After the implosion of Myspace, Facebook became an essential tool for musicians, for better or worse. What started out to be a simple way to stay connected with fans turned out to be a pay-to-play forum and a popularity contest. Paid-for “likes” and sponsored posts compounded the confusion on how to best approach and utilize the platform, and eroded the organic nature of the music sharing experience. But Facebook was the only game in town—not nearly as good as MySpace for music, but better than nothing—and so everyone was forced to play, with many spending thousands of dollars on promotion through the format to get recognized.
Now amid Russian bot scandals, fake news issues, and privacy data controversies, for the first time since its inception, Facebook is suffering from slowing growth, and users spending less time on the format, including some deleting their accounts altogether. But most harmful to the music and arts realm are the recent updates to the Facebook algorithm that have diminished the presence of posts from “like” pages in the news feeds of users.
The downgrading of “like” pages has become a big problem for many, including businesses and brands, news and entertainment publishers, sports and entertainment personalities, and nonprofit entities. Everyone has suffered from the new algorithm tweaks, but nobody has been affected more than music artists and other creative types according to new research. Now that Facebook emphasizes personal interactions between friends as a priority, posts from artists and bands receive 70.6% less engagement than before the algorithm changes—more than any other group. Clothing and retail brands have only seen a dip of about 50% under the new algorithm, while TV shows and public figures have seen a drop of about 60%. These are the findings by Buffer, who analyzed some 43 million Facebook posts.
There is more bad news for artists, and for Facebook in general. Total interactions on the format have fallen from 29 billion in Q1 of 2017, to just under 13 billion in Q2 of 2018, meaning the format is contracting at an alarming rate. Also video posts are taking a hit—a key tool for many musicians. Though engagement for all media is down, it’s down disproportionately for videos compared to still images. And while engagement is decreasing on Facebook “like” pages, competition is increasing. With new pages coming online every day, and those pages having to resort to posting more to attempt to make up for lost engagement, total posts have gone from 6.5 million per quarter in Q1 of 2017, to 8.1 million posts in Q2 of 2018.
For some artists who only use social media sparingly such as Sturgill Simpson and Eric Church, the effects of the new algorithm changes may be minimal or inconsequential. For artists whose strategies have relied significantly or solely on Facebook, they’re dealing with more serious implications. Thousands of likes and much money spent on Facebook promotion is it not completely worthless, but it is significantly diminished, with the price it costs to reach the same amount of people as it did two years ago nearly doubling.
Even more scary for artists and bands who’ve relied significantly on Facebook is if the entire format implodes, similar to what we saw with MySpace. If Facebook is replaced with a social network that is better for bands, a Facebook implosion might be a sum positive. But this would be only after it creates a diaspora of fan bases who are unable to communicate with their favorite artists, or with each other.
So what are musicians to do?
Diversify your social media footprint to make sure you’re not relying on any single format to communicate with your fans. Twitter, and especially Instagram (owned by Facebook) have become strong promotional and communication tools for artists and bands, but they face their own challenges moving forward. Instagram still doesn’t allow easy link placement, and Twitter has become a political war zone. Snapchat was useful for a while, but has also seen an implosion of its user base and engagement, giving another cautionary tale about relying on just one platform. Make sure you have ways to communicate with fans directly, especially through email. This is the only way to reliably reach your fan base.
What are fans to do?
Make sure you just don’t “like” the Facebook page of your most favorite artists and bands, make sure you subscribe to it as well so posts come preferred into your news feed. Check your likes, and make sure you unlike stuff that no longer suits your interests. Too many “likes” placed around Facebook is part of the problem. Also make sure to sign up for direct email or text message communication with your favorite bands, and don’t be afraid to visit their Facebook pages directly periodically to make sure you’re up-to-date.