the band was doing. So I guess it is the label’s, rather than the artist’s, responsibility, but based on the few times I’ve interacted with [the label] in the past, I’m guessing they’re not as reliable at responding to people as you are.

Never mind, though – when you’re “properly famous”, you will have minions to do all this.

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Obviously, when the band reach that level, they can of course afford to be selective – but it’s surprising just how big you have to be to be able to pick and choose. In terms of granting interviews, in my fanzine days, many of the bands I talked to for my itty bitty little rag were top 10 in the charts. I was frequently told that my ‘zine was “for people who don’t read fanzines” – people found it easy to read (in both layout and content) so more people actually read it, so they’d grant the more prestigious interviews in the hope that the right people saw the little buzz-piece on their emerging new act.

These days, it’s all about buzz. There are blogs specifically about how many mentions a specific act gets each week, and it doesn’t matter who mentions them, how or where. There’s a logic to that, as well, because you really don’t know who is reading what or why. This blog, for example, is entirely at the whims of Google. In a good month, this blog has more readers than the print magazines I used to write for (occasionally, combined!). You just don’t know if your piece is going to reach 50 people or 50,000 people – so you can’t say off-hand whether the link is valuable or worthless. Yes, yes, that’s all small beans next to Pitchfork or the NME, but the sheer volume of information on the internet means that people have to hear the same thing several times before it really sinks in, so just tweeting that one link to Pitchfork is not going to cut it. Also remember that each time you retweet that link to the mention of your band, you are increasing the number of mentions your band has received that week.

It’s like how Chloe Howl’s new promo videos are just close-ups of her face: it’s the only way you’ll remember her because there is just so much competition these days. If you’re not in people’s faces practically 24 hours a day, they will simply forget about you. Well, in fairness, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone would forget this particular band, but they will start to slip down people’s priority lists when it comes to purchasing decisions when they’re up against another band (or their representatives) tweeting out links daily to new information.

The “information” part is crucial, because just retweeting “this band rocks!” does not pique the curiosity of the reader, and is therefore quickly forgotten. People are following the band/label in order to find out more, so you have to keep feeding and stimulating that curiosity. That and, as a fan of the band, I want to read every interview the band does – not just the “big” ones – because they’ll hopefully not give the same interview to everyone so as a reader it doesn’t matter whether it’s WordPress or The Wire.

So it comes down to a lot more than, as the band puts it, “promoting every article” – it’s a symbiosis of self-promotion that coincidentally promotes the article. As to who does the promoting, that comes down to the increasingly blurred line between label and band – with some labels explicitly not taking responsibility for certain media coverage. It’s one of the things bands have to agree with their labels – or risk each assuming that it is the other’s responsibility and nobody doing it at all.

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