How to make sense of social media and convert followers into lifelong fans by Phil Barley


I’ve always been sceptical of social media. Is it really as useful or necessary as everyone seems to say it is or are we all just joining in because we don’t want to be left behind? Even if I have 1000s of followers, will it help me to sell more records? I sat down with actor Phil Barley, founder of and co-founder of Digital Surgeon to find out how we can make social media work for us.

The Power of Social Media

As we all know, a personal recommendation is more persuasive than an advert in a newspaper. Phil explains how social media is way of harnessing the power of personal recommendations to reach a worldwide audience. With social media he says, “You’ve got an opportunity to build a following which becomes your sales force. They in turn go out and recommend you to their friends and their followers”.

This is why social media marketing (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) can be more effective than traditional ‘interruption marketing’ (TV and radio adverts, newspaper adverts etc.) which takes you away from the thing you actually want to see.

Start with a Tweet

There are many types of social media but Twitter, Facebook and Linked are the main three. In many ways Twitter is the easiest to start with because it’s open (everything you write is open for anyone to read – they don’t have to be following you to read what you’re saying) and it’s easy to read what everyone else is saying. You can make a list of people in the industry so you can follow what they’re saying. They don’t even need to know you are following them, so you can keep an eye on your competition without being noticed.

Does more social media mean more sales?

Does a successful social media account translate to more ticket sales, more songs downloaded? I recently interviewed Christina Bianco who told me her 6.5 million YouTube hits did have an immediate impact on ticket sales for her concerts.

For many of us though the jury’s still out. Phil suggests it’s better to think of social media as an immediate way to connect directly with your followers (which seems to be the new euphemism for fans). Years ago if you wanted to reach out to an artiste you’d have to send them a letter and wait patiently for a reply that might never come. Social media has made that process more immediate. After a concert someone can send you an instant message saying how much they enjoyed the show and you can send a reply in seconds. As Phil explains, this is how we create brand advocates – people who go out and sell our products for us: “If a brand advocate it asking for contact with you and they get a response, it attracts them more and they’ll start to advertise on your behalf. It’s a network – if you have a 1000 followers and they each talk about you in a positive way to 10 people, you’ve got suddenly got 10,000 people hearing your news”.

Quality not quantity

Quantity isn’t everything. Don’t get caught up in getting more followers than your competitors. There are places online where you can easy buy fans but it’s not a popularity contest. Better have a small number of loyal followers who read what you post then 1000s who have no interest. According to Kevin Kelly, 1000 true fans is all it takes to have a successful career in the arts. Click here to read his now famous post.

How Often You Should Post

Some people suggest that three Tweets a day is the ideal number. This increases your chances of being seen at least once by your followers as they scan their busy feeds. Phil thinks it’s better to keep your Tweets and posts interesting and relevant rather than bothering people with comments about the weather or the price of milk. You’re really aiming for people to share your posts; this is how interest builds. Try to include a call to action, like “Tell me what songs you’d like to see in my new show” or “What’s your favourite big band tune?” so that your followers are engaged. I did this a while back when I was trying to decide on which design to use on a new album cover. I asked my follows to choose option A or B. It was an easy question requiring a simple answer. It had a great response.

Phil’s tips:

  • Use social media to augment other forms of advertising like a mailing list.
  • Don’t obsess about finding 1000s of followers. Better have 50 people who are really intersted that 5000 who don’t care.
  • Think about your brand and consider keeping your personal and business posts on different accounts.
  • Share news from other industry sources with your own follows to keep them engaged.
  • Save time by automating your posts using a website like Hootsuite.

Recorded in London 7th December 2013

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