Helping individuals build their personal brands through social media channels requires some art, some science, and a lot of common sense. Just ask the marketing team at Warner Music Group, which works with singer-songwriters like Bruno Mars, who has 3.7 million Twitter followers.
"Bruno tweets himself. We work with the artist, but these are their channels. It's him talking to his fans, which makes it genuine, and that's what really resonates," said Eric Paul Snowden, VP of creative and technology for Warner Music's Atlantic Records label, in an email interview. "Social media is collaborative, more so than any other medium for us. Our most successful campaigns start with us asking an artist: 'What do you like to do?' and helping them amplify what they are already doing naturally."
Warner Music Group, one of the world's largest recording companies, has been forced to adapt to the new realities of a digital economy. That means marketing efforts have shifted away from large-scale promotions built around an album's release to year-round efforts to raise the profiles of artists as individuals. (Digital revenue at Warner Music totaled $220 million, or 32 percent of total revenue, during the first quarter, 2011, according to a MediaPost report. That represents an increase of 9 percent compared to the same period in 2010.)
I met up with Snowden and Carmen Sutter, director of analytics at Warner Music Group, after hearing them discuss social media marketing and analytics during an Adobe Online Marketing Symposium last month in New York City. They shared approaches for helping musical artists navigate social media networks; these approaches apply to just about all individuals, not just rock stars.
1. Foster natural conversations - and not canned communications.
Singer/songwriter Rob Thomas, for instance, initially didn't think he'd be into Twitter. "But he liked texting with friends, family, and his wife," Snowden said. Still, he gave Twitter a try. Sure enough, he sent out 70 text comments - or tweets - the first day he used the social network in 2009. Within weeks, he had 100,000 followers; today he has 250,000. "It was about making [social media] feel natural for him and help him amplify [his presence]" Snowden said.
2. Know what fans, followers, customers, and prospects want - and give it to them.
At Warner Music, exclusive content is an elixir. Mars tweeted about the video premiere for the song, "Liquor Store Blues," in March with a link to the site; the site recorded the highest traffic to date after that tweet, according to Sutter. Hardcore fans want access to the artist and will often pay a premium to get VIP tickets or attend meet-and-greet events.
Artists at Warner Music also drive visitors to their websites using a so-called mobile stream. Here's how it works: an artist takes a photo or video with her phone and sends it to the home page of her official website using either email or the native Twitter app. A link is tweeted automatically, driving fans to the artist's website. "It's incredibly simple and can be done from anywhere," Snowden said. "We use the reach of Twitter to broadcast the message to a wide audience, but retain control of the content and archive it to the artist's site for every fan to experience."
3. Understand the conversion funnel.
For Warner Music and any of its artists, anonymous listeners are at the bottom of the conversion funnel, the steps or decisions that people take before making a purchase. The next steps up the funnel include fans who "like" an artist on Facebook or an artist's video on YouTube, followed by someone going to an artist's website and making a purchase or sharing an email address. So if you are promoting yourself or another individual, ask yourself: What are you trying to achieve when you tweet, comment, or share information with others on a social network?
4. Measure, track, and analyze your results.
Sutter, who is responsible for analyzing analytics for 600 artist websites, has the advantage of slicing and dicing metrics in an assortment of ways. First, she has the benefit of comparing and contrasting results by artist. She also examines the number of website visitors, comparing how many are registered versus not registered. She looks at members versus non-members at fan clubs, discerning purchase patterns and other activities.
What's more, Sutter has been able to correlate one artist's appearance on a national awards program with tweets, website visits, and sales. That occurred when Mars appeared on the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards program: he was mentioned in 170,000 tweets in one hour. The following day, there was an increase in orders and visits to the site, although Sutter did not disclose specifics.
5. Be aware that each friend, fan, or follower is not the same.
"The beautiful thing about a 'like' and 'follow' is how easy it is. It's one click," said Snowden. Someone who shares his or her email address on a fan's page, however, is considered more valuable to an artist. "Email has proven to be a very strong channel for us," Sutter said. "It's declared fans who have given us a piece of personal information; they are more committed than someone just saying 'I like you' on Facebook."
Bottom line: Whether you are working with a musical artist or a chief executive, you're dealing with real people, not commodities. "Brands like Dr. Pepper are amazing brands in social media. But there's no Dr. Pepper," Snowden said. And when you're dealing with people, they have thoughts and feelings, up and down days, social and un-social moments - plenty to keep savvy marketers employed for years to come.
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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