Why Your Followers Aren’t Fans of Your Music

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by Dan Runcie

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Coi Leray has all the co-signs that a rising artist dreams of:

– Signed to Republic Records

– Songs with Nicki Minaj and Lil Durk

– Performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

– Nominated for BET Awards

– Over 6 million Instagram followers

When artists talk about having “the machine” behind them, this is what they mean. The only thing missing here is a Coachella guest appearance and a British Vogue interview.

But last week, Leray’s debut album Trendsetter sold just 11,500 album units (around 17.3 million streams). That’s less stream last week than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, an album that came out 45 years ago! Leray’s numbers may be eye-opening, but it’s hardly a surprise.

Artists hear the same rhetoric often: “Build your social media following!” “Use it to promote your work!” “Be your own distribution!” But that’s reductive. Your followers aren’t necessarily fans of your music.

Not all followers are the same

On most social media networks, it’s impossible to segment your followers into different categories. Are your fans there because they love your music? Or because they like you as a person? Or do they find your posts entertaining? Do they follow because they find you attractive? Or do they love the Shade Room-worthy posts you share and don’t want to miss the tea? For some artists, it’s all of those combined, but most of the time it’s not.

The two most-followed rappers on Instagram are Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. They use their platforms effectively, but they are a reminder of why this follower-fan dynamic is often tougher for women in hip-hop—even the superstars.

The industry pushes them to be sex symbols. To be “marketable.” Yet this increases the likelihood that many of their followers are just there to double-tap on attractive photos. The social media algorithm will push that artist’s content to more users who live for those photos. The narrative that women in hip-hop half to work twice as hard has numbers to back it up!

Match platforms and clear call to action

In February, I wrote What Creators Get Wrong About Text Marketing. Those same struggles and solutions are relevant to social media:

“Text marketing worked well for SuperPhone founder Ryan Leslie because he had a game plan. He already understood the pyramid of intimacy. He knew exactly how to use his service. Here’s what he said in his 2020 interview with Earn Your Leisure:

“The difference between my 2013 campaign and the campaigns I’m seeing now is that there was a very specific intent captured at the initiation. So I didn’t just say, “Hey Here’s my number, shoot me a text, what’s up? I said look, ‘shoot me a text to get my new album. So if they shoot me a text, I already know the reason.”

For Ryan, that intent led to a 50% conversion rate. 17,000 of the 35,000 people who signed up for his email list bought the album for $10. That’s $170,000 in revenue. Ryan then used that to follow up and sell tickets for a concert. He sold 40,000 tickets at €60, which led to €2.4 million.

Social media isn’t quite as transactional (well, unless you’re Kendrick Lamar), but social content needs to be aligned with the music. If your primary goal with social media is to build your fanbase with more listeners and more fans, then your social media is your content marketing.

That said, every post can’t be “album out now stream my music.” But the more value you offer that’s in line with why people follow you, the higher percentage who will convert to true fans, listeners, concert attendees, and customers.

Coi Leray’s situation isn’t unique. There are many artists whose social media following to album sales ratio is similar, if not lower. And some of those with higher ratios may have fake streams or fake followers, but that’s another issue for another day! Social media will continue to be an essential tool for many artists to promote their work. But it’s a vanity metric that has its tradeoffs like any other platform.

CORRECTION: April 19 – an earlier version of this said that Coi Leray’s Trendsetter sold 9,000 album units in its first week. That was incorrect. It has been updates to 11,500.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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