A Musician’s Guide to Twitter: Four Tips On Surviving The 140-Character Rapids


The “social” part of “social media” describes the relationship users can develop with each other through constant updates. Twitter epitomizes this principle, inviting users to post their quick chirp-like thoughts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and providing an overwhelming amount of time for both opportunities and letdowns.

There’s no need to stalk a concert in order to see the unfiltered side of an artist—just go online and check out what they’re putting out on social media. But like any other relationship, this one has its limits—rules to the game, just like Biggie’s Ten Crack Commandments. Etiquette, if you will, to handling online stardom and the commentary that surrounds it. Here are four guidelines for those people looking to navigate the social-media waters:

1. Find love in a hopeless place
One of the best ingredients for a successful Twitter presence is a real-life love (or something close to it) story that happens in front of our eyes. Enter Rihanna and Chris Brown. With their notorious history together, any evidence of rekindling between the two is a step in the right direction for the two’s online popularity, especially when the hope lies in adorable tweets.

The social media world explodeddafter this interaction as people flocked to the idea that these two would reconcile. This upswing continued a few weeks later, when both announced that they would be featured on each other’s remixes.

The artists’ Facebook fans and Twitter followers soared even more after this headline broke. But why the flurry? With an example like this, it can be said that Twitter is akin to a celebrity Post Secret; the communication established between the two on a website that has millions of eyes watching becomes a projection of hope for fans. It is a relationship that we can now follow as spectators rather than tabloid readers. Of course, Hollywood gossip is fueled off these distraught relationships but, on the social network, it is an equal playing field of human emotions.

2. Personalize your product.
No matter how famous you are, there has to be some mundane aspect of your day that your fans can relate to. Find those doldrums and the hell out of them.

“They can riff. They can rant. They can develop an online persona as they see fit,” said David Bevan, an editor at Spin. This “online persona” becomes a supplement to the artists’ music –it helps us understand where the musician is coming from. In Bevan’s opinion, this self-branding via tweeting has greatly helped an artist like Bethany Cosentino of the So-Cal pop rock duo Best Coast. By following her everyday quirks and comments, fans “can connect the dots between her personality and the music they hear.”

So, if you listen to her music enough, you’ll know already that she is an unbelievably big ‘cat person.’ She likes her cat so much, she made a Twitter account for her. Meet Snacks:

But over-personalization of one’s life can lead to labels—category prisons that artists are put in by fans and critics alike. The same happens with actors who have one role that dominates their imagery there on out (Michael Richards as “Kramer,” Michael Cera as “Evan” from Superbad, etc.). In an interview last Monday, Cosentino argued her plea to break out from this Twitter stereotype: I just want to lose that stoner cat girl label and for people to take me more seriously,” she said.

In order to do this, she needs to remind fans that she can enjoy her free time in other ways—like by reading The Hunger Games:

3. Don’t mess up on live national television
“A negative review can cause greater harm than it could in the days before instantaneous commentary,” said Adam Penenberg, an NYU journalism professor and author ofViral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves.

Covering all personalities, Twitter is naturally home to the nice and the not-so-nice, as the singer Lana Del Rey knows. After her performance on Saturday Night Live was labeled by NBC’s Brian Williams as “one of the worst outings” in the show’s history, the twitosphere imploded with the story and the site became a go-to source for everything Lana-related.

“Twitter became a very attractive place from which to pull select quotes regarding [Del Rey’s] performance,” said Bevan. “It seems like it has been very useful in illuminating online currents as they take shape.” So select quotes from the likes of Eliza Dushku and Juliette Lewis were pulled, and they were harsh. By aggregating negative comments like these two, Twitter becomes a spotlight nightmare. For artists looking to regain credibility post-mishap, this is not the kind of criticism they want to see or hear.

But one must remember that stains on Twitter live in Internet time, which converts human weeks into digital minutes. Quick phenomena deflate in nanoseconds as people move on to the next big story. This has translated into success for Lana: her album, Born to Die, was unfortunately released a week after the notorious SNL performance. The looming danger of Twittertime, however, is that people will always remember that something happened at one point: after Lana’s better performance on a recent episode of American Idol, Kia Makarechi of the Huffington Post wrote: “it remains to [be seen] if Del Rey will ever be mentioned without the word “widely panned ‘Saturday Night Live’ performance’ in the same breath.”

4. Don’t overload the server
“Arguments can ensue, and at times you definitely get those ‘too much information’ moments,” remarked Eric Sandler, senior editor at Revivalist Magazine. Of course, Twitter has always been grounds for verbal warfare. 140 characters or less gives an artist enough time to call out someone or threaten detractors. It’s the cyber-version of the remarks made before a bar fight; a bunch of one-liners that have no substance but can quickly enable beefs to proliferate. In the fierce song “212,” Harlem rapper Azealia Banks admits to listeners that she is “the bitch that wants to compete.” And, on Twitter, she made this line a reality:

This remark sent off a chain of tweets between the two lady MCs that, like any great fight on the Internet, immediately spun into nothingness. It could be good for garnering buzz to said Twitter account but, for the rest of us half-ass tweeters, it’s a news feed clogger.

“Twitter can definitely be abused to the point where it deteriorates the conversation being had,” Sandler added. Along with fights, constant 24/7 dribble is a poison that is wreaking havoc on the Web and letting neurotic tweeters reign supreme. And we cannot let that happen.

Twitter was created as a means to quickly update others on what was happening; it has since grown into a portal where, like its homepage describes, you can “find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about.” It invites us to be ourselves and tweet what interests us in the world. But, as dribble continues to enter the system constantly, the site hits hyper-speed like the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. Once this happens, the idea of aggregation turns awry as the value of any relevant piece, whether it’s music journalism or not, is lost in Internet time. Fellow Voice writer Christopher Weingarten explains the conundrum best:

In the end, these four tips for a healthy existence on Twitter revolve around one basic mantra: Be yourself. That might sound like kindergarten bullshit, but it is strongly relevant if your every remark is judged by thousands, if not millions, of people. As pathetic for the future of mankind as that and this sounds, Twitter is the Great Humanizer; that’s why you see the boos from the crowd for Lana, the fighting words from Azealia and the possible lovey-dovey-ness of Rihanna and Chris.