Whenever the topic of social media is raised in any forum of the music industry, a choice discussion is always the practice of purchasing followers or views, allowing artists to game charts, rendering social activity unreliable and therefore less significant.
But often overlooked in this dismissal of the validity of social activity is the fact that building a significant social following is fairly pointless for an artist unless they successfully leverage that following at critical moments. To reach fans with a new lyric video, to spread the word about a tour, to gauge interest in an upcoming album release – ultimately to interact with fans and get instant feedback on what you are creating.
While a vast social following can be a valuable tool, only legitimate and loyal followers that engage with the content you provide through social channels, and ultimately your work, provide you with the reach and engagement you are seeking as an artist. For this very reason, it is important to look beyond totals, and start to measure the relationship between daily activity and the number of fans you have – a measure of engagement.
Artist manager Robbie Lackritz has been working with Leslie Feist – known only as Feist – for close to a decade, and has a strong sense of how to build valuable engagement with fans. Feist, who is a Canadian singer-songwriter with more than four solo studio albums under her belt as well as countless collaborations with other artists and bands, has maintained a successful career as an artist for many years now.
Her most commercially successful album came in 2007. The Reminder (the making of which is chronicled in her 2010 documentary Look At What The Light Did Now) earned her four nominations for Grammy awards in 2010, including Best New Artist. About her latest album Metals and their release strategy, Lackritz says “it was a lot more about finding a more engaged core of followers.”
With just shy of a million page likes on Facebook, 127,000 followers on Twitter and more than 20 million video views on Vevo, Feist is classified as a Mainstream musician. But for the artist and her management team, building the largest online following, and simply hocking social content for attention, has never been the goal.
While they see the value in cultivating a social following, and Lackritz regularly employs analytics to understand how fans are reacting online, the artist posts fairly infrequently online. Her Instagram account totals only 15 snaps and two videos, she rarely puts out more than one piece of content per week on Facebook, and her last tweet was in November.
For each individual post Feist has in her Facebook feed, there are hundreds, if not thousands of interactions from followers. But given that she is nearing the end of her current album cycle, and the relative infrequency of social activity, her audience engagement is defined as Moderate.
Next Big Sound identifies four levels of engagement: Occasional, Moderate, Strong, and Passionate. Audience engagement is defined by the relationship between daily activity and the overall size of an artist’s following, and then performance is measured against that of every artist in the database. Artists that are defined as Moderate, such as Feist, range from the 16th to the 84th percentile.
Engagement is not contingent on having a massive following. For instance, Taylor Swift’s audience engagement is also defined as Moderate, despite the fact that she has more than 77 million Facebook page likes, close to 50 million Twitter followers, and has just released her latest album to great fanfare. This measure is valuable for artists at any stage, to help them understand how they are reaching fans, and what content is reacting.
But be weary of engagement for the sake of engagement. “If we’re posting photos of cute cats, people are going to engage,” he says, “But when it comes down to the marketing of Feist, and what we put on her pages and why, we really try to center around where her head is at, and what she is working on.” The fans who follow and interact with Feist on social, attend her shows, enjoy the art of her album, and will help her sustain a career for many years to come.
“Her types of social media campaigns are far less active in volume of posts, but try to be much more curatorial about content,” Lackritz explains. “That lends itself to the type of career that she aspires to have – which is not about being the most gigantic artist on the face of the earth, but about having fans that really appreciate the deep cuts on the record, as much as they do the songs that radio might consider playing.”
“As nice as it is to have these social mediums of marketing to be able to engage people,” Lackritz says, “Don’t compromise the end result of why you do what you do, and what’s special about what you do.”
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. She takes a data-driven perspective to covering the ins and outs of the music industry. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, Forbes, Billboard, Hypebot and more.