SOCIAL NETWORK MONSTERS
How many followers do you have? It’s a question artists must be prepared to answer with a significant number in order to be validated by the current music industry. The number of “followers,” “friends” and “likes” one has on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram now determines one’s net worth to industry gatekeepers.
I must admit I am guilty of being at the forefront of the social network movement, which perpetuated social network monsters. Social networking began to grow about the time we were launching our management company. I was an early adopter of blogging, Twitter and Facebook. Learning the art of building massive followings was an interesting challenge I took on with fervor. At the time, there was a service called Twitter Grader where one could see stats and one’s ranking as an influential Twitterer in their city, state, country and the world. I quickly became obsessed with becoming the number one Twitterer in my area. The Nashville area is full of celebrities and influencers making my quest quite the challenge. I was so obsessed with becoming number one in Brentwood, Tennessee, I reached out to the top five ranking Twitterers to connect and size up my competition. I found the top four fairly easy to pass up, but there was a very savvy marketer holding down the number one position. The number one Twitterer had been using Twitter a year prior to my start, making him difficult to pass. I eventually claimed the number one spot and held on to it until Twitter Grader ceased to exist. Ironically, my nephew interviewed for a job at the former number one Twitterer’s marketing firm. During the interview, the man made the statement to my nephew: “Your uncle sure is obsessed with being number one!” Although I am embarrassed to admit it, those words confirmed that I had become a social network monster.
When I pitch artists to record labels, one of the first things most label A&R reps do is check out the artist’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to determine their “social net worth.” At times, an artist’s “social net worth” seems more important than the music they create. The crazy thing is anyone can build a facade following through a number of different methods. Someone can have ten thousand Twitter followers—none of whom ever see or care about their Tweets, thanks to follower-building software. It really takes hit radio songs and heavy touring to build a genuine large following, and that normally takes place after an artist is signed to a record label. Sure, there will be a few who go viral on the Internet without radio and touring, but those are anomalies. Unfortunately, the priority placed on the number of followers encourages new artists to become social network monsters.
While social networking is fun, it can quickly usher in a dark element. Many users post things to draw attention to themselves so they appear to be living the dream. If an artist focuses too much on what other artists post, the artist can experience feelings of depression and jealousy. I don’t think God intends for us to live in such a dark place. My advice to anyone is to keep things in check. Use social networks as a tool to engage those who are interested in one’s music and ministry, but don’t allow the obsession of getting more followers to overtake one’s daily life in an attempt to increase self-worth. A word of caution should also be said regarding spending too much time reading what others are posting. While I do recommend supporting others with retweets and shares, it’s easy to become obsessed with comparing oneself to others and allowing envy to creep in. Envy for what others are doing is food for the monster.
It’s also important to remember that social networking creates a permanent record on the Internet of what we post. I can personally say there are a few Twitter rants I posted over the years I wish would disappear. Frustration with airlines, hotels and restaurants have presented a weak spot for me. When I’m wronged, why not turn to Twitter and broadcast it to the world? Unfortunately, one can now be sued for such comments as they have the potential to hurt the reputation of a person or business. Moreover, most Twitter rants normally don’t reflect the love of Jesus, which presents an even bigger issue for Christians. Celebrities, artists and other public figures have influence over their followers and can taint someone’s reputation quickly. Recently, a top Christian artist with a massive Twitter following had a bad experience with an airline and quickly turned to Twitter to let the world know about it. The rant about the airlines reminded me of similar rants I have posted. A lawsuit was filed against the artist by an airline employee. I’m sure the artist now regrets the Tweet, as the lawsuit was broadcast across local media. Someone who makes a living singing about Jesus now has their negative rant permanently on the Internet. That particular artist has done a lot of good toward spreading the Gospel, and it would be a shame for one little incident of human error to overshadow the goodness. Thankfully, God uses my wife, Diana, to remind me to be kind when I am wronged and feel the need to Tweet. God tells us, in the book of James, slander isn’t such a good practice.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
(James 4:10-11, ESV)
I have a sneaky suspicion James 4:10-11 applies to what we say about hotels, airlines and restaurants who don’t give us good service.
Just as ill will can be spread through social networks, the love of God can also be spread. I’m often encouraged by those who post regular positive messages. A good friend of mine posts the most encouraging things on Facebook. Every morning, I know I will wake up to an encouraging word from Dusty on Facebook. I’m sure he encounters not so great days just like the rest of the world, but his consistent positive encouragement on Facebook gives thousands of followers hope and perspective.
One artist we work with also balances social networking especially well. The artist gives followers insight into their daily life. At times, the posts expose vulnerability regarding things the artist is struggling with, and at other times, the artist offers encouraging words. When the artist posts Scripture, it appears heartfelt and many pay attention.
Social networking has glorified the word “following.” The core of the word “following” feels a bit disturbing to me when used to describe anyone who subscribes to my Twitter feed. “Following” has historically been associated with religious and cult leaders. Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, Gandhi, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones (remember him?) and David Koresh all had or still have followers. The word “follower” normally describes someone’s dedicated belief in an individual or an individual’s set of beliefs. I think, at times, social network celebrities begin to feel like religious leaders as their following grows. The power of getting others to act on things one posts is exhilarating! I know my ego explodes with joy when others retweet or share my posts. Did I just say my EGO (as in “Easing God Out”) explodes with joy when someone retweets me? I am so thankful my God is forgiving, as the joy in Him is so much greater than the false and temporal joy created by ego and any social network.
Putting accountability in place is a good idea for anyone who uses social networks. Having a trusted person who lets one know when one’s social network actions appear unhealthy will help users avoid much grief. When any sign of the social network monster creeps in, knowing God is bigger should help us stuff the monster in the closet and refuse to feed it.