There's no promotion quite like free promotion, and one of the best ways to drum of some PR on the house in today's social media landscape is through the use of hashtags. By tapping into current trends, either among your fans or in the broader public conversation, you can expand your outreach and connect with new fans. ________________________________ Guest post by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehari of Disc Makers Blog When it comes to getting free promotion, one of the most effective techniques is piggybacking. With the help of hashtags, you can join conversations and increase your outreach, introducing you and your music to potential new fans and followers. Once you have music released, a solid persona, and a web presence, you need to find ways to get your name and music out there. Big movie studios and labels spend millions of dollars to build awareness of their latest blockbuster releases — putting up billboards and posting ads on TV, the sides of buses, in magazines, across YouTube, and more. But how can you build awareness for your latest release when you don’t have the millions to spend? One of the most effective and inexpensive strategies you can use to get your music discovered and noticed is to piggyback on something that’s already popular and has an audience. Basically, someone else has already done the marketing for you and attracted a following that is paying attention to a space where you can put a message. One way to do this is to piggyback on popular culture. For example, our band, Beatnik Turtle, wrote a song called “Star Wars (A Film Like No Other)” which summarized the original Star Wars trilogy in one song. Around the same time, StarWars.com released a video mashup tool, so we decided to use that tool to make a video using actual movie clips. The video ended up becoming one of the most popular on the site, getting played more than 15,000 times thanks to the active community. That popularity led to it getting picked up by Atom.com as a featured video, which in turn led to it being licensed to air on SpikeTV to celebrate the Star Wars 32nd anniversary. The entire cost to us was $0; all we had to do was spend some time using their tool. And yet, we picked up a ton of new fans in the process. Popular culture isn’t the only thing you can leverage for piggybacking: you should also use news, current events, and holidays. Social media services like Twitter and Instagram provide a quick and easy way to piggyback on shared experiences with hashtags. By tagging a post with a trending keyword word, you make it easy for other people to search, track, or follow related posts around a particular topic. For example, to see everyone who is talking about stir fry at this very minute, check out the #stirfry hashtag. If there’s a hashtag for stir fry, you can bet there’s a hashtag for every topic out there, including ones which might be a perfect match for your music, lyrics, or videos. And since social media sites make it easy to let users watch a trending hashtagged topic, it’s easy to “tune in” to a conversation that everyone can participate in. Naturally, the biggest trends are based on current events so it’s used extensively by media outlets, news, corporations, governments, and more. For example, during the Oscars, you might see a lot of posts with #oscars in it. Hashtagging creates a tremendous number of targeted marketing opportunities for you and your music if you do it right. And each post just takes a few minutes and costs you nothing, so hashtags represent a free method to reach tons of people that are interested in a topic. To take advantage of this to extend your social media reach and get more fans and followers: 1. Add hashtags to all of your posts Every time you create a post, use relevant hashtags to extend its reach. Those posts reach your followers as well as everyone outside your followership who is watching the hashtag. Because of this extended reach, some studies have shown that there is as much as a 50% increase in engagement in posts that have hashtags. 2. Copy the successful influencers and artists your potential fans are following Similar bands and artists, as well as particular influencers in your music space, have already done your research for you. They’re already using hashtags that are relevant to your fan base or reflect your music. The ones they’re using are likely the perfect ones for you to use and target, so borrow those. When researching, be sure to look at which posts get the most interaction, likes, or responses, since this can help you create better and more engaging posts of your own. 3. Monitor trending topics your fan base is interested in If you know your audience, you can keep track of the topics they’re most likely to pay attention to. For example, your music might be related to particular political, religious, cause-based, or niche-interest topics. Each of these topic areas has a rich set of hashtags that your potential fans are likely to track and follow. Check out the current tweets, news stories, hashtags, and posts on those topics to get a sense of the conversation and what is resonating with people. 4. Explore the tools to stay on top of trending topics The best tools for monitoring trending topics and hashtags are built into the platforms themselves. Each one has a “top trending” feature so you can see what most people are paying attention to and can view the posts that are related to it. Checking on these may give you ideas as to what to piggyback on and how you may want to post. But keep in mind that top trending topics cycle quickly, so while they’re seen by a ton of people, the topic and hashtag may quickly disappear off the list as public conversations change. Outside of the top trending posts, you can also monitor your niche-interest hashtags to see what the latest posts are. Finally, some social media platforms might include hashtag analysis tools, but you can also try using a specialized hashtag tool like Hashtagify.me or social media posting tools like Hootsuite.com which include keyword-tracking features. 5. Find something to share that’s relevant to the public conversation If you have a song or video that’s on topic for the hashtagged conversation, this could be the time to share it. To avoid overly self-promoting yourself, just participate in the conversation, or give your posts an informational, emotional, or clever angle. Hashtagging posts you create is easy, so go ahead and experiment to see what works best. For example, if you’ve written a song with lyrics relevant to a topic, quote the lyrics, use the hashtag, and add a link to the song or video. But, you don’t just have to share your music: try sharing photos, engaging directly with others in the conversation, or shining the spotlight on others. By using these other techniques, you still trigger engagement and make people more interested in exploring who you are — especially if you’ve set up your profile correctly with links to your website, music, and more. This increases the likelihood they’ll follow your account, which gains you more fans and gives them a reason to explore more of what you create — your music, videos, live shows, merch, and more. 6. Answer any responses and track retweets Remember, by posting a hashtag, you’ve joined a public conversation, and you may get responses, retweets, and even direct messages. You should answer these rather than just posting and moving on to something else. Each response represents opportunities to engage with potential fans and grow your followers. With a little creative thinking, you can piggyback on the ongoing hashtagged conversation in ways that cleverly introduce you and your music to new fans and followers. Music is more than just an artistic expression, it can also be a valid statement on trending topics, sometimes expressing a point of view more meaningfully and profoundly than words alone. Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.