(UPDATED) In a new study by Microsoft researcher Nancy K. Baym, the author discusses musicians, music companies and their use of metrics. She interviewed a number of musicians and business people about their use of data gathering tools to identify and relate both online and offline audiences. The picture is as you might imagine with musicians doing all sorts of things and the most clued-in having to put the pieces together themselves. Though she discusses social media metrics quite a bit, the overall discussion includes website and email activity.
Nancy K. Baym's Data not seen: The uses and shortcomings of social media metrics is more interesting than the title sounds and relevant to audience metrics of all types in that, at the end, you're measuring what can be measured with the tools available and then trying to find meaning within the numbers those measurements give you.
Collecting Audience Data
As Baym finds from interviews with such musicians as D.A. Wallach abd Zoë Keating and business people like music managers Ariel Rivas and Emily White, musicians and their team members are patching together unique systems to capture and interpret data about what their audience is doing and what it all means.
For example Chester French member D.A. Wallach:
monitors communication about the band using a variety of tools including Google Alerts, RSS feeds from Twitter, IceRocket ('kind of like a social search engine'), and links people send them in e-mail messages. 'I try to cast my net as wide as possible.'"
Chester French also took things a step further taking sales force CRM software" (aka customer relationship management software) and building a fan management platform on top of that.
Music manager Ariel Rivas:
used a wide range of tools ('everything we can') to attend to audience data, including Tweetdeck ('like having three or four million reporters connected and sending data to you. It's incredible'), Facebook demographics, Google Analytics, and Top Spin (a commercial platform for direct-to-fan engagement with analytic tools built in)."
Zoë Keating is also gathering diverse sorts of data and in trying to reconcile them she realized that each group was different and so represent different audiences with different levels of interest and different communication needs:
The people who I'm connecting with on my Facebook fan page are different than the people on my Facebook profile page. I only share 500 people between those two groups. And then the people who are on MySpace are totally different. The people who are on my e-mail list are also for the most part different. I think they're the people who aren't necessarily on social media, some of them are, some of them aren't. My mailing list is different. And then I also know that the people who are just listening to me on Twitter, they might be more casual or something and they're not getting my mailing list message, for example."
So they're all different audiences and I have to talk to them differently."
Such realizations reveal the complexity of any audience beyond likes and follows. Keating described the differences based on channels but within those channels are people with quite different interests beyond the overall tendencies she's identified.
So, it gets worse, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed by data as are many working musicians who step back in the face of their already overwhelming workloads and mostly ignore all but obvious stats.
Understanding Audience Metrics: Context
But sometimes even obvious stats are hard to digest. Manager Emily White discusses the different responses to Facebook posts by Brendan Benson versus those of his team and says not all artists understand that difference:
We can see the impressions on the Facebook page, so when its Team BB posting tour dates, things like that, people are psyched and they know we're available. But when it's Brendan, the impressions just skyrocket and so do the comments and we just see the traffic really go through the roof when it's directly from the artists. So that's who people want to hear from and I think that's a hard thing for some artists to wrap their head around."
Other pieces of data take more consideration. Bahm emphasizes the context for actions as key to understanding metrics.
For example, Zoë Keating has a huge number of Twitter followers the bulk of which came when Twitter featured her account as one to follow. She recognizes that such a promotion led to followers who aren't truly following her. Understanding the context for their decision to follow on Twitter makes subsequent action or inaction on their part easier to understand.
As Steve Lawson, aka @solobasssteve, notes:
I've had people with millions of followers on Twitter recommend me, and it result in 70 clicks through to my Web site. And I've had people with a couple of thousand followers recommend me on Twitter and it result in 300 clicks."
The difference in response may well come down to the context in which those Twitter followers connected to those Twitter accounts.
Implications of the Study
Baym does a nice job of illustrating that musicians and their teams do have to work quite hard to piece things together themselves as they gather and interpret metrics. Proper interpretation takes more than being able to understand various options in Google Analytics. It requires a knowledge of the context of action beyond just the action taken.
Baym also concludes that researchers need more qualitative understanding of who audiences are and why they do what they do. For a musician, this might translate into interacting with audience members, hearing their stories and over time finding the patterns in those stories as they relate to those mountains of metrics.
In addition to her findings, implications of the study for musicians, managers and marketers include the following:
There is a clear need for data gathering tools that automate as much as possible while offering ways to support analyzing disparate data sources. An all-in-one social media tool like Hootsuite is one example heading in that direction.
Buying social media likes and follows rather than organically building a fanbase on social media services is only going to muddy the waters and make it even more difficult to connect with one's actual audience.
The concept of one key metric for musicians offers a way to cut through data noise and focus on what's most important at any particular phase of an artist's development. This is an approach that can be taken by those who are overwhelmed simply picking the most obvious metric that seems important and is easy to access. It scales quite nicely as one learns more and is able to consider a broader range of data from which to choose that key metric.
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