I should start this blog by declaring myself to be a dedicated fan of good music, and one exponent of good music in particular, Alfie Boe. I follow him on Twitter, facebook and YouTube, belong to his fan site and write a blog dedicated to his music (http://thoughtsofjustafan.wordpress.com)Therefore, I know a thing or two about social media, artists and fans.
As a fan, I am more familiar with the trajectory of Alfie Boe's use of social media and so have used this as an example; in the early years of his recording career, Alfie Boe and his team relied on social media to get the message out and promote record sales. YouTube has dozens of videos from 2006 onwards. In the same way, Boe's MySpace and facebook pages were places that could potentially help drive sales, as well as the social media aspect of the fan website. As time passed and Boe became more successful, Twitter was added.
All these forms of social media but especially Twitter, have led me to think about how they have changed the relationship between artist and fan. Are they primarily vehicles to promote and drive sales, interact with fans on a personal basis, a means of providing fans with news about upcoming events etc. or a combination of all these factors? How much does social media help with these aims and when is it acceptable to draw back from an intense social media presence?
Although social media is all about communication, the advent of Twitter has meant that as well as being a vehicle to promote an artist's sales, it has also become the way that artists interact directly with fans. I believe that this means that fans feel there is a much closer relationship with an artist than through other forms of social media; after all, talking online (and by talking I mean a two way conversation) to an artist in real time is the whole point, surely? In the 21st century, a tweet from your favourite celeb is enough to have you bouncing off the ceiling for days.
However, as with everything relying on human frailties, problems start to arise when a minority of fans indulge in mild trolling, saying things that (I hope) they would never say to that person face to face. (To be clear, I am not referring to the appalling tweets Mary Beard and Caroline Criado Perez were subjected to). Artists are criticised for tweeting too much, not tweeting enough, getting other people to tweet for them, tweeting at inappropriate moments, the list goes on. Is it any wonder then that some artists tend to tweet less and less after these issues? It is noticeable that Alfie Boe does not tweet as much as he once did although it is impossible to say why that is.
This conundrum leads onto a subject that always causes lively discussion - whether or not celebs do the actual tweeting themselves. I would suggest that though many artists realise that Twitter etc. is an invaluable promotional tool they don't necessarily have the time (and inclination?) to do the tweeting themselves, or at least, not all the time. In some instances, the management team might help out. At some point, artists are entitled to some privacy and this can lead to a decrease in the number of tweets. To gain privacy, artists may choose other communicative methods that don't involve the rest of the world being able to see what they are doing. And what is wrong with that? Is the problem in fact worse when we have had Twitter chats with an artist in the past and that then peters out? Your view on that may well depend on you being a glass half full / half empty kind of person. I'm a glass half full kind of girl myself.
I guess my view is that Twitter is a fantastic tool that allows us mere mortals to look at our chosen idols, not in a far off, dreamy kind of way but in a here and now, real way. Deep down, I think we know that it's all an illusion but it's one that (most of the time) doesn't hurt anyone and keeps us going through the hard slog of everyday life. Occasionally, we are reminded that our idols have feet of clay just like the rest of us but overall, I'd rather have Twitter et al than not. And I suspect that most artists would say the same.