Sandbox Summit communities panel
Photo: Vitalij Sidorovic Credit: Vitalij Sidorovic

“Traditional social media is broadcast media. Community is when all members of the community can add value. WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord are all community.”

That’s Tom Gayner, CEO of music-tech Levellr, talking at Music Ally’s recent Sandbox Summit conference.

Levellr works with artists, labels, creators and brands to build fan communities on messaging and chat platforms, and Gayner was revealing some of the lessons in a panel focused on music communities.

“What we’ve seen with Discord is that those fans become micro-influencers and evangelists. Those fans bring in more fans,” said Gayner.

He also advised that artists don’t necessarily have to build these communities from scratch. Maisie Peters, for example, found that there was already a 2,000-strong fan server on Discord, so she joined that.

Gayner also talked up the use of Discord bots, which can recognise (for example) which fans have listened to a song the most in a month, and post those rankings to the community.

“People like to be seen,” he said, adding that those fans can also become key pillars in a Discord community, and help to manage it.

“A worst-case scenario is when an artist launches a community, and doesn’t engage or allow moderators. Find moderators, on-board them and train them,” he said. Gayner also said that rewarding superfans is key.

“Emerging artists can think carefully about how to make the 200 people in their community feel really special – creating the community exclusive merchandise, for instance.”

Lucy Fletcher, community manager at Warner Records UK, talked about that label’s approach to these platforms.

“Our focus is on two-way messaging where fans can talk to the artist and other fans which eventually means while artist involvement is good, conversation carries on outside of their involvement,” she said.

Fletcher agreed that it’s important to get started early in an artist’s career, even if they initially are counting their superfans in the dozens or hundreds.

“Artists should build a community as soon as possible. Fans at the start will serve you all the way through. It can be as simple as replying on Twitter or Instagram and then picking a community platform,” she said.

“I tell artists to treat community building like texting and simply talking to fans. Spend 5-10 mins every day just engaging and make it part of the day-to-day routine.”

Fletcher also noted that it’s important to do this where fans are naturally congregating already. “Don’t force them onto Discord if they are on Instagram.”

Every artist at Warner Records UK now has a content manager and a community manager, which Fletcher said means there is more ability to spend time planning and growing communities.

Matt Sherratt, artist marketing manager at Amuse, said that his work with artists has often focused on making sure communities work with their release schedules.

“I encourage artists in a release cycle to put their communication first into the community,” he said.

“Artists are often scared of a community or Discord, or they are worried about how they find the time to do it. It’s probably better to save your time to curate something that is really meaningful,” he added.

“So wait until you have a release cycle perhaps, and introduce a lot of carefully made content at that time. And listen to your fans and get honest feedback.”

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