Who Is Your Audience?

As some of you know, I’ve recently started teaching in the music department at Kidderminster College. It’s a fabulous opportunity, as I get to spend every tuesday working with bassists (and a violinist!) in the mornings and on social media with a load of mainly singer/songwriters in the afternoon. Yeah, two of my favourite things, in one day. Lucky me!

So last week, I set the afternoon students the task of thinking – and blogging – about who their social media audience is:

  • Who do you know reads what you write?
  • Who do you imagine is reading it when you write it (who are writing to)
  • Who else may end up reading it?
  • Who would you most like to have reading it?
  • How do these considerations affect how and what you post (be it original words/pictures/video/music or shared stuff from around the web)

And as is my way, I thought I ought to do answer the question myself. Partly cos it’s helpful to them, but also because it’s a really interesting question, and perhaps one I don’t spend enough time on.

Because, despite my primary ‘identity’ online being as a musician, a huge part of my social media circle didn’t discover me through my music. They seem to have found me in a number of ways:

  • My music audience (there are a fair few of these, and a number of whom joined twitter because I suggested it was where we move the conversation when I shut down the forum that I used to host on my website)
  • My music peers (there are LOADS of artists of many, many stripes and levels of success that I talk to on twitter. Some are just starting out, some are people whose music has soundtracked my life for the last 25 years. Some are people I just follow and learn from, some have become the kind of friends I DM every day about something or other.
  • People who started following me/friended me because of a particular social media job, and then stuck around: Working as a social media facilitator/consultant/amplifier/whateverelseitisIdo means that I get to meet a lot of people at events. And, especially when I’m doing ‘up front’ things, a lot of them start following me on Twitter. A surprising (to me) number of them stick around. I’ve made some wonderful friends on Twitter and on Facebook that are people who I first found because I was helping to put stuff from a Civil Service conference, or Arts Council Symposium or whatever, online. There’s also been a lovely and deeply appreciated cross-over between people I’ve met like that, and people who have started listening to my music, or whose work has artists has become part of my life.
  • The community through which I first found my feet on Twitter – namely, the Tuttle club in London and the Seesmic Alpha crowd online – Tuttle was (is!) a Friday morning gathering of curious people wanting to chat and share ideas about what this new social media thing is all about. It started in early 2008, at pretty much the same time as a load of us were invited to be part of the ‘private alpha’ testing for a video conversation platform called Seesmic. SO many of my most valued friendships over the last decade were formed in those two communities.
  • People who just found me on Twitter. These, for the purpose of the class, are possibly the most interesting ones to discuss – people who through a recommendation, a retweet or a comment, have found my twitter feed and through some combination of avatar, bio, twitter background and recent tweets have decided that I was worth a follow. Again, some of these have become listeners, friends, colleagues.

As an aside, I still remember the first person I ever followed just because of their twitter bio, even if I can’t remember what it said – it was @andreamann, who at the time was @jazzchantoozie. She was hugely funny, had tweeted me about something after a retweet, I read her bio, followed, and we’ve become firm friends. She’s wonderful, and a much cherished presence in my life.

So how does this list affect how I tweet? Does it? Should it? Should I be thinking about who my ‘target audience’ is, or should I make more effort to know my ‘actual audience’? The asymmetric nature of my follower/following ratio, and the fact that I have WAY too many followers to follow them all back and still have Twitter be any use, means that I can’t ‘know’ them all.

I remember when I did know pretty much everyone who was following me. When I could talk to them all, answer every tweet directed to me, respond to pretty much all the conversations that were happening around me. That lasted a few months, and was wonderful. But it gradually crept away from me. I started following people a little more speculatively, so became more of a lurker in those people’s conversations. I also had a fairly major uptick in followers as I began speaking at more conferences and writing about social media from a musician and music fan’s perspective. As the links to my blog posts got shared round, my follower list on twitter grew. Some of them piled into the conversation and became friends, colleagues, and people who inspire me. Many others carried on just reading.

So now, I have this melange of friends and strangers. I appear to have VERY few antagonists who follow me. That alone is worth some thought, given how many people get a hard time on twitter (though as a white, straight, able-bodied man, I’m very much part of the demographic that tends to terrorise online, rather than be the victim of it, despite my own revulsion and confusion at that kind of behaviour).

My twitter feed is, for the most part, a collection of things I find interesting. I throw in info about my work as a musician or teacher or whatever else, because it’s part of the web of interestingness, the social/contextual DNA that makes me who I am, that makes sense of everything else. It’s a complex web of my words and shared words that hopefully build into something that is both useful and inviting. Inviting in the sense that anyone who wants to can listen to my music, can talk with me, can contribute to the collective process of forming a better understanding of the world through words, art, compassion and activism. I try to be honest online – at least partly because I know what an utter dickhead I can occasionally be and I’d hate anyone to be disappointed when meeting me after reading a load of falsely inspiring twitterage.

But my main focus is interestingness, and people finding my music is just ONE of the consequences of being interesting. The music is the soundtrack to me, is a big part of how I try to make sense of the world, and thus makes sense that anyone who cares about that will end up there at some point.

From a music discovery point of view, the single most revolutionary part is that almost all of them arrive at the music-listening part of the journey REALLY wanting to like it. After all, I’m the guy they’ve been talking to on Twitter for the last few days/weeks/months. Of course things are going to be better if they don’t need to avoid any conversations about my music in case they have to tell me they actually think it’s terrible.

And, almost as interestingly, I have a fair few twitter followers and friends who have ZERO interest in my music. Some of whom have listened and decided it’s not for them. Others still haven’t listened, the description being enough to put them off. But WE’RE STILL FRIENDS. That’s key. Never surround yourself with people who only think you’re awesome. You’ll end up unbearable.

I’ll add some links here to the student blogs (with their permission) later, but feel free to join in in the comments 🙂

2 Replies to “Who Is Your Audience?”

  1. Steve,

    This is an irritatingly good post. Irritating because I started reading it thinking, “harumph! I write for me, no one else!”, and I ended up agreeing with more or less everything you wrote; and good because, well, it is as well written and thoughtful as I would have expected.

    The behaviours you ascribe your readers are spot on; and your analysis of why you tweet – anything you find interesting – is more or less what I do. My only quibble is that I think I tweet – and probably you too – things that anger me it I think are unjust or wrong, too.

    The best experiences I have on Twitter are when interests cross over. I follow many different types of people. I follow whisky people, photography people, learning people, jazz people, HR and business people, political people, and more. It is when, say, political people engage over Strictly Come Dancing, or whisky people engage on jazz, or photography people engage on whisky that I think, wow!

    There us so much interesting stuff out there – and so much to learn!

    1. Hi Patrick! You’re right, I do tweet a lot about injustice. I’m never quite sure what value our constant awareness-raising via social media has in the fight against deep-seated injustice, but I think that changing the tone of all of our conversations, to lean towards justice, can only be a good thing. I don’t actually see much of the much-vaunted ‘complacency’ of the armchair activist, and I do see quite a few people organising and committing to be a part of change after hearing about an action on social media…

      Another interesting point was made on FB about the category of people I know who I knew before social media but weren’t music friends – moreso on FB than twitter, I guess, I’m in touch with family and school/college friends, people I know from all kinds of different contexts, and they are definitely part of my audience too. In some cases, a significant one…

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