The Social Media Marketing Mistake President Trump Can Help Artists and Musicians Avoid

Trump's Social Media strategy

When trying to come up with a widely recognized example of good social media marketing, it’s hard to pass up our president. Love him or hate him, you have to admit Trump has made Twitter work wonders for him. 

But how? 

If you think about it, he didn’t get his start by tweeting anything original or earthshattering. The Birther movement, for instance, had already been around for years by the time Trump started posting about it. He may have been unique in his emphasis on the need for a wall on the southern border, but even that wasn’t all that different from ideas many others were floating. 

So, what did Trump do to build up his following? How did he make such an impact on our culture—an impact any artist would understandably envy? 

Social media definitely has its downsides, and many of us love to kvetch about them. But the various platforms also offer wonderful opportunities for both keeping in touch with existing audiences and reaching new ones. That’s why the biggest companies invest boatloads of time, effort, and cash into their social media marketing. 

One implication of the insane popularity of Facebook et al is that competition for attention on these platforms is as fierce as it is high-stakes. Except in rare cases, if your business or artistic enterprise isn’t doing well on social media, it’s not doing well anywhere else—or if it is, it won’t be for long. 

 So, what is an artist, musician, startup, or small business to do? The big players have big budgets, which means higher-quality photography, higher-tech videography, more thoughtful content writing, and more expert graphic design. It also means better data analytics, which in turn means more effective strategies. 

Except in rare cases, if your business or artistic enterprise isn’t doing well on social media, it’s not doing well anywhere else—or if it is, it won’t be for long.

Bottom line: if you can’t afford a whole team of experts, your chances of getting anyone’s attention, much less your chances of getting anyone to take action, are miniscule at best… or so it would seem.  

(Andrew Lamping, CEO of the local agency Cyclone Social, has a great post about why you need an entire social media team—but the article you’re reading now is meant to show why that isn’t necessarily the case.)  

Faced with these dismal odds, you may be tempted to throw up your hands and give up on all these platforms altogether. More commonly, artists and small businesses take a minimalist approach, posting on occasion on the most popular platforms, but not putting much time or effort into their strategy, thinking all the while they’ll get to it eventually, after they’ve gotten big enough to devote more resources to it. 

You see posts from people like this all the time. Musicians write about where they’ll be performing. Small businesses post pictures of every new hire, or they design basic graphics to announce sales. The important thing is to be on the most-visited platforms, the thinking goes, so people can find you if they’re searching. As for using social media to reach and attract new clients or audience members, well, you’ll get to that when you have more time and a bigger budget, right? 

Now, I’m not saying if you think this way, you’re completely wrong. Sometimes, Trump’s own posting strategy boils down to little more than live-tweeting as he watches the news. It’s true, having some presence on social media is far better than not having any. It’s also true that the big businesses have their posting down to a science, so going head-to-head with them wouldn’t be a good use of your time or money. 

But this is all missing a larger point. 

Social media posting shouldn’t be thought of as a marketing strategy in its own right; it’s only one part of a comprehensive approach. Another way to put this is that prioritizing social media over all other marketing and outreach efforts is putting the cart before the horse. Social media marketing works best as either a force-multiplier for your networking efforts or as a distribution channel for other marketing content. 

What this means is that you don’t need to have the most advanced video technology or the most talented graphic designer to get the social platforms to work for you. Again, look at Trump’s tweets; they don’t exactly seem like the work of a team of experts. Many of the most expertly produced videos I see in my feeds have the fewest likes and shares. Meanwhile, videos shot on phones while people are just driving around and talking are catching fire every day. don’t need to have the most advanced video technology or the most talented graphic designer to get the social platforms to work for you.

You’re probably thinking, well, that’s because whoever’s behind the wheel in those videos is already famous—like the president. And you’re right. But in that observation lies the key to understanding what it really takes to grow your audience on social media. Think about it, did the person in that video getting all those likes and shares get famous before or after they started posting videos on the platform? 

Networking over Broadcasting

Sites like Facebook tempt us into thinking we’re broadcasting our posts to the masses. In fact, most of us have small circles of friends who regularly see our content in their feeds. You can grow your circle, of course, which is the whole point of marketing. But, in light of how few people will actually see any given post, paying a bunch of money for an ad, no matter how high-tech, doesn’t make much sense. 

Okay, so you just pay a little extra to boost your ad, right? Unfortunately, not many companies have mastered the art of turning boosted posts into bigger followings (though I hear some are doing quite well on Instagram). Your ad would have to appeal very specifically, and very personally, if it were to be effective at all. If you think competing with other content on social media is hard in general, you won’t even want to touch paid advertisements. 

(There are situations when boosting posts is a good idea, but I’ll save that topic for another time.)

So, how do you get more people to see your posts? Well, it starts with getting followers and friends. But getting followers and friends does notstart on social media. It starts in the real world. It’s no coincidence that the people who have the biggest followings on social media are the people who do the best at networking through old-fashioned face-to-face meetings. 

Sites like Facebook tempt us into thinking we’re broadcasting our posts to the masses. In fact, most of us have small circles of friends who regularly see our content in their feeds.

This brings us back to the central theme we’re always trying to emphasize. Before you can use online tools to grow your audience, you need to concentrate on building (or finding) an offline community of people who appreciate your work. Once you’ve become a valued member of a community, you have the building blocks of a larger following. 

So, the first thing you should do if you want to get more likes and shares is find out where the people who would most appreciate your work are hanging out and start hanging out there yourself. Once you’re there, talk to everyone who looks interested in talking. Ask about their work. Ask them if you can find their work online. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself striking up a friendship through both online and offline interactions. Now you have another potential liker and sharer. 

At first, you simply need to accept that community-building is going to be painstaking—one handshake and business-card-exchange at a time. But at some point, assuming there’s any demand for your work at all, your endeavors will start building momentum. For one, people like to get in on things lots of other people are doing (the basis of FOMO), so when they see your post or event listing has a couple dozen likes they’ll be more apt to take a closer look. Plus, the social media platforms factor your friends likes and shares into their algorithms to determine what to feature at the top of their feeds. 

Before you can use online tools to grow your audience, you need to concentrate on building (or finding) an offline community of people who appreciate your work.

The upshot is that popularity breeds more of itself. It’s true, a lot of this happens on social media, but it won’t happen at all if you’re not doing a lot of it in-person.

This is good news for artists, musicians, and small businesses. You don’t need to be making high-tech commercials. You need to be contributing to a community. You need to be building on your relationships. Social media can help you with this—but you probably won’t have much luck if you’re doing it exclusively on social media. 

In-Person Events

Let’s do a thought experiment: you’re given the task of taking over the Twitterverse, even if for only half a day. So, you sit down and start trying to come up with the cleverest tweet in the history of tweeting. You may even do some research to see which kinds of posts get the most likes and retweets. You come up with an idea. You post it to the platform. And then… nothing. 

What went wrong?  

Let’s go back to the example of Trump again. Not to start a debate, but I think most of us can agree his tweets didn’t gain prominence owing solely to their cleverness. They didn’t go viral for their originality either. So why were they so successful? 

The mistake in the thought experiment above lies in the focus on the individual tweet. Instead of trying to come up with the cleverest thing in the world to say yourself, you should have been trying to get other people to tweet about you. 

That is to say, Trump didn’t win at Twitter because of the things he tweeted. He won because he was so good at getting attention on himself before he ever even signed on to the platform. And how did he do that? 

What Trump is really a master of is the political rally. As Ed Pilkington wrote in The Guardian, “There’s no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his rallies.” Participating in a Trump campaign event is completely different from attending a speech by any other politician. True, what he says upsets many, but that only heightens the appeal for his supporters.

A Trump event is a spectacle. It’s entertaining. It’s unforgettable. And it appeals powerfully to the kinds of people who feel like most politicians and journalists look down on them. It’s not even about what he says—which is why all the fact-checking journalists do is beside the point—but rather the fact that he’s willing to say anything that comes to his mind. He’s not afraid to raise the hackles of the elites. And, again, love him or hate him, you have to admit his heedlessness makes him hard to ignore. 

Supporters come away from Trump’s rallies not only entertained but energized. That’s why when they sign onto Twitter and see his posts, they can’t hit the like button hard enough. Before long, his messages are trending, and even people who don’t support him have to reckon with them. 

The key takeaway here is that Trump is successful on Twitter because of what he’s doing off Twitter. And that’s what you need to do as well. Of course, as an artist, musician, or small business owner, you’re not going to give a stump speech. But you should be thinking about what kind of in-person events you could be hosting, whether it’s a live performance, a showing, or anything else. 

(Mayor Tom Henry explains how important in-person events like “Mayor’s Night In” are to his social media strategy in an excellent interview Jessica Morales did for Input Fort Wayne.) 

You should also be thinking about how you can make it more entertaining and memorable than the run-of-the-mill show other artists are putting on. You need to make your events post-worthy. Most of all, you should be thinking about how you can connect deeply with your audiences—and how you can help them connect deeply with each other. 

Digital Marketing beyond Social Media

By now it’s clear that you shouldn’t be thinking about what to put into any individual social media post to get people to pay attention. Instead, you should prioritizedoing things in real lifethat may get other people to talk about you on social media. 

But there is one other thing platforms like Twitter and Facebook are good for, and that’s getting people to your website. Unfortunately, many artists, musicians, and small businesses treat their websites as an afterthought—if they ever bother to set one up at all. And why would you? Websites are expensive, and anything you can post to one you can just as easily post to one of the social media platforms for free.

The mistake in this reasoning lies in a failure to grasp just how shallowly most people engage with posts on social media. (It’s so shallow that by one estimate one email subscriber is worth more than a thousand Facebook likes.) You can get a ton of likes on your posts and still not get anyone to buy your album or show up at your gig. 

Of course, the difficulty of getting anyone to take action on social media applies to following links to your web content as well. But having a path to more of your content is far better than leaving everyone satisfied with clicking a thumbs-up.  

So, what kind of content should you have on your website? We’ll talk about that in the next post. Stay tuned.