By Rita Ballou
(March/April 2012/vol. 5 – Issue 2)
Remember “back in the day” — that is, approximately four years ago — when, if you wanted to have a moment with one of your favorite Texas/Red Dirt music “scenelebrites,” you would have to do it the good old-fashioned way? That is, you would walk up to them at the bar after the show and actually say hello in person. That’s always been one of the coolest things about our own little music scene: even the biggest stars are (usually) approachable. It’s a big reason why the fans stay so loyal to their favorite artists. And now, thanks to the magic of the Internet, interacting with those stars is easier than ever; you don’t even have to stalk the merch table any more. All you have to do is click the little button that says “Follow.”
Ahhh … Twitter!
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a Twitter addict. Since I joined the micro-blogging service two years ago, I’ve tweeted over 5,040,000 characters. Truthfully, I guess I am a textbook example of what some professionals say is wrong with today’s society. I am the queen of the “over-share,” and I have the attention span of a gnat. I am basically a toddler that craves constant feedback and instant gratification. I am celebrity obsessed. These are all the reasons why Twitter is my happy place … and I am not ashamed to admit it.
Don’t judge me. Or do. I don’t care, because apparently I am not the only one with a Twitter addiction. According to Wikipedia, since Twitter was launched in 2006, more than 300 million people have signed up for an account. And there is no doubt that a lot of that popularity is due to the phenomenon of the “Celebrity Twit.” The Twitaverse is full of famous people! Famous people over-sharing and fishing for constant feedback just like the rest of us!
If an artist uses their Twitter account correctly, it can do more things for their “image” or “brand” than just about anything … especially when it comes to building and maintaining a fan presence online. What fan doesn’t want to have a peephole into their favorite singer’s life? Now, I understand that Twitter’s not for everyone, famous or not; as Jason Boland says, “Do I really want people knowing what I am eating for breakfast? I don’t. The fact that anyone would care weirds me out.” Fair enough. But I still think Twitter can be a win/win for everyone. Fans may not need to know what their favorite artist’s favorite cereal is, but if they want to share, where’s the harm? Artists really shouldn’t be surprised at how little effort it takes to make us fans feel like they’re sharing a lot — and how charming it is. We love seeing pictures of Cody Canada and his family dressed up for Halloween, or of Randy Rogers posing with George W., or of Kevin Fowler and Sunny Sweeney tackling a beer bong. We want to know when Rich O’Toole gets wasted at a Waffle House and dances on the counter top. Twitter allows artists an opportunity to give us all a controlled look into what they’re doing, what they’re digging, what they’re thinking — instantly. And if what they’re up to happens to be releasing a new album or single or video or announcing a show they’re really excited about (more on that in a bit), well, they already had our undivided attention at “Sugar Smacks.”
All that said though, Twitter can be dangerously easy to misuse, too. “Unfollowing” an artist is as easy as following them, and coming across as obnoxious or impersonal on Twitter can be as off-putting to even the most hardcore of fans as “selling out” or releasing a real stinker of a single. So, because I am the self-proclaimed Twitter Po-Po, I’ve come up with a few tips to hopefully help artists Tweet their fans right … and vice versa.
Tweet or get off the twit
Twitter is not MySpace. It’s not your website, and it’s not Facebook. It should be more personal. Try to think of Twitter as a place to interact with or hang out with your fans, not just as a place to plug yourself nonstop. Don’t get me wrong — it is perfectly acceptable and smart to use your Twitter account to promote your projects, gigs and merch, but if that is the only reason you use it, don’t expect us to keep following you. Twitter is not the place to post 50 automatic Reverbnation concert dates; that is called SPAM. And speaking of impersonal … hey Pat Green, the jig is up — we’re not stupid! It’s obvious when someone other than the actual artist is running their official account. Also, artists need to know that most of their followers are not waiting on pins and needles to go vote for them every time they’re in the running for some award or contest. A quick mention of one or two of those things a year is fine, but after that, you’re on thin ice. This means you, Roger Creager.
More cowbell, less horn tooting
The number one most annoying thing any artist can do on Twitter is constantly retweet their own compliments. Ugh! Think about it: Would you walk up to a huge group of people and immediately say, “so and so told me today that I was the best singer, writer, and entertainer in the whole wide world”? And then say again 22 more times? Of course not. That is just tacky. There is a huge difference between the RETWEET (RT) button and the REPLY button. Learn it.
The concept of “thank you” is one we all should have learned in kindergarten and it doesn’t change because you are on the computer. When someone gives you a compliment, just hit the REPLY button and say “thanks.” Trust me, the person who wrote it will be more giddy over an actual one-on-one response than a retweet. Also, if someone asks you a question, hit REPLY and answer it! And if you are really excited about receiving praise, mark the tweet as a FAVORITE. It is just that simple.
I am not saying a few RTs here and there aren’t fun, especially if someone you really respect has something cool or funny to say to or about you; but clogging up the Twitter feeds of all 26,000 of your followers with a RT of every single 16-year-old girl on the internet humping your leg like a cocker spaniel isn’t going to do anything to spread your music OR get you new followers. It is going to get your ass unfollowed! The best way to get the boot off of someone’s list is to remind them how often you get your ass kissed. If you are good at what you do, people will take notice without you having to shove it down their throats.
The Twitter war
Is there anything more entertaining than watching a celebrity cat fight unfold in real time? I say no. I personally love watching a Twitter war go down, but are they a Twitter Do or a Don’t? I think it just depends on the fight. If you are famous and fighting with another celebrity, that’s good drama, so by all means, bring it on! But if you are having a feud with just a normal boring person — like, let’s just say, a blogger — you might win the war, but in the long run you are probably going to end up looking like an asshole. (See the next tip.)
The most recent example of a great celeb vs. celeb Twitter war is the Miranda Lambert/Chris Brown smack down after the Grammy Awards. I honestly don’t even remember what the fight was about, but I know the media couldn’t stop talking about it. Getting into a heated 140-character shit-talking showdown is guaranteed to get your name mentioned on all the entertainment news blogs. And for the rest of us, it’s just fun to sit back, pick sides, root for our team and watch the fireworks. Another recent Twitter smackdown was Jason Isbell vs. Dierks Bentley, which started when Jason threw a twantrum accusing Dierks of plagiarizing his 2007 song “Razor in this Town” with his new single, “Home.” Not only did Jason provoke Dierks into fighting back (well, sort of — Dierks kept getting Jason’s Twitter handle wrong in his own Tweets), but he basically drove 232,000 of Dierks’ followers who otherwise might not have heard of him to listen to his own song. Naturally, seemingly every single music website from Billboard.com to CMT.com reported on the story. You can’t even buy that kind of publicity! (As for Dierks, I somehow doubt any of it hurt his new album sales a bit.)
If you can’t take the heat, get outta the Tweet
If you are an artist, criticism is just part of the job. Hell, it is part of EVERYONE’S job. If you are so insecure that you feel the need to try to defend your music to every single person with a Twitter account that has something negative to say, you got in the wrong line on career day. Anonymous keyboard terrorists are just like spoiled toddlers: sometimes negative attention just makes them worse. If you give in to them, you are getting played because that is exactly what they want. There is a reason why Twitter has a “BLOCK” feature, so don’t let your ego get in the way of using it. It’s far better to spend your time focusing on the people that DO like what you do. Oh, and if you do take the high road, don’t spoil it by letting your manager, publicist, or spouse do your dirty work for you. That’s just bush league and unprofessional.
Don’t be a humble bragger
The “Humble Brag” runs rampant all over the scenelebrity Twitter terrain. Examples:
“Played to a packed house at Gruene Hall last night. I hope the long lines were worth the wait.”
Oh gee, what a perfect way to tell the world you are so awesome that people will stand in line for hours and hours just to watch you sing — all while fishing for a compliment.
“It is too damn loud to watch the game at Cowboys Stadium, it is much easier to follow the game on TV. *Insert Twitpic of the 50 yard line.*”
“That sharpie left a dent on my fingers. I have never signed that many autographs at one place.”
Just. Shut. Up.
I think at some point we’ve all been guilty of being a humble bragger before, and most humble brags are probably unintentional. And hey, if you want to brag about something really special every once in a while, go for it! Just be upfront about it. If you’re excited to be standing next to George Strait at some exclusive party, don’t try to hide it behind a bullshit complaint. And if you’ve just won a big award or cracked the Top 10 on some chart or other, share the good news but please don’t tell us how “humbled” you are by it, because if you were really that humble, you wouldn’t be telling anyone, now would you? Just enjoy the moment honestly and chances are, your fans will be as excited as you are.
Don’t be a diva
Let me be the first say, I know this particular “Don’t” might seem harsh and not really fair to the majority of the “scenelebrity” Tweeters. I totally respect that your job is hard. Who wants to be on the road, eating gross food, getting stuck in stinky airports and being away from their loved ones for days on end? No one does. And honestly, we’re all entitled to bitch about a shitty day at the office every now and then. But use your common sense. If your van breaks down on the road and you miss a gig, grouse away. If you’ve been on the road for weeks and you really miss your wife, kids, or dog, it’s OK to say so. If your trailer got jacked last night in the hotel parking lot or some asshole stole your guitar after a gig, sound the Twitter alarm and your fans will spread the word like wildfire. But if you’re just stuck on the bus during an extra day in Kansas City because it’s too rainy to go golfing … keep that to yourself, OK? Also, don’t tweet about your bus’ AC or satellite TV/Internet being on the fritz, unless you want every D-list band and their loyal fans jumping on your spoiled ass like flies on stink. And although we love to see the pictures every time you are in the VIP luxury box at a Texas Rangers game, don’t expect us to feel sorry for you when you tweet about the beer backstage at the following night’s crappy gig being warm.
Talk to us, not at us
Don’t forget that social interaction is the entire point of having a Twitter account and it is the best way to give your fans some personal insight into who you are and what you are doing. Not everything you say has to be about music or where you are playing tonight. Twitter is the new water cooler, so tell us what you thought about last night’s ball game, your thoughts on current events, or even about you guilty pleasures (junk food, reality TV shows, that certain pop/mainstream country artist you’re supposed to hate but don’t, etc.) All that stuff helps us relate to you. Believe it or not, we love hearing about it when Bart Crow’s new baby poops on him, or when Kevin Fowler is teaching his teenager how to drive.
Oh! And speaking of social interaction — if you feel inclined to “Direct Message” a follower about something, be courteous enough to “follow” them, too, so they can message you back if they want to, at least in response. If they end up abusing that courtesy and start DM’ing you constantly, you can always “unfollow” them when you’ve had enough.
Post pictures and videos
A picture is worth a thousand words (and millions of characters). We love to see it when you meet someone else famous or when your drummer passes out and gets pantsed or when your dog gets a new sweater. Trust me.
Have fun with it
Not everyone is a stand-up comedian and not everyone is even interesting, but we don’t care. Be yourself, but also try to give your Twitter a personality of it’s own. Don’t be afraid to be a dork. Not everything you write has to be philosophical and thought-provoking. If fans can tell you are having fun with them, they are more apt to engage with you — and keep attending your shows, buying your records, and spreading the good word.
Now, please don’t think I am letting the fans off the hook! Just like there is proper etiquette for the famous, there are also some rules for us peasants to remember, too. Well, mainly, there’s one rule:
The possibility of interacting with celebrities is one of the coolest things about Twitter. I remember the first time Hayes Carll tweeted me and how badly I geeked out; I printed it out, laminated it and have it pinned on my memory board to this day. But there is a difference between having a memorable make-believe cyber conversation with someone famous and begging relentlessly for their attention. Do NOT pester them for a retweet. All it does is make you look straight-up desperate. And really, what’s the point? Do you really think other people will start following you just because you guilted Stoney LaRue into hitting a button on his phone? Is that really worth looking like a pathetic beggar?
I’m coming up on my 140-character limit here, so I’ll wrap things up with a few “forward follow” recommendations of some of my favorite Twitterbugs — (most) all of whom exemplify scenelebrity tweeting at its best:
Sunny Sweeney (@gettinsweenered)
Sunny tweets random, funny, and down-to-earth observations. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and she is just deprecating enough to show that her humility is real.
Aaron Watson (@aaron_watson)
You aren’t going to find anything controversial on Aaron’s timelines, but he is great at doing last minute surprise contests for things like free tickets and not just when he has a new album coming out. He is also good for a cute kid picture at least once a week.
Drew Kennedy (@dk_kennedy)
Drew tweets great road pictures and interesting nuggets about his day-to-day life, and he never uses auto-posts.
Bo Phillips (@bophillpsband)
If you follow Bo you will read some of the funniest, most random tweets to be found in the whole Twitterverse. He is also great at interacting with his fans and asking for their opinions.
Ray Wylie Hubbard (@raywylie) and Judy Hubbard
Following the Hubbards banter back and forth with each other on Twitter is a hoot. They are honest, knowledgeable and really, really funny. Until some network does the smart thing and puts a reality television crew in their home, this is the second best thing.
Josh Abbott (@joshabbottband)
Josh makes me want to pull out all of my hair because he breaks every single one of my aforementioned Twitter rules. He will RT every single compliment he gets, he humble brags his ass off, and — this one was a classic — he will not only complain about a normal, middle-aged woman having the audacity to eat a ham sandwich next to him on an airplane, he will even go so far as to post a picture of her with a bitchy diva “#travelingproblems” hashtag. In short, Josh’s tweets infuriate me — but I love to hate them so much, I just can’t read enough of them.