How much is too much time on social media?  The average Facebook user spends almost an hour on the site each day. It’s the dominant platform in Australia, according to a study published earlier this year by Sensis, which also found almost eight in 10 Aussies are connected to online networks. And it’s pretty addictive.

According to a Deloitte survey, many smartphone users check their socials in the morning before their feet hit the bedroom floor. Whether that’s all time well spent or flushed away is up for conjecture (and, of course, boils down to the individual user). But the mounting research suggests social media can be a slippery slope.

A must-read study conducted for Harvard Business Review concluded that overdoing it will actually bring you down. “Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being,” researchers note.

And in a stunning conclusion, the results were particularly strong for mental health. Most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health at a later time. “We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction,” the report finds.

For musicians, however, social media is work. An artist in 2017 who ignores their fans on social media is missing out on the greatest free marketing tool at their fingertips, a direct channel to a hungry fanbase to keep bring them along for the ride and, just maybe, sell stuff to them. Six of the top 10 Twitter channels belong to musicians, led by Katy Perry, who can alert more than 100 million fans (or however many aren’t bots) to here next clip/collab/cosmetics line. It can also be a pipeline to harassment and abuse, a time-waste machine.

The conversation forms part of the Electronic Music Conference, held Nov. 29 and 30 in Sydney.

As a primer of sorts, TIO spoke with four experts for their takes on how to best engage and when to disengage.

U.S.-based author and social media guru Ariel Hyatt (owner of Cyber PR); U.K.-based entertainment and PR professional Mel Brown (owner of Impressive PR); Australia-based artist manager Dave Batty (owner of Melbourne-based Custom-Made Artist Representation); and clinical and consultant psychologist Dr Peta Lilley (owner of Brisbane-based Lilley Place) joined the panel.

Can social media be an unhealthy obsession for artists? 

Ariel Hyatt: Oh hell yes, it can.  The new Harvard study proves this. Artists are already more sensitive in some cases and can already feel more vulnerable than us mere mortals who don’t put or hearts and souls out in the form of music on the regular, so this is important information to understand.

When you are struggling to keep your career going and you have to be aware of the brand, the tone, the frequency and the metrics of every post and now you add the fact that tracking all of this is actually bad for your mental health and life satisfaction – this is a problem.

Mel Brown: Yes, it can. However it’s absolutely crucial for emerging artists and new talent to bring in fans.  I do think some musicians do too much, especially some American stars, and it can be overkill.  Also the current climate for taking photos of everything and posting is out of control. I would also say Twitter can be dangerous and acts should check themselves before posting.  And first rule of social media is, don’t post when pissed!

Dave Batty: It’s the necessary evil, isn’t it? My experiences have been from dragging artists kicking and screaming to engage in the platforms –with varying degrees of success — and, yes, have had occasion where an imposed exile has been implemented for the wellbeing of the artist. Each day throws up different aspects of what and how this medium can support the goals and ambitions of the artist… but not everyone on the other end is there with good intention and it’s important to be wary when they start making their way into messages and comments. I’ve not worked with anyone at the point of it being an obsession yet, thankfully, but the importance of it as a tool of today’s trade is well acknowledged.

Peta Lilley: Having a social media presence in the music industry is almost certainly seen as essential for established and emerging artists. Yet, there are costs associated with maintaining and monitoring one’s social media profile, mostly owing to the 24/7 nature of social media use and the huge reach, impact and endurance that posted material can have, positively, but also negatively, for an artist personally and professionally.

Research has reported high correlations between the hours of social media use and higher stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression. Furthermore, data now clearly demonstrates that social media can have an impact on the brain and functioning consistent with addictions and addictive behaviours. Social media can most definitely lead to an unhealthy obsession for artists.

Is there a line where pushing the social media compromises the art? Have you ever experienced it and had to rein it in?  

MB: In answer to the first part yes, it can be. If an artist is commenting on a topic they don’t know anything about then it can be very damaging.  Informed posting is key.  And yes, I have had to ask someone to pull things off Facebook as they have said something negative about a member of the media!

AH: Yes we have had to explain many a time that oversharing may not be the best strategy, neither can having outbursts or being overly negative.  The flip side is no one responds to a “neutral” social media presence, so you do have to be somewhat edgy, opinionated, or take some sort of a stand but it can cross a line where it can come back to haunt you in the future if you are not careful.

 

I’m aware Adele’s management team now filters her messages because she was “drunk tweeting.” How much of a role should a manager play in guiding and moderating their artist’s social media activity? Is it a ground rule that should be discussed right from the start?

DB: I don’t get too involved in the socials with my clients. Beside ‘official’ posts to announce shows or releases and such, I’ve always thought that these socials need to be as authentic as possible in the exchange with the audience. This, by definition, means that it needs to be, as much as possible, the artist who is posting and commenting in their language about what’s interesting to them.

It’s these posts that will get a reaction and continue the development of that relationship between artist and audience. This is where they’ll be able to engage and converse most of the time. It’s also a fascinating way, at times, to really get to know and understand who the audience is… as it may well be that they’re not who you thought they might be.

What strategies should an artist and their team put into place to protect themselves from the social media abyss?

MB: Give a basic introduction to social media when taking on a new client or even an established one that maybe needing reining in. Also, the PR should be at the end of the phone if there is something the artist wants to post that they are unsure about so they can run it by them first.

Have you any tips you can share on how to identify warning signs? And how much is enough — or too much – engagement?

AH: Create a strategy, and a written plan. And then commit to a certain limited amount of time you spend on socials.  You need to do enough to be effective and interact so you can actually reap the rewards of being on socials in the first place — for meaningful fostering of relationships. However, keep in mind that every hour you spend going down the rabbit hole — and the average Facebook user now spends an hour per login — on a social channel is an hour you could have spent writing, designing a kick ass show flyer, booking a gig or whatever.

DB: Is someone abusive or threatening on the page? Do we need to monitor the actions and words of this person? Ensure they let you know if any engagement makes them feel nervous or unsafe.  As a rule, letting an artist be who they are is the best approach. How much of themselves and their personal life they share is really up to each individual and privacy should always be respected where it’s requested by any artist, or anyone, for that matter.

But it’s important to be aware if negative comments — everyone gets them — are affecting them more than you think they should. Perhaps that’s cause for a time out just to recompose and regather thoughts before jumping back online. Don’t read the reviews! Easily said, rarely done.  

PL: Signs to watch out for that might suggest heavy or problematic social media use include, significant changes in behaviour, personality or mood, that lasts. Withdrawal from relationships and activities, or occupational functioning. Changes in productivity, creativity or performance.

An increase in use or checking social media and the associated increase in stress and disturbance, like an impact on sleep and eating. Not enjoying being in the moment. Changes in routine and other areas of functioning that can become obsessive or unhealthy.

 

So when is the right time for an artist to seek out professional help?

PL: There can be value in talking to an objective, third party like a clinical psychologist, who has skills and training to help artists develop a suite of skills to manage their career, while also equipping the artist with strategies to manage their mental health.

It’s a delicate balancing act between caring for one’s career and ensuring adequate self-care to prevent the development of greater and longer-term difficulties, while supporting an artist to be the best they can be. A clinical psychologist is well positioned to assist artists across a range of areas of functioning, so early contact is encouraged.

 

Electronic Music Conference 2017 visits Sydney’s Redfern for a two-day program seeing international music leaders and industry experts appear across an array of panels, talks, workshops, parties and masterclasses on November 29-30. Tickets are on sale now via electronicmusicconference.com, with Off Limits; Defining Artist boundaries In The Age Of Social Media tickets available HERE

Readers seeking support and information about mental health can contact the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia on 1800 985 944. If you or someone else needs support in a crisis situation please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.