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Rock’n\A friend of mine has a band. They are great musicians and fun people — the consumate performers. They are busily working their contacts in the music industry and in discussions with record labels for contracts. They have a lot going for them, but when it comes to gigs… Disappointingly few people turn up. Why is that?

The band has a page on Myspace, which as been running for about 18 months. It holds about 1,500 friends, which, given how many people these guys have performed for and how many friends those audience members all have… It’s a fraction of the number it could be, and still doesn’t explain why less than 1% of them are coming out to gigs. Their events should be mobbed. So what can the band do?

1) Expand the fan base with everyone you already know. They’ll do the work for you.

This is a concerted effort, a planned attack. Make a list of every musician you’ve ever worked with, every girl who’s ever batted her eyelashes (this band is fronted by cute boys, so there should be plenty), every family member you’ve got, community members (including old teachers, parents of friends, friends of parents, etc. etc. etc.), music execs, people you chat to after gigs… You want to engage everyone you’ve ever met — and then some.

Generally, when you’re starting a band, the whole world wants to see you succeed. You just need to tap into that enthusiasm. They feel special to be involved, and you’re doing something they probably wouldn’t have the courage to. All you need to do is to make them feel involved, and they’ll rush to support you.

2) Give your supporters something to do.

Keep reminding yourself: They WANT to help. So you want them to stay engaged. When you first tell them, “Hey, we’re starting a band” (or “Things are going well, we’ve got a gig next week”, wherever you are in the process) and they say “That’s great! Well done!” (which is usually accompanied by the thought, “I’m really impressed. And so glad it’s not me! I wouldn’t have a clue how sing/play/perform!”) , JUMP ON IT. Capitalise on the fact that they’re feeling both in awe and a little inadequate by giving them the chance to get involved and help where they can.

Production in the studio - behind the scenesStart with a little status update that doesn’t have to mean much but feels “behind the scenes” (explain that you are doing your best with the recording/the rehearsing/the chasing up new drummer), but that you’d love to keep them posted on your activities. (And/or will want to let them know the second the album is released or the new video goes into production, etc.) Point them to your social networking site and tell them to become your friend… This is the ultimate WATCH THIS SPACE move. They’re now watching.

3) Give them a reason to stay involved.

They love you; show that somebody’s home at your end of the conversation. This means new content on your site every 3-4 days. Something, anything. Thoughts, plans, a silly story from rehearsal, a “this week we worked on X” rundown, frustrations with production, anything. Blogs are particularly good for this kind of chit-chat. It doesn’t have to say

anything detailed about any person or song; just that you’re still there, and you care enough about these people to keep this conversation going.

Remind them REGULARLY (once every week or two) that you’re busy working on all this. These reminders should find them (bulletins, emails — anything that lands in their lap, as opposed to them having to come to your page to find it). Create hype. Be consistent about it.

This will keep these guys engaged while you keep adding new ones to the list. And your numbers will grow!

4) Translate it into ticket and album sales.

Concert ticketsYour final goal is that by the time you release the date of your next gig, every last person on your now doubled friends list will be chomping at the bit to be there to support you. They’re going to care enough that even if they can’t go, they’ll send someone on their behalf.

The same should be true with album sales. Because they feel like they “got in at the ground level” and helped you along the way, they’re emotionally invested. They’re going to cry more than you will when you get your Mercury prize.

5) Recognise how easy this is.

Social networking sites work because you establish instant access to all the people you’d want to be talking to anyway, in the real world. You have their attention, and are giving them an easy way to showcase your efforts to everyone they know. 99% of it is just a method of keeping track of, and keeping involved, the people that your music touches in reality.

Nobody’s loyal to a band they run into online — we respond to hype. We explore suggestions from friends, we try not to get left out of a trend, and we follow through on a strong desire to help “real people” try to make it. So give your fan base a way to hype you and to introduce their friends to your music. Let them work FOR you.

And while you’ve got their attention — don’t forget to tell them how much you love them and how grateful you are. In the same way that you’d thank a friend who drove for miles to be there and cheer you on, let these people know you care. With a good effort on a social networking site, you can do that for all of them at once. You’ll quickly build a huge group who feel personally connected to you and your music.

Now that they’re listening, the rest is up to you. Give them something fabulous to listen to!

Goin to town

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Because it’s a Friday, and because this has made me laugh through the week, I’d like to share with you a bit about my blog’s spam.

Quick background: let me help you boost your search ranking
Google ranks web pages based on a formula which includes their popularity (measured by how many other pages have links that point to it — see the classic Google paper Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Search Engine for more details). Consequently, the more pages out there refer to yours, the better your chances are of ending up near the top of the Google Results list when someone does a search. If you’re out to artificially inflate that ranking, planting links to your site around the web will boost your ratings. The higher your ranking, the more users will notice you, the more traffic you will get, and the more advertising revenue or potential sales you’ll land by getting them (figuratively) through the door.

And where to plant links to your site? Blog comments! Most blogging software will let you post more or less what you like, in HTML, on endless pages within the millions of blogs out there. (Note: at press time, Technorati is currently tracking 69.2 million blogs. And they haven’t got the whole blogosphere. The field is vast.)

We do have anti-spam software that filters spam comments, for example by the number of links a post contains. We blog-holders are not captive to the wills of blog spammers. But my spam filter, Akismet, kindly holds the spam comments it detects for my review. It is from this week’s list of Akismet spam from my blog that I pull the following trends.

Spam for my blog!
This past week, I’ve kept a particular eye on my blog’s spam. Since I delete them and you never get to see how funny they are, I thought I’d pull up a few to share with you.

Because they’re just out to get their links up on my site, the spammers have to convince me to post (or not delete) their comment. Each spam post begins with a little commentary around the links they are promoting, a feeble effort to catch my attention or fool me into thinking it’s a legitimate comment. These are what amuse me, and what I want to show to you.

  • A number of them are complimentary to my site or a particular post.

Hi! Guys how you manage to make such perfect sites? Good fellows!
(This was for debt consolidation services. I like the idea of being called “fellows”. Apt for a lone female running the site.)

With posts like this how long before we give up the newspaper?!!
(This was a site just trying to generate traffic. But I like that they’re referencing the whole Web 2.0-threatens-mainstream-media debate.)

This is a cool site! Thanks and wish you better luck!
(This was a comment selling replica handbags. It was posted on my Privacy Legislation and Teenagers post. It’s nice of them to, er, extend their sympathies… but I didn’t find that article so difficult to write! I imagine this was written with a more emotional blog in mind.)

That was a very nice post, I’m proud of you.
(Now that’s sweet. It recurs regularly, and even though I’m not interested in the loans and refinancing it offers, the comment always makes me feel good about the hard work I put into my blog.)

  • Some are just unrelated to the links. I got this romantic text under the subject heading of Cheap Shopping:

Lorsque la main d’un homme effleure la main d’une femme, tous deux touchent a l’éternité.
(Rough translation: “As the man’s hand brushes the woman’s, both of them touch eternity.” It may actually be syrupy enough to warrant the painkillers they were touting.)

Another tries to play the sympathy card:

My life’s been generally bland. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me. I don’t care. I’ve just been sitting around doing nothing, but eh.
(This came with a gmail address, and just to be sure I sent them an email asking if everything was okay. Hey, I’m a nice person! Not surprisingly, the message bounced. I then discovered that the link URL was a pointer which resolved to a site selling Viagra.)

  • I got one yesterday that was actually honest. No preamble, just a long list of links titled Greats from me: . I still didn’t post it, and I don’t need the sleep aids that were listed below, but I do appreciate the forthright approach.
  • For sheer creativity, as well as honesty in marketing, my current favourite is this one:

Hello.
If your site getting constantly spammed, then you are in urgent need of a new folding table
Check these: folding poker tables
Sincerely yours,
folding tables seller

That did catch my attention. I had to laugh. A salesman who knows their market! I’m impressed that they thought about what drives me as a consumer. It’s too bad that I can’t see how a folding table would solve my spam issues, but if they want to come back and leave a comment about it, I will be happy to approve it for posting.

table

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The messages we broadcast

As I wander through my day, I’m reasonably conscious of the messages I’m broadcasting: I try to dress well to present an image of being competent, I phrase my comments in such a way that my colleagues will feel good about working with me, I’m conscious of editing out any commentary about the wine from last night or having burned breakfast this morning. I’m not obsessive about it, I just try to put my best foot forward.

I think we all do this, to one extent or another. We show certain sides of ourselves to whoever the audience happens to be, some of which is selective and some of which is situational (for example, it may be that I don’t mention the breakfast mess to my colleagues because I’m too busy to remember that it happened). We try to balance the messages we’re sending deliberately (for example, the words I choose) with the back channel information we project (like the fact that I smell like burned toast or that they overheard me telling someone else about my head ringing from the smoke alarm).

We therefore end up with each person/group seeing a distinct part of us, some of which we control and some of which we don’t.

What they see of me
What they see of me

We play to that, trying to make the best impression possible with the information we’re sending out to each specific audience. It’s nice to be well-liked, and having allies facilitates getting things done when you need help. In the business world it’s called marketing, self-promotion and networking; in psychology it’s situationally responsive behaviour and relationship-building.

Who we are online

Now let’s take it to the virtual world. Part of the success of chat rooms, avatars, role playing games and online communities comes from the fact that you get to create and control everything that makes up others’ opinions about you.

Me online - what they see
Someone online can project the appearance of anyone they want. This picture shows that the ‘me’ hiding on the inside has nothing to do with the shape that the online contacts think they’re seeing on the outside.

As my father’s favourite New Yorker cartoon spells out, once you get to create and control the messages that go out, you can be anybody. You won’t be betrayed by any back channel information, so no one will notice that you’re having a bad hair day or are too tired to speak at the meeting or aren’t, in fact, of the same species (see below).

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog
Cartoon by Peter Steiner. The New Yorker, July 5, 1993 issue (Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20) page 61.

This is, unfortunately, not just an opportunity for reinventing yourself to hide your insecurities; it’s also an easy mark for fraud. The US House of Representatives passed the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 in response to concerns about paedophiliacs posing as children on social networking sites to build trust and arrange meetings with their prey. The controversially-worded bill was intended to protect kids from people who were misrepresenting themselves, which is evidence of how much potential we have for being anyone we like online. (The bill is currently awaiting debate in the Senate.)

Why we bother to be real

Most of us actually live in the real world. We meet the majority of our work contacts face-to-face (or at the very least, exchange phone calls). We hug our families and share a sofa when having coffee with a friend. Physical presence — and it’s associated accountability — are priorities for us. It’s how we are used to relating to each other, and the best scenario for us to communicate the most information, accurately and efficiently.

When I began this blog, I thought carefully about whether I would use my real name. There are legitimate privacy concerns around exposing any personal information that is available to the 1.076 billion people who have internet access. But ultimately, I’m out to share my views, spark discussions and create contacts who will be useful to me in my real life. I want any benefits of this ‘virtual’ work to be connected to who I am in reality. So I’ve made that link.

Similarly, the news has been busy in the past few months with stories of how online worlds can grow to successfully parallel reality. The hype surrounding Digimask‘s technology, which takes a 3D image of the user and puts you literally into the multi-player game, reflects this trend. (See today’s BBC News video rundown of Digimask). Apparently if we’re going to go to the trouble of blasting bad guys in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas on your Xbox 360, we want the credit for our real selves.

The most common example of this keeping-it-real trend comes from multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs), like Entropia Universe and Second Life. Entropia Universe (formerly Project Entropia) calls itself a ‘massive online virtual universe’ and maintains a (real) cash economy. In May the developers sold a ‘virtual space resort’ to one of its users for $100,000. The purchaser bought it to establish an online night club, a marketplace through which the (real-life) entertainment industry can sell their wares to other members of the Universe. When you’re looking for cash, keeping ties to reality (and credit cards) are the only way to go. (For more information, see this article on BBC News.)

Second Life is another online world that has caught the attention of significant corporations out to encourage spending by actual people bringing their real wallets. In just the past day, ABN-AMRO has announced that it is opening a branch of its bank inside the virtual world, while IBM have hosted a Virtual Worlds European Media & Influencer Event. (They’re also proud of having replicated this year’s Wimbledon inside Second Life.) This continuation of big-business commerce on the virtual site is only possible because the users maintain links to their real-people bank accounts and come to the site with their banking or marketing needs in tow. Users don’t divorce Second Life from their first lives.

Keeping it real
I’ll repeat what I usually say: technology is most useful when it is supporting something we want to do anyway. And whether that’s sparking conversations through my blog to further my professional growth, finding new routes to market for existing commerce, or knowing that the world reveres me because I slaughtered more bad guys than my buddies could — we can only collect on the real-world rewards when the online contacts know who we are.

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logo1.gif
History Matters – pass it on is run by the main heritage organisations in England and Wales including the National Trust, English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Council for British Archaeology, Heritage Link, Historic Houses Association and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

They’re gathering a blog of what England and Wales are doing on the 17th of October (today) to be stored in the British Library. They want details, the more mundane the better, to help historians of the future understand what day-to-day life was like in 2006.

This should be a rich storage of minutae — I’ll be curious to see what people admit to!

To contribute an account of your day, you can find the project at http://www.historymatters.org.uk.

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