Admit It, Social Media Is Out Of Control.
If despots can't control social media, how can we expect to? It may seem a trivial comparison, but it is a useful one. In our own little world of music, can anyone really predict, much less guarantee, social success? Messages to fans are re-interpreted in unexpected ways. Facebook, the dominate social channel, is constantly changing the rules of engagement. Social media is out of control. In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky compares the ability to control social tools to trying to steer a kayak:
"We have a small degree of control over the spread of these tools, but that control does not extend to our being able to reverse, stop, or even radically alter the direction we’re moving in. Our principle challenge is not to decide where we want to go, but rather to stay upright as we go there." (via Joshsegall, @umairh)
This is, after all, the shift that many of us hoped for. Big labels and big media no longer control the music conversation. Anyone with a computer or cell phone is a broadcast channel. It's the new long tail of influence; often small and thin, but still quite capable of reaching back to whip the beast.
A musician's contribution to the social stream often has more impact than that of the fan, but that's not just because their platform has more reach. An artist has real impact when, in addition to clever tweets and blog posts, they contribute great music, memorable performances and a glimpse inside their fertile minds.
The answer is not to try to control the flailing tail - or to use Shirky's analogy to paddle the kayak faster - but rather to find balance and add momentum to the movement.