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How to Throw a Jam pt. 5: Promotion

It’s finally time to get to the actual promotion aspect of promoting. I’ll talk about a few strategies for getting the word out, social media and the importance of the flyer.

How well you handle this part will directly affect your turnout.

Facebook

Forget Facebook. If you get that, and I know some of you do, skip to the next section, otherwise read on…

This was a tough installment to write. As of now, promotion is in a weird place. Technically, social media is supposed to be our big savior for promotion. The easiest way to reach people should be the Internet right? A connection that literally spans the globe and is in everyone’s pocket?

At one time that was probably true. If you wanted to promote your event there were maybe 3 places to go: Bboyworld, Bboy.org and freestylesession.com.  Every b-boy in the world checked one or all of those forums on a daily basis.

In 2015, you should be aware of the filter bubble. Our social media feeds and search engines are controlled by invisible algorithms originally intended to personalize your internet experience; you only see what interests you. Google keeps track of what you search and what you click to target ads and cater your search results to wherever your interest lies. For example, if you searched “Climate Change” a day after reading Huffington Post for a week, you get results that would be very different from someone who spent that same week reading Breitbart.

Let’s be honest, we all really only use one website, Facebook. No one goes to google to search for their interests much anymore and when’s the last time you used all those folders of bookmarks? If you’re like most people, you probably just wait for things to wander into your news feed.

Unfortunately, the filter bubble for Facebook, uses their algorithm to promote only those items that have been paid for or reached a certain engagement (likes, clicks, and shares) threshold to decide what gets into feeds.

Remember a few months ago, every so often Facebook would ask if you thought a particular post from a friend was an ad or looked like an ad or felt like an ad? The reason it was asking was so it could learn which types of posts by regular users or small business/artist pages could be considered ads. So if someone else posted a flyer, an FB event link, a soundcloud or bandcamp page that looked like an ad to you, any future posts resembling it will be deemed an ad as far as the algorithm is concerned.

If it’s considered an ad, the post will be buried in some cases, appearing under other “boosted” posts, posts from major sites like buzzfeed, Upworthy, etc. or posts from days before. Or it will simply not appear in the feed at all regardless of whether you “like” or are friends with a page or person. You can change the desktop settings to “Sort by most recent,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll see a post FB never allowed on your feed to begin with.

To get your post to appear in more feeds, you can do one of two things. Pay to boost the post but from reviews that I’ve read, you still don’t end up getting views from your own followers or interested parties. You’re just as likely to attract the eyes of people who could care less about any dance event. In which case, they’ll click “I don’t want to see this,” which I can’t imagine helps your post’s prominence in the algorithm. It’s like firing a shotgun instead of a sniper rifle, the shot will hit a lot but it might not get the “kill” (a like, share, or click) and sometimes you might shoot your friend in the face by accident. This metaphors become unwieldy so I’ll move on

Besides those issues, you could end up with fake likes and engagement from click farms

The other option to get your post seen, is to wish upon a falling star or write said wish on the gossamer wings of a butterfly that will hopefully take it directly to Mark Zuckerberg.

If you post something, you have to hope enough people are online in a short enough time frame that you’ll get an extremely high number of likes and shares. The chances of that are pretty slim though. There are dozens of articles on the web covering peak social media hours, but if your post is deemed an ad and immediately buried or never appearing in feeds to begin with, what does that matter? Getting your post to eyeballs is a complete crap shoot.

Besides some people might share a day or a week later, in which case it will be just as buried as it would’ve been the first time around, especially if they didn’t share from the original poster. Independent links pasted and not shared doesn’t seem to accumulate to meet whatever minimum engagement filter FB uses.

Personally, I don’t pay Facebook to promote anything just out of principle. It’s the opposite of everything I grew up believing about what the Internet was for – free, open and useable for everyone, not just the people who can afford it – so it’s a system I simply refuse to take part. If you’re promoting on Facebook, you’re basically being extorted to have your stuff seen even by the people who specifically want to see your stuff. If you’d like to, go for it but I’m not guaranteeing any results from it.

Addendum: So, as an experiment I completely threw my principles out the window and Boosted a Post for a recent mix. When you boost a post, you have the option to target the audience. I tried a couple of different target groups. First, I went very broad for anyone that would like tags related to my mix. This result seemed to be inorganic click farms. Lots of repeat profile pics and 65 year old business men in Thailand. 

Second, I targeted only people that liked the AlphaTrion artist page. This actually provided results as you could imagine. They did like my page, but until boosting the post, my mix never appeared in their feed. 
If you’re going to use facebook, as it stands, boosting a post will probably be necessary just to reach the people that already follow you.

Ok, so that’s one problem with Facebook.

Facebook events is horrible. Keep in mind every person you’ve invited through Facebook also received several dozen invites that same day. You’ll be lucky if yours is the one they actually look at. If they’re interested, they’ll click “Going” without even checking the date. I see friends online all the time that will somehow be attending events in Atlanta, Chicago and Pusan, South Korea on the same day.

So you can go ahead and completely ignore whatever numbers are on your RSVP list. Once you hit a couple hundred, don’t pat yourself on the back, kick your feet up and wait for that sweet, sweet regional dance event money to come rolling in.

Half those people never intended to go and the other half are going to forget they even saw the event page by the time it comes around. Unless, you’re regularly making posts to the page, in which case they’ll get notifications. Until they turn off notifications for your event anyway.

What about the other social media sites? Which ones? Twitter, where almost no one goes unless they’re also trying to promote something? Tumblr, where your followers are much more interested in a gifset of a fat dog than your flyer? Instagram, where you can post a picture but no clickable link?

Hold up, a picture says a thousand words right?

Get a Graphic Designer

The one manner of promotion that has stayed effective for a few hundred years is the flyer, poster or playbill. I mean, I’m hip, I’m pretty jacked in to the net (word to cyberpunk) so you’d think it’d be hard to miss when an artist I like comes to town right? Well, I follow George Clinton and the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on all social media but I didn’t find out about a show two weeks from now until I past a poster on the street yesterday.

If a guy who once took to stages in a UFO descending from fog can’t get the word out on Facebook, you’ve got to be pretty skeptical of the same strategy working for you. You’ve probably never even seen a UFO.

Despite all the praise heaped on social media by people hired to be  social media experts justifying their job title and salary, I personally don’t believe there is anything more effective than direct, personal marketing.

For events, that starts with a decent flyer. What’s a decent flyer? It has to communicate all pertinent info in an easily readable format and at the same time visually striking and memorable. You don’t know how to do that. Your friend with a deviantart page probably doesn’t either.

There are professionals who dedicate their lives to conveying information in a visual manner, they’re called graphic designers. I’m willing to bet money that your personally know at least two of them at varying skill levels and price points. If you don’t, they’re one phone call or Facebook status away, ask for recommendations.

I know you probably have faith in your abilities or your friend’s but there’s a good chance you’re wrong if you have no training or understanding of design. Graphic design is an art and craft that’s been honed over the course of decades. They know strategies, skills and ideas that would never cross your mind and make the difference between a flyer on the trash or one framed on a wall.

You want the frame on the wall. Even if someone misses it this year, they’ll remember a particularly well done flyer for reasons they’re not even aware of and  they’re probably likely to keep an eye out for next year. You want something that will make people pause as they’re speed scrolling through Instagram, FB, or Twitter.

A well designed flyer also says you actually give a shit. Why in the world would I ever go to an event where it doesn’t even seem like the promoter cares? You got a stock photo of a studio dancer doing an L-kick and a free graffiti font and I’m supposed to think you actually paid for a decent DJ or even have the prize money advertised in solid gold Clip Art? Nah. Hard pass.

I told you to make room in your budget for this so you should have it set aside by now. If you must go on the cheap, at least find a graphic design student or negotiate something with a friend. Any input from a professional is well worth the investment.

What’s on the Flyer?

The words that go on the flyer is called “copy,” if you need some lingo to talk to your new
Graphic design friend.

Name of the event
Date and time
Location
DJs
Judges
Host
Prize money
Your name as the promoter

Optional:
Public transit or driving directions
Hotel information
Parking information

Where does it go?

Once you have the flyer, get it out there. Get it on all the social media sites because, let’s face it, you have to. Pictures seem to escape FB’s filter bubble pretty well if you post directly and don’t share from Instagram or other site. Ask your friends that you know support you to share the picture around the same time you post it. Hopefully it can get enough likes to expand to more feeds.

Keep in mind, even though it behooves your judges, DJs and staff to share the event, it’s also not their job. It’s yours. You’re the only person that’s relying on actual “promotion” to make the money and you’re the one that took the title of “promoter.” They were hired to do other things and even though they might share it, it may not be on the forefront of their mind. Especially if yours is just one of many that they do every weekend. Don’t rely on any one else to do your job, other people can help but at the end of the day, this is your responsibility.

Don’t rely on Internet alone, remember I told you to set aside some of your budget for a printer? Spend it. It’s time to get old school with your promotion. Get some small flyers printed up along with a maybe a handful of posters. Drop flyers at local businesses where you KNOW the breakers or hip-hop heads shop…sneaker boutiques, record stores, a particular coffee shop, colleges, anywhere they might be found. Ask before you put them or they might go straight into the trash when you walk out. See if they mind hanging up a poster in their window.

You can do the flyer in the windshield wiper at a hip-hop show thing but I think I’ve thrown away every single flyer that’s ever appeared on my windshield. I don’t know many people who do, it’s a bit of a nuisance besides being a bit too broad of an approach for such a niche event.

Get out to some jams in your area or in other states and personally put flyers in people’s hands. People are more likely to support something they have a personal connection to and something as small as knowing your name and face can be enough.   If you know the promoter, ask if they mind advertising your jam. Most probably won’t mind if they know you’ll allow them to do the same at your event.

Remember when I said word of mouth is more valuable than Facebook RSVPs in the Date & Venue installment? This is a part of that. You’re actually having a conversation with real people about the event your throwing. You can answer questions and alleviate concerns right now, you can make the pitch better than any status update can.

If you can’t, get to work on the elevator pitch for your jam. You should be able to tell me why your event is so special and worth my money in the time it might take for us to ride an elevator. It needs to be short and concise because they need to be able to make the same pitch when they go back to their practice spot later that week. You only have a few flyers so don’t just hand them to everyone. You know what crews and dancers go to everything, get the flyer to them first. Don’t waste a flyer on the college kid that shows up to something once a year, he can get it after you’ve made sure the movers and shakers in your scene have gotten it.

Other Ways to Promote

You can get people’s attention through more than just the eyes. You could talk to the DJ for your event and see if they’d be willing to do a promo mix, don’t be offended if they ask to get paid. Mixtapes are a lot of work.

Instagram and Facebook allows 15 second videos so if you have some basic editing skills or know someone who does, you can cut a quick commercial. As with anything, the better the quality, the better the chance people pay attention.

You can throw smaller “fundraiser” or promotional events leading up to the big event. I’d avoid ever using the words “fundraiser” though unless it’s for a charity or you haven’t started the real promotion of the big event. If I see a flyer for your event with a big prize and the next day, I see you’re throwing a fundraiser event so you can pay the prize money, I’ll naturally be skeptical that you’re ever getting that money.

Regardless of what you use to promote, you have to stay on it. This isn’t a one day job, it goes right up until the day of the event. If you plan on doing it again, it’s year round. You now have brand and if you’re not constantly promoting, it can get forgotten. How many people are rocking Troop sneakers these days?

Consistently post updates, competitions, judge bios and footage, DJ mixes, anything that will get people excited. Make sure to spread it out, maybe one thing a week or every other week and increase that rate as time comes close. It reduces the chances of people getting sick of the notifications but still keeps it in mind. Regardless of how cliché as it’s become, make a hashtag, put it in every post and encourages its use. This will keep your event easy to find across all social media sites.

I realize that there’s been a lot of business talk in this series that seems to turn people we know personally into a commodity. I also realize that as artists, our first instinct is to reject that kind of thing. However, if you’re an artist that needs to make money, get over it. There’s plenty of places to hold strong to your “keeping it real” principles but promotion isn’t the place. It’s a business, and that’s not a negative thing. A successful event isn’t just selfish promotion, it shouldn’t be at least. You’re helping DJs, Judges, MCs, designers and your friends make some extra cash and you’re helping gain exposure for those that need it. You are providing a service, you are a business. Just accept that and use it to do good for your scene.

Part 1: Vibe
Part 2: Budget
Part 3: Date & Venue
Part 4: Personnel
Part 6: Final Hours

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