How should arts companies use digital? Lessons from SMI: Arts

Over the six years of NativeHQ’s work, we’ve been developing our approach to delivering the best social media learning and development process for our clients. We aim to improve our clients’ own capacity to deliver good quality online social media communications that actively serve their mission.

We have developed a method that helps them to understand relationships with their networks, think through their digital strategic goals and develop skills and knowledge for turning their ideas into reality. We call it our Social Media Insights (SMI) programme. It takes place over a series of half-day sessions, which are scheduled between two weeks and a month apart.

Social Media Insights: Arts

Between 2013 and 2014, we worked with Arts Council Wales to trial this method with five arts companies at different stages in their development, working in a range of art forms across Wales in both English and Welsh. This post is about that project, and the lessons that we learnt through the work.

The SMI process starts by exploring the networks of people and organisations the company works with, who has relationships with them and how those connections impact on work. We then pin down their artistic and business aims within each set of relationships. This is the basis of a creative ideation process that helps us to develop ideas about how specific uses of digital media could improve the effectiveness of the work they do.

From this set of possibilities, we draw up a shortlist of initiatives, and the training and launch processes they need in order to start. The company picks the initiatives they want to prioritise and we plan a bespoke programme for them to take place over the remaining sessions of the programme.

NativeHQ’s work with Arts Council Wales

SMI: Arts Applicants Map

SMI: Arts. Applications

Arts Council Wales was interested in learning about how we support arts organisations in this way and commissioned us to deliver this service to five arts companies in Wales, and to learn from the experience.

We announced the project via social media and our call for applications received 45 applications from a variety of companies all across Wales.

There were many high quality applications and only space for five (MOSTYN, Dawns Powys Dance, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Hijinx Theatre and Response). We then set about delivering our service to them between October 2013 and June 2014.

Responses to the programme

Here are a couple of the positive responses to the programme:

“Social Media Insights came at just the right time for Hijinx. We were in a period of change as a company, so it was the right time to stop and reflect on who are we, what we do, and how digital and social media could help us do that at a foundational level. NativeHQ have helped us to take a holistic approach to digital and social media as a company: to see digital’s potential for serving the company’s entire mission, rather than just as part of the marketing strategy.”

Vanessa Morse, Hijinx Theatre

“When we embarked on the Social Media Insights I really had not anticipated quite how the project would touch on every aspect of what we do and how we operate. Instead of some glib, generic advice on what to do / what not to do on social media, the project went so much deeper than that and required us to unpack who we are, how we do things and how we want to be and do. It was very, very bespoke and accommodated everyone’s’ skills and needs as well as the organisational needs. As a result of the SMI Arts, we now manage our projects; communicate within the team; manage our time; market ourselves; make and edit films and of course, use social media – much better than before!”

Amanda Griffkin, Dawns Powys Dance


While writing our report to Arts Council Wales, we reflected on some of the lessons we had learnt. We are constantly learning and updating our methods and have now adapted our programme to incorporate them. Here are a few:

Blocking of essential internet services

Many arts companies, especially those working within the public sector, are struggling to access consumer web services (e.g. Facebook, Google Drive) that are being widely adopted by collaborators and audiences beyond their firewall, often because of IT security concerns. We now work with clients to help them tackle these issues within their company.

Need for strategy and the centrality of social media

Many people are still unclear about why they are using digital media and social media, which is increasingly a normal and central aspect of their network’s communications landscape. A result, they struggle for clarity about what their learning needs are, or how to manage their competing digital priorities. We start by helping them to think through their strategic priorities before we begin to plan a training programme.

Broadcast approaches

Many people take a broadcast approach to their social media presence, continually pushing information and talking at people. As this approach often fails to develop the potential of the medium, we work through alternative communications patterns, such as listening and conversations, collaborations, research and investigation. We seek to think through the possibilities of these digital patterns within their work objectives.

Leadership, sustainability and resourcing

While many organisations leave the work of social and digital media to the communications manager, digital media impacts on the whole organisation and is best tackled by a group that includes wider leadership and a breadth of team representation. While many organisations are worried by the resourcing requirements of a good social media presence, there are areas where more efficient communication skills can win time for them to make the work more sustainable.

The need for bespoke training programmes emerging from strategy

Having started with a focus on strategic aims, the training programmes that we delivered to the organisations involved in the Social Media Insights: Arts were unique to each company. Over the programme, we delivered training sessions on a very wide range of topics.

Training types chart... SMI Arts NativeHQ

One interesting statistic was that 58% of the training topics we worked on were delivered to just one organisation, and only a minority of topics were prioritised by more than one of them. The lesson from this was that there is limited value in “general” social media training, because the training needs of organisations are unique to them, if you pay close enough attention.

We have taken encouragement from this finding that our approach of focusing on thinking about strategic priorities first with our clients will result in a bespoke programme that will accurately prioritise their development priorities.

Programme adjustments

We learnt lessons about the programme, which we delivered as an eight-session programme over eight months. During the strategic development process, we have found value in compressing the sessions so they’re closer together to concentrate the thinking and creative process. Our training programme remains one in which sessions are spaced out by at least three weeks (preferably a month), so that new learnings have time to be embedded into working practices. Our current Social Media Insight programme is now structured as follows:

The programme’s impact

In our evaluation of the programme, we asked each company if they had experienced a change in confidence in their ability to:

  • understand how their work on digital platforms contributed to the company’s mission;
  • develop tactics for projects and initiatives;
  • how they resourced social/digital media;
  • innovate and develop new approaches;
  • run their own media, with existing skills and knowledge;
  • evaluate their own digital work effectively by knowing what metrics mattered to them.

Across all categories and organisations, there was an increase in confidence of 45%.

Dig deeper

If you would like to know more about this programme, our approach, or how we might be able to help enable your organisation, please leave a comment, or question, or get in touch.

Your organisation and social media – taking steps in 2013

We’ve been working on how we can best help organisations to use social media in 2013 and are launching a new service called Social Media Insights. So we want to share our thinking behind it in this post.

We have noticed big changes in how people deal with social media since 2008 when we founded our company. In NativeHQ’s early days we found ourselves introducing the potential of networked conversational media platforms in their organisations.

When we started, the term ‘social media’ was becoming more popular and there was a general sense among many that it might be worth investigating although probably a bit risky. NativeHQ received invitations to give talks of a certain kind, to shake people out of their regular routine and tell them that Something Is Coming and to try and unfold a few pairs of crossed arms by the power of presentation. We usually managed to find a balance between practicality and exuberance without straying too far into hype.

Recently we have been travelling between Cardiff, Caernarfon, London, Swansea and other places when we meet people where our clients are based. We get an impression of what people are doing with social media and the kind of questions they are asking.

Let’s just say that people don’t generally ask us for that kind of presentation anymore. Maybe you can identify with this – there is a cycle for anything new, especially in the application of technology. People no longer need convincing that social media can help them collaborate better, develop products, serve customers, promote products, services and events, and so on. They understand that it’s a revolutionary shift in communications and are looking for ways to use it effectively in their own context.

Much of the apprehension and maybe fear about social media is gone, which is good. In place is a feeling in organisations that some things are missing and that better work is possible in various departments. But there’s a sense that there’s a lack of time to learn and develop this. The situation in any company is unique but some questions recur. How could social media fit with the rest of what we do? How should we do it? What are the right platforms for us to use? Who should be doing this work? Could it be that some of our time is being spent on the wrong things? How do we realise the value of social media in our specific situation? How do we measure whether we are being successful? You can find lots of general answers on the web, but how do you make the right decisions for your own, unique organisation?

Sometimes people refer to their organisational ‘unknown unknowns’ too – that is, gaps in the field of view and what lies outside of their frameworks of assumptions brought from previous experience. It’s not as if assumptions are always a negative thing. It’s a bit difficult not to have assumptions. But these people are looking for clear reasoning in order to form a strategy – rather than a haphazard, opportunistic use of social media or an approach based on orthodoxies taken from another field.

Another ‘unknown unknown’ is how the best use of social media will develop over time, during 2013 and beyond. There will be new start-ups and services but there will also be new displays of human creativity using familiar platforms. So that means that it could be a mistake to lock down any particular set way of doing things. It’s a rapidly developing field.

In the context of all these observations we’ve been trying to put together a way we can respond to the evolving demand. Our new service is called Social Media Insights and is based on a longer-term relationship with a client. It involves regular analysis and monthly meetings with you where we explore relevant data and facts, share insights and help you to learn and develop your practice. We are making our experience and understanding available to help clients develop strategic approach, tactics, skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis.

We still don’t ‘ghost blog’, posting on behalf of our clients, on social media because we have no desire to own their network or community and the impersonation makes it a bit fake for that community, frankly. We much prefer to train and equip them to use their own voice and participate in the relationships they develop. We believe that in time, using an outsourced model for social media conversation will seem a bit quaint. When a professional who is in an organisation goes online to share some of his or her thinking, learnings and questions with honesty and enthusiasm then other people pay attention – they respond to that authentic voice.

This is about organisational change, which takes time. It’s about iteration and application of knowledge in context.

Besides there are a whole bunch of other things happening in the organisation and use of social media has to be integrated into the work flows. Personal, individual use of social media is very different to what happens in organisations. You could liken the change process to the difference between steering a bike and navigating a ship.

So that’s a bit of background about Social Media Insights, which complements the existing services we offer and special projects we do. Contact us if you’d like to know more and we can arrange to visit you to discuss what it involves in more detail.

Lunchtime video from Euan Semple about social networks and business

Now and again we have a lunchtime video session at NativeHQ. Our choices of video tend to have a strong emphasis on technology, innovation and creativity. We love to absorb influences from all over the place, especially as what we do is not a ‘pure discipline’.

This video is a talk by Euan Semple at the Do Lectures in Aberteifi and is called Why social network mess can benefit your business. (Embedding doesn’t seem to be encouraged so you’ll have to visit the Do Lectures site instead.)

Semple only partly answers the title question, in my opinion, but well worth a watch for his anecdotes about getting humans communicating properly in a big organisation.

The Business of Social Media – a short course with Cyfle

Cyfle have invited us to run our 2-day course, The Business of Social Media again in Caernarfon and Cardiff.

Individuals working in marketing, promotion or development of small and large businesses and organisations.

Caernarfon (Welsh medium) 17/18 October
Cardiff (English medium) 20/21 October
Cardiff (Welsh medium) 14/15 November

Many businesses are now using social media to create engaging relationships with people and markets, communicate about products, offer special deals, develop customer loyalty and respond to enquiries and conversations about their brand.

  • How can you use digital media tools to achieve these business aims?
  • How can digital media be used to bring out creativity, tackle problems, enable collaboration, develop audiences and tell stories?
  • Which tools are appropriate for your work and what can they do?
  • How do you go from registering an account with an online tool to using it well on a real project?

Participants will have an opportunity to explore these questions and gain practical experience on the platforms which have people’s attention.

Book a place
To book a place or ask questions please contact or 01286 668003.

For collaboration Google Docs often beats email

Here’s a useful new Google Docs feature – discussions and comments, which we’ll be testing in earnest over the next few days.
Some background might be handy here.

Google Docs is one of our favourite collaboration tools. I use Google Docs nearly every day now. It’s perfect for notes and planning as a simple wiki – and good enough as a word processor (no more cumbersome email attachments back and forth for multiple authors). You can publish a document to the web, download and view the history – give it a try. I also use it for my personal to-do list with a direct bookmark in my browser toolbar.

My rule of thumb is: email with colleagues should be for alerts and updates. Now I don’t blame anyone for relying on email for things it wasn’t designed for, it’s usually because they haven’t been shown anything better. But if you’re doing the nitty gritty of work inside email then there’s probably a better, quicker, more sustainable way to do it. Google Docs, particularly the word processor, is one such way. (We at NativeHQ also recommend project blogs, wikis on PBWorks and live notetaking on PiratePad, depending on what you’re trying to do.)

Conversation about National Theatre Wales around the web

We’ve been working with National Theatre Wales and people who belong to their community – including office staff, production staff, cast, venues and “people formerly known as audience”.

Last year we built the community side of NTW’s website on Ning, with graphic design by the folks at Elfen. (Hoffi made the front page and listings pages.)

It’s worth noting that members of the community have the clear choice of making their posts public (open to be read by anyone who is looking) and many are doing so. The community is open to anybody on the web who wants to sign up.

But obviously with the web as it is, people are publishing their own stuff about National Theatre Wales and its productions around the web – not just on NTW’s community. We want to encourage this, it’s part of what NTW wants to achieve.

In fact, with NTW we have purposefully assigned a short tag to each production for use around the web – of the form ntw01 for production one, ntw02 for production two and so on. People are starting to use these tags already, in order to make their thoughts and posts more findable.

We also want to help the community to be aware of this other interesting stuff – videos, Twitter posts, blog posts, photos, audio – where relevant. “Online conversation” is a metaphor that has become popular on the web – and it does have some explanatory power. We want to give that conversation the best chance of being seen by groups of people who might be interested, so they can take part if they wish – wherever they choose to post their responses.

Here’s Tom’s post on the NTW site about the production tags and how posts, photos, videos and so on are collected on the NTW group for each production (and also a Netvibes page):

Take a look at the group for ntw01, A Good Night Out In The Valleys for an example of live search results from around the web. If you’re wondering how the live searches work on the groups, we made them with Yahoo Pipes. There is a chance of a few false positives turning up, as with any web search. But on the whole we like the way they’ve turned out.

We’ve included the services which seem to be the popular ones for discussing theatre. In theory more publishing services, e.g. Audioboo, could be added to the results if those services start to become popular.

So there you go, one small part of NTW’s online strategy which we’ve been working on.

Organising an event? Record and share it

I met a representative of an arts organisation this week. She mentioned one of their key aims is to help artists and other people they deal with to share knowledge. So they are organising an event, a get-together, to allow people who wouldn’t normally meet to do so.

The event itself sounded like a good move. It also made me think of the possible benefits of recording the event and uploading it online.

The recording might be a video, on a service such as YouTube or Vimeo. Or it might be just the audio, on a service such as Soundcloud. Attendees and other people can then embed a player on their blogs and websites, if you allow this (and usually there’s no reason not to allow embedding). Ideally you could embed it on your organisation or company website – but you don’t even need to do that to get started, at least for now.

The equipment for just documenting something is so ridiculously cheap now. We’re not talking about high production values or live streaming, just documenting the thing.

(There plenty of other ways to document an event using social media but today I’ll focus on getting the whole event as audio or video.)

Most attendees can be fine with audio or video if you tell them beforehand. Let them know about good opportunities to introduce themselves and plug their own work – at the start of each person’s first comment for example.

For video we use the Flip cam at NativeHQ, which is just a suggestion but it is cheap and an additional bonus is its size. It’s portable and so small that even the less confident people can happily ignore it and get on with sharing their thoughts.

So here are some possible benefits.

Extending the reach
There will probably be people who want to attend your event but can’t, because of time and geography. Recording it allows them to catch up afterwards.

For people who do attend your event it serves as a reminder of what was discussed. It might even help them to concentrate and fully participate in the meeting rather than struggle to take notes of everything.

Awareness of your organisation
Publishing a recording helps wider awareness of your organisation, its aims, its projects and so on. Relevant recordings lead to inbound links and boost to your online reputation.

One feature of the web, thought by many to be the beauty of the web, is that your recording is potentially accessible to anyone. What about exclusivity? Some audio and video services do allow you to control access to recordings. But in most situations you can just make it open. Why place limits on who can get this information? It might seem paradoxical, but some of the most competitive people and companies are the ones sharing the most useful recordings. Most things aren’t sensitive. They may as well be open.

Promotion of the event itself
This follows from the previous point. There are lots of reasons to attend your event. Some of these reasons are: meeting other attendees face-to-face, asking questions, having more influence, helping oneself to a drink or buffet. None of these are replaced by a recording. Often the recording can promote the event. (For instance, look at how the prestigious TED talks have taken off since they started sharing video. The attendance fee has increased too.)

Having a recording of key points may allow you to avoid having to repeat yourself. You can keep the recording online for weeks, months, even years afterwards. All of the good audio and video services will give your recording a permalink. This will not change and can thus be emailed to your community and shared between them and other people. Your recording will also be found by people searching for keywords contained in its title or list of tags.

Unknown reasons
I kick myself to think of the useful events I’ve attended – or even organised – and not had recorded. That’s because you don’t always know how useful the recording will be until afterwards. Or maybe sometime later. Those meetings just vanished into thin air. I’ll get by, but it would have taken hardly any effort to record them – so why not? (I’ve also been to some boring and irrelevant meetings in my time, but that’s subjective. Even those might have been of use to someone out there. You never know.)

These benefits can apply to anything good you choose to put online, not just audio and video. You could substitute the word “recording” above with “blog post”. You might already have guessed that for me, typing out this blog post ticks off some of the benefits described above.

A social media tour for music companies

These notes accompany the presentation I gave on Friday 25th September 2009 at Galeri, Caernarfon. This post is also available in PDF format.

My main emphasis was what relevance social media might have to musicians and music companies. I began with the context of online cultures before talking about examples of technologies and services and how they might be used.

Questions we’re trying to answer:
Why should anyone care about my band?
Where I can go to find or grow communities?
What tools can help me to find fans, but also to learn how to adapt my business in a changing environment?
How should I manage the time and resources I put into my online activity – to get a good return on my investment?

A range of companies attended representing different genres. Everyone had music, in the form of songwriters, performing artists or catalogue or all three. Some took revenue from live shows, others from CDs, downloads and subscription services and others from sync licensing.

What are we talking about?

The World Wide Web began in 1990 and is always evolving. In recent years one big theme has been online participation and conversation.

“Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction and the construction of text, pictures, videos and audio.”

“Social media is people having conversations online.”

Conversations is a metaphor. The conversations take place inside and outside companies or even across the company “firewall” – between companies and the outside world. Please note: not everything in social media is in pursuit of a “marketing” function. Social media involve fans, experts, amateurs, enthusiasts and yes, customers. But overall, people. They are about every topic possible, via video, text, pictures and audio.

Social media is about much more than social networking sites. There are thousands of places online which have embraced social media. Example: Amazon user reviews and tags, also, even a company’s own website if it has a blog or other social features, for example.


There has been huge growth in adoption of certain social media, e.g. Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, social networks and subscription to RSS. I spent some time talking about the statistics, just to underscore the point that it’s growing.

“It’s not a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.”

Observations about online culture

Before embarking on any “campaign” be aware of online cultures – across the web as a whole and also within individual communities. These are some of the common themes you often see. Not exhaustive, just themes you’ll see in the wild.


Natural, open, honest, direct, human voices work best. Not the mission statement, brochure or telephone busy signal. The unnatural “corporate voice” is fading. People just tune out.

Read The Cluetrain Manifesto at

As a general guideline if your website looks like a static brochure it’s probably not making the best use of what online can do.


By “remix” we mean that culture is adaptable. People in general have an impulse to participate and be creative.

It is a natural impulse and has existed for a long time, particularly in folk cultures and more recently in sampling. It can be easier to express through social media than it was through traditional media, there is a democratisation of media. This obviously covers music but not just music – everything.

In some ways it’s an acknowledgement of how ideas have always developed.

Kutiman remixing YouTube
and other online memes.
We can actively encourage this, e.g. Radiohead releasing parts of their track for remix. Be creative.

Read “Remix” book by Lawrence Lessig


In the music industry, if I say “sharing” we jump to thinking about unlicensed music sharing. We could have a big discussion about that.

But here I wanted to emphasise the more general nature of sharing culture – people sharing news, posting links, discoveries of new bands (and old bands). Also of course, sharing through blogs whether that be experiences, advice, links, lessons.

It’s human impulse. Increasingly this is happening in real-time too. People can share very quickly, sometimes by clicking “favourite”.

As music companies, are we giving people things they can share? If not how do we expect to be found online?

For music recommendations, we often trust our friends more than critics.

Everyone in the room has something they can share.

Be creative.

Be interesting.

An idea: why not ask your community of fans if they are sitting on their own archive photos and video of your artists? They might be grateful for recognition and links back.

Don’t be afraid of sharing niche things if that’s what you do. The web is big enough.

If things are tagged and titled properly they can be found. It helps if each item has its own unique URL. Things exist across the web, on different services. But for your own website, if you requires major restructuring to allow deep links, it may be worth the effort.

Definitely share from your back catalogue, people are ready to discover it today. Some people in the room have decades of great stuff!


This is linked to sharing and also to the human voice. There is a tendency towards openness online. If you are open, like-minded people will find you. They will also converse back.

Examples from the world that music companies inhabit – most fans would like to hear more about the process of recording, “behind the scenes” at gigs, inter-band conversation. Think about the things you take for granted which are interesting to some people.

(Openness also means being accountable for mistakes and human failings – back to the human voice again.)

This is normal now. It is rare to have a Kate Bush-type artist who needs to be totally mysterious. Don’t use this as an excuse not to open up. How will you be found?

General points about cultures

Every company is a media company. The companies who are patient and adaptable and who share will get the benefit of this. We can have our own media which are fundamentally different to traditional media “channels”. Social media don’t necessarily replace traditional media – but social media are interactive, cover more niches, they are more diverse.

As music companies, we are free to release a large amount of interesting content. There are ways to do this without annoying people as a big album launch swamping traditional media sometimes does (U2 for example). For example you can post 100 videos to YouTube. People can filter down to what they like. Read “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson.

Traditional media are preoccupied with release dates and current things. Music marketing responds to this. But online this constraint does not exist. Look at your back catalogue.

A quick tour of some technologies

These are in broad sections with examples. There is overlap and a lot of hybrid services.

We couldn’t cover everything in the limited time, so I talked about technologies and services most relevant to a music company.

Video platforms

YouTube – the definitive video sharing platform, fans are there – use it!

Vimeo – better quality but not as many active users searching

Qik – live streaming of video, e.g. for interviewing a band or streaming from a gig

In general it’s a good idea to make your videos embeddable. Do this and people can post them on their own blogs and web pages, increasing the potential number of relevant viewers. Universal Music Group don’t allow this for their videos, for some reason known only to them.

Social networking sites

Facebook – fan pages can be good as long as they are maintained. You can pull in your RSS feed of news but avoid too much automation. Again, people like to interact with a human being. In general, a Facebook page or any social media presence is a promise you will be available. (This is why you should answer email from fans.) Be aware of the walled garden – you cannot take your Facebook fans elsewhere very easily. Facebook are in control – of the experience, of your pages, of your fans. (I was banned from Facebook recently while testing something. It could happen to you. They let me back though.)

Ning – people create their own social networks. It offers more customisation than Facebook. Creating a social network is not something you do every day – but useful when you want a distinct community with its own URL. Americymru is an example of a community on Ning which you can join to discuss Welsh matters, including music.

Myspace – there is still value in having a Myspace account as a band or label. For gig promoters and agents it can be the definitive place to check out your music. Have up-to-date music, photos and gig dates on there. Other than that, be careful how much time you spend on it. This will depend what kind of music you work with. It’s spammy.

Twitter – I sensed some scepticism about this one, possibly because of media hype and mis-representation. If you are dealing with excellent music, then you will be talked about on Twitter (and other places) whether or not you actually have an account. Try running a search. It’s a hybrid of blogging and social network, often called “microblogging” because each post is 140 characters or less. It includes mobile access. As with most social networks, any form of blatant marketing is a turn-off for people. Why not try it and see for yourself? The web is highly experimental. If you see some hype, be curious and go and decide for yourself.
Twitter is excellent for monitoring music news and social media news. It’s also potentially good for being an influencer, if you are interesting enough.

Dedicated blogging platforms

A blog is not necessarily a diary! It’s just a website organised by time. Actually a highly creative medium.

Blog is a contraction of “web log”.

WordPress – my personal favourite. It’s open source so you can ask your web person to download the code and host it yourself, on your own domain name. Endless customisation is possible in design and features. Now in use by many companies including Telegraph for their blog and comment system and Number10. Go to for the easy hosted version or for the code (if you know someone technical who can set it up on your own hosting)

Blogger – long-running but possibly looking a little dated now, limited customisability

Tumblr – more like a blog scrapbook, e.g. singer from The Decemberists shares things he is interested in (not just his own music)

Posterous – dead simple blog for small posts, worth a look

There are many others. It’s technically easy to start a blog but it can take time to master it and grow to something of value. If you want to know how easy it is to start a blog, here’s a fun experiment: send an email to and you’ll get an email back telling you about your new blog.


Soundcloud – audio platform (becoming popular with music companies and artists, as an alternative to CD demos and promos)

Flickr – photo sharing and discussion

Slideshare – slideshows

Last.FM – radio station with music recommendation, has a community of hardcore music fans


RSS is a way of pulling content from a website. One very useful application is setting up a feed reader and subscribing to blogs and news sites you want to follow. Instead of manually visiting site1, site2, site3, you are automating this process.

My analogy is a custom newspaper which you put together yourself. Mine has hundreds of subscriptions which I scan.

If given the choice, I will always subscribe to RSS instead of choosing an email newsletter. I use email for getting things done and my feed reader like my newspaper – for my coffee break.

Google Reader is a popular example of a feed reader.

You can also subscribe to search feeds, e.g. for your name and names of your bands! Many sites offer search feeds. YouTube, Twitter, Google Blogsearch are just three. Don’t be slow to find out if you’re being talked about.

Sometimes sites offer Atom feeds, it’s a slightly different file format but exactly the same in practice.

We didn’t talk about

Mobile, location-based services, social bookmarking (e.g. Delicious), activity streams, comment systems (e.g. Disqus), wikis, “user-generated content”, collaborative documents (e.g. Google Docs), APIs

In other words, social media technologies are very diverse. There are lots of companies making a play to launch their own services.

Questions from music companies

I’ve tried to reproduce questions here as accurately as I could. In my answers I gave a lot more detail. Next time I’ll consider recording it!

This time, in line with the Chatham House rule, I’ll say what was said but not who said it. This document is online at so feel free to comment there.

Question: what’s the difference between the different blogging platforms? What’s the difference between, say, WordPress and Myspace? I already have a blog on Myspace. Why would I need a blog?

The different blogging platforms are service providers so it’s about personal preference and features.

Myspace has taken inspiration from blogging platforms for its own blog feature. If Myspace is working for you and for your fans in your style of music then of course carry on and re-assess in the future.

I would say that not everyone is using Myspace, so you will miss people. With WordPress (which is my personal favourite, especially when hosted on your own domain), your own blog would be far more customisable in every way, not just in design but features – and importantly be more visible (probably). Also, your own blog would probably be less susceptible to social network fashions, as certain users have deserted Myspace. It might be an idea to do a blog and copy the relevant posts to Myspace, for people who spend time there.

Question: what about the metrics on Myspace friend count and number of plays for each track? They can be gamed/boosted with certain software.

The people who care about these figures should know that they can be gamed. Therefore there is no value in doing this. This then backfires on the cheats, or people just ignore the figures entirely.

(Questioner then said that journalists are deciding whether to feature artists on the basis of phoney counts. I don’t know whether this is this case anymore.)

Maybe there is value in having an honest but low number of plays if your music has been freshly uploaded. Under-hyped can work!

Question: in the old days we would leaf through vinyl records. Bands could build a community in their local area. Now there is so much competition from other bands worldwide. Is all this a double edged sword?

Yes it’s a doubled-edged sword because people have finite attention spans. Online has been described as an “attention economy”. People have more access to all kinds of things, not just music. So your music has to be good of course.

On the plus-side it is potentially easier to find international audiences such as Japan and America – both of which probably have big demand for Welsh music!

Someone gave the example of a successful licensing deal for an advertising campaign in another territory. (I think the implication was this was achieved thanks to online).

Question: what about quality? There is so much crap online.

This would make a good pub argument. I personally think there has always been crap, it’s just more evenly distributed.

It is about having good filters – people and sources which you trust.

As for music companies looking for artists to work with, Geoff Travis of Rough Trade has an old quote which still holds: “always work with genius”. You can’t argue with that.

Question: what do you think of Spotify?

Spotify is a streaming music service. I love it.

It has advertising but their model seems to be based on paid subscription. The advertising is apparently there to annoy music fans into subscribing!

I’m not going to prescribe Spotify for every artist and label but many people like it. As with any deal, discuss it with your digital distributor and look at the figures.

In general subscription services could be an alternative to selling copies of albums, e.g. eMusic, Nokia Comes With Music. (Comment about whether somebody could set up infrastructure to get Welsh music on subscription services or have a Welsh subscription service. Other comments outside the scope of our discussion.)

(Comment about whether it hurts other revenue. Someone was looking at releasing one track instead of a full album.) I can’t answer that for you. It could be cannibalisation or it could be “found money”, depending on what you’re doing. It’s a business decision which, again, you make based on digital distributor’s advice and wisdom from elsewhere.

There is lots of online discussion about revenue for content, e.g. – I’m here to say you should subscribe to the RSS and get smart!

Question: earlier you mentioned The Guardian review of a band which is interesting

Yes, I knew about it because somebody had posted a link on Twitter!

(We had a discussion here about the comparative value of newspaper reviews and blogs.) I think if you are good and have good PR then you can get, say, a Guardian review per album or for a high-profile gig. I’m definitely not minimising the value of newspaper coverage when I talk about social media. As far as your efforts go, the two are not even in competition.

The potential value of good social media engagement is growing.


Social media definition – this is an unattributed quote taken from Wikipedia but works well enough.

Some other quotes (italicised) taken from What The F**k is Social Media by Marta Kagen

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “The web should be like a piece of paper” (via BBC)

This is a 20-minute video from a BBC event with an insightful speech from creator of the web Tim Berners-Lee plus a question and answer session.

Here’s the background to BBC’s Digital Revolution project around the 20th anniversary of the web.