People will tell you that we no longer need reviewers – that everyone is the reviewer now. And, sure, social media offers that function, it gives people a plot of virtual land to set up their lemonade stand. But with so many people giving it away for free it’s important to remember that social media needs to be the enhancement-tool, part of the brand. But only a part of the brand.
I’ve been writing Blog On The Tracks every week day for Stuff.co.nz since September of 2007. (Yesterday marked seven years). And for most of that time I’ve been occupying space on Twitter and Facebook too. It started out with a personal Facebook page – then it was time to add a dedicated Blog On The Tracks Facebook page. But what would a Facebook page be – and what would it mean – if I just added the daily post there. Draw people in, I figured. Say something. But encourage others to say something too. It was a no-brainer to start posting YouTube clips…music I was reviewing, songs that featured in the day’s post, favourites, new releases, nostalgic gems – ultimately there was no (real) pattern. Just music. Music I liked and loathed. Music that might make people want to engage in debate, carry on dialogue.
Then that became the function of the Facebook page – to carry on the debate and dialogue. And, arguably that page has taken on a life of its own. Some people read the page but do not read the daily blog posts. Some click on the links – so in that sense they do see/read the daily blogs but they wouldn’t think to go looking unless the link appears in their feed.
To carry on the dialogue I wanted to show people that I was doing the work.
It’s very easy to decide a columnist or blogger is not very good if they are not to your taste. It’s easy to level a charge of laziness, unpreparedness or poor writing. I can live with this new form of “letters to the editor” just like I lived with the old kind (and still do sometimes in my role as a reviewer for Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper) but my main way of answering back – of silencing those so sure that I had fluked the position and had no skills for the role whatsoever (beyond time on my hands, apparently) – was to post updates that showed I was engaging in the topic at hand; I was doing the work.
Books I am reading, movies I am watching, music I am listening to – it all gets mentioned. It’s all posted and micro-blogged, mini-reviewed. Conversations are mentioned, formal interviews are previewed, inspirational quotes – and downright bonkers quotes – are offered, all of this still offers derision as an option. Why are you listening to the new Lionel Richie album more than once? Why are you telling people you are attending a Boyz II Men concert? If you don’t like something why engage with it? You might be going to the show but I bet you’re not taking along an open mind…
You will never stop the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism – nor should you. The beauty of the dialogue continuing, via social media, is that people who want to get close/closer to you can do so. Better yet, people that want to get close/closer to the topic can do just that. And that’s what it is about.
With seven years of daily blogging I’ve covered a lot of topics, some more than once. But music is an infinite subject – and blogging means I can review new music but also head back to past loves or to archaeological discoveries. Even so, some topics are not big enough for a dedicated blog-post. But to throw them out there on Twitter and Facebook means they’re heard; trialled, tested. Sometimes it is the perfect way to road-test then recycle, to gather some information from readers to add to the post. Sometimes it’s an empty-gesture message-in-a-bottle. But that’s okay.
Then there are all the reviews and posts here at Off The Tracks. They are all previewed, promoted via social media too.
My posts on Facebook and Twitter include work-related topics and are always relevant to music and the arts. And a community has been built up around music cartoons and quotes, YouTube clips and scans of scathing reviews. As well as the current work as it’s happening, when it’s posted.
The crucial element – as far as I’m concerned – is opinion. Everyone can be a reviewer, sure. But not everyone can offer a valid opinion. It’s actually not true to suggest that everyone is entitled to an opinion and/or all opinions are equal/valid. Some opinions are absurd and so far off topic that they don’t deserve to be considered. I have to hope that my boasts of showing that I’m doing the work mean something to someone. They might not always be taken that way, some people can just get on fine without knowing that their local music reviewer just watched Wayne’s World for the 17th time. But to others it might mean something – particularly if a post arrives, a week later, which is Wayne’s World-related.
It’s my belief that I’m validating my right to an opinion by offering up examples of the research I do, of the folly I flirt with – of the workload I take on. And in that sense social media is a great tool when used this way. It still means that people can disagree entirely with me and my approach. And I welcome that – you offer no worth as a critic if everyone agrees or disagrees with you, you’re best placed with friends and enemies, fans and detractors. But the main aim of my social media use has always been to show that – hopefully – the opinions I serve up are informed.
Social media can never be the whole thing that you offer, if you are just a voice on Facebook then you are one of hundreds of millions. But if you have a voice elsewhere then you do need to learn to use Facebook to augment that. And you need to learn that Facebook, Twitter and any other social media platforms are only ever part of the puzzle, part of the equation.
You can show your workings – the long division, as it were. And then when people come to you for the answer they can choose which path: the background, the extras, the special features, the cutting room floor material and assorted ephemera or just the bottom line; your version of the truth. If you present it all – the inner and outer workings – you have to be prepared to step back from it and allow people to engage on the level/s that best suit them.