While the world of social networking allows us the opportunity to stay in closer touch with our relatives
and friends, it also give us something that is a relatively new phenomenon; constant access to entertainers.
A quick glance at your Twitter feed can give you a glimpse into what your favourite musicians, actors, comedians, and writers are doing and with that comes the feeling that you know them.
After a couple of weeks of reading about someone’s iPod playlists, home renovations, evening’s out, holidays, and menial errands it’s hard not to get the sense that you know them. Until recently, that sort of information was only shared in day to day interactions with those closest in our lives.
The question becomes; as entertainers, how much of yourself do you owe your audience?
As I was preparing to write this piece, I was listening to an old Minutes of Mayhem podcast from comedy writer/radio host/all around funny guy Neal Mayhem and, serendipitously, he spoke of something along these very lines on his programme.
He and his sidekick, Dolly, were speaking of Twitter and how easily people get swept up in the feeling that they are “friends” with people once they’ve exchanged a message or two. He even spoke of someone, referring to them as a friend, then realising that he’s never actually met said person.
This happens constantly with “regular” people- with anyone in entertainment, it seems to intensify tenfold.
On countless occasions I’ve gotten text messages from friends (real life friends, mind you) or seen people retweet (for those non-Twitterers, a retweet is simply a “forward” of a Twitter message someone has sent to you or mentioned you in) messages from a favourite singer/actor who had taken a moment to acknowledge them in some small way.
It obviously doesn’t take a long time to type out a (maximum) 140 character Twitter message, but when someone whose work you admire greatly has spent a moment on you and known for that small period of time that you exist, it’s a feeling that fans appreciate and carry with them always.
With the lines of privacy being ever blurred by views into people’s lives, the luxury of sites such as Twitter is that artists can control the content.
While I don’t feel that the general public is, in any way, entitled to private details of artist’s lives simply because they bought their tracks on iTunes and paid for a few concert tickets, it becomes difficult to maintain that perspective when you come across an artist who is comfortable sharing the details of their non-public life.
That said, it’s relatively easy to be active on Twitter, engage your fans, keep them happy, and still maintain your well-deserved personal space.
Stick to general topics and questions about music, books, or television. Anything at all, really. Not only will the fans get the feeling that you generally care about and appreciate their opinions, but it’s a completely non-personal and non-invasive question. Everyone has an opinion on such things and, not only will it get fans chatting with you (making them feel oh-so-loved) but it will also get them chatting amongst one another, which is always beneficial in cementing the sense of community in your fan base.
(The following suggestion is a rather controversial one. I’d like to say it’s because it’s so absolutely original and groundbreaking, but really it’s because many think it can border on the side of pretentiousness.)
Put up a favourite quote. I know that some feel it’s better to say nothing than to do this but I very respectfully disagree.
People love few things more than gaining insight into the genius of the artists whom they admire and getting a glimpse into the music, books, and films that they enjoy is a simple way to do that. It doesn’t involve posting intimate details of your personal life and can lead to a really interesting exchange. It’s also fairly non-committal as it’s easy to copy and paste a quote and be done with it.
Another very simple thing to do is keep it about business. If you only talk about your music, so (presumably) will your followers.
Discuss your records, ask people what their favourite tracks are, ask for fans’ memories from a favourite gig, talk about your latest recording session, mention any new songs you may be writing, or say something about an interview or video that just got filmed. There are so many facets to a career in music that the list could go on ad nauseum.
Not only does this keep your personal life out of it, the fans still feel actively engaged in your career and don’t feel jilted. If you’re always putting up tidbits of information, they’ll always feel appreciated and like they’re among the first to know something.
The benefit artists have over “regular” people in this instance, is that they can get away with a lot more. It may irritate someone immensely that an old schoolmate has posted a photo of the pancakes they had for breakfast but such silly things tend to be more appreciated when coming from someone with whom you have little more to identify with than song; take advantage of this!
As time goes on and we muddle our way through the web of social networking etiquette, we will hopefully become better equipped at what we should and should not do.
Until such time, we’ll just have to our best to maintain a grip on the very real distinction between “real life” and “Twitter life”.
*Very kind regards to @MinutesofMayhem for allowing me to cite him.