Facebook is basically worthless to professional musicians, and that’s okay
Why you don’t need Facebook to be successful, because they don’t care about you either.
There’s a common refrain I hear among managers, agents, artists, publicists, talent buyers, producers, and well… literally everyone else connected to music. It goes like this, “Well, Artist Name Here has XX,XXX likes on Facebook, and therefore I’m going to use that number to support a completely unrelated metric, and justify a wild ass assumption I’m telling you.”
Facebook is just about the poorest measuring stick for popularity, viability, sales, streaming performance, or… anything else. There are too many variables to work with: Chronology, gated (or un-gated) acquisition, actual interest level, account activity, etc.
Once upon a time, before Facebook drastically changed their algorithm, it might have been a good idea to drive all your fans to your Facebook page and get “Likes” because… well, actually, it was always a bad idea. On the internet, it’s never wise to drive everyone to a platform you don’t control, as the terms of service, and “organic” reach can be changed at the whim of engineers and product managers you’ll never know, meet, or have a discussion with.
Facebook Likes, for all intents and purposes, are the Venezuelan Bolívar of the music-business internet: There’s tons of them, but you’re better off weighing them for value than counting them at their face. They are the worthless underpinning of what should be an otherwise viable economy. Venezuela has something like 20% of the world’s known oil reserves, but their currency is utterly worthless, because of hyper-inflation.
Hyper-inflation is what happened to Facebook likes on Artist and Label pages. There are hundreds of services, all over the web, where you can buy “totally real” Facebook likes, which will make you popular on the internet. They might in fact be “real” accounts in the sense that you can automate bot farms to set up “real” Facebook accounts, but I wouldn’t put any stock in their value, and that’s mostly because…
Facebook doesn’t give a fuck about musicians. Musicians are bad customers.
Back in 2015, Facebook announced they were going to “pivot to music videos”, hoping to steal traffic from YouTube. They ran this little trial until the end of 2015, and then backed off. Why? Because Musicians don’t have money, many products to sell, or anything remotely resembling a recurring purchase model.
Oddly, it’s not hyper-inflation that sinks Facebook’s value for musicians. It’s Facebook realizing their core market is businesses that will advertise regularly. Your lawn grows at a regular rate, therefore landscaping companies are a good fit for Facebook ads. Hail happens, therefore roofing companies need to advertise. Your beard just keeps growing, so you need razors, and razor companies need to fill that need.
Facebook knows a good customer is a customer who spends money on a regular basis, and those customers need to see an ROI that makes sense. For a landscaping company, one acquisition could mean $250 every two weeks to come mow your lawn. (Or, weekly, if you live in the rainy South. The grass just does not stop growing. Goddamnit.)
Musicians, on the other hand, sell a product that is subject to disposable income, and most smaller acts are hoping to sell a $10–20 concert ticket, or (at best) a $40, one time shirt and vinyl bundle. I don’t care how much you like a band, a record is not a recurring purchase, therefore, it’s hard to justify spending money on Facebook ads.
I’m more likely to purchase an ear-hair trimmer than a vinyl record, because my ear hair grows at a steady rate, and even though I enjoy vinyl, Spotify is more convenient. (Shut up, vinyl hounds. Everyone knows it’s just a living-room vanity item. If you want a “warm” sound, just run a vacuum pre-amp on literally any damn aux cord. Anyway…) Facebook is going to prioritize the ear-hair trimmer ads, because 95% of men over 30 start growing ear hair and freak out about it.
Facebook only works for one thing.
If you use a service like AdRoll already, good for you. It’s an easy way to take people who have already been to your website, and find them again on Facebook, or via banner ads. (One of my clients, Ghost Ramp Records, has seen enormous benefits with AdRoll. But I will caution you, like any other advertising, quality products matter, audience base matters, and the quality of your ads should be top notch.)
Even if you have tons of likes on your artist or label page, you’ve probably found that it’s much more effective when you “Boost” your post, to reach a wider audience. So here’s a life-hack: You’re going to have to pay Facebook no matter what. It doesn’t matter how many goddamn likes you have on your page. Since that’s the case, it’s easier to cross-target people who are either already fans, or like artists with a similar sound.
So, can Facebook ever really work for musicians?
Sure. If you’re an established artist, selling 500 or more tickets in every single city you’re touring through, by all means, spend money on regional ads selling tickets. But it’s utterly worthless to simply promote your releases via Facebook, because Facebook doesn’t want you to leave Facebook.
Think about the logic of things: If you’re promoting new music, it’s probably on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or SoundCloud. Therefore, you’re asking people to click away from Facebook, which means Facebook is losing someone who could potentially be looking at ads from other businesses. Facebook’s entire business model is predicated upon you, the user, spending more time on Facebook, seeing more advertisements.
Seriously, I know people who have been hired away from the “gaming” (see: gambling) industry in Las Vegas, to go work for Facebook. Why? Because people who program gambling software know how to make something more addictive. They give you little rewards, just to keep your eyes locked. Facebook is the same way; they want you to stay around as long as possible. The moment you’re distracted by Spotify (or worse, YouTube), you’re surfing around there, instead of looking at pictures of ugly babies and judging your coworkers who are way too into bragging about their gym accomplishments.
Back to the Venezuela analogy: It’s about a tyrannical leader hyper-inflating currency, promising to do one thing, and then completely doing another, while controlling and centralizing the platform wealth.
The “Likes” were never valuable. It was always the oil, in this analogy, which was the ad-value of inventory, measured by time spent on Facebook. The currency tied to that “oil” was allowed to hyper-inflate, by design, because Facebook knew that sending people to like your page sent people to Facebook.
How many times have you seen a label or musician say, “Go like us on Facebook” — what you’re really saying is, “Go to Facebook. Once you’re there, you’ll click like on our page, and get distracted by something else.”
You see, Facebook isn’t free. Many businesses are spending tens of thousands of dollars, every month, to pay into their ad platform. For the right advertisers, Facebook’s ROI is bonkers. For the wrong advertisers (musicians), Facebook simply isn’t interested in doing business with you. If you’re not a contender to spend huge amounts of money purchasing ads, Facebook can engineer you out of existence, changing their algorithm in a way that almost completely wipes away all your footprints from the feed.
So, what does this all really mean?
Facebook likes are… whatever. If you have them, cool. If not, it’s still fine. No matter what happens, you’re going to have to pay to advertise, so you might as well just focus on things that make you money.
Shane Morris is a digital developer and producer based in Nashville, TN, with over 13 years working in development for record labels, streaming platforms, artists, film companies, and small businesses. He can be reached via the contact form on beautifulmajesticdolphin.com.