Archive for August, 2009

Imogen Heap vs. Bob Lefsetz – Early Results Are In

A few weeks ago I wrote an article detailing some of the ways Imogen Heap has been engaging with fans and building excitement for her new album Ellipse.  A little while later, Bob Lefsetz featured commentary about my article in his Lefsetz Letters.

If you speak with enough people in the music business, you’ll find that Lefsetz is equal parts respected and hated.  But even the haters admit to regularly reading Lefsetz’s columns and agreeing with some of his insights.  So perhaps he’s more respected than hated.

In his article, Lefsetz raised some concerns about Heap’s methods of engaging with fans:

  1. Is it worth it? How does the time Heap invests in engaging with her fans result in real revenue? In a follow-up article, Lefsetz again questioned the way Heap spent, or as he put it “wasted”, her time: “But many expect all these activities to pay off.  That’s what bothered me with Ms. Heap’s efforts, not only how much time and mental energy was wasted, but whether she was generating revenue!”
  2. Is the artist becoming a personality instead of a musician? “What about practicing, gigging, getting good?”

Imogen Heap Ellipse #4 on iTunes

Imogen Heap Ellipse #4 on iTunes

Is It Worth It? Lefsetz’s point is that rather than build up to “one event” – the album release – Heap should have been focusing on generating revenue all along. First of all, the premise that this is all leading up to one event, is a bit flawed.  In reality, the connections Heap is making with her fans will actually pay off many times over, well beyond the release of Ellipse.  There will be tours and merch sales, perhaps side projects and special events.  I’m willing to bet that all of these future activities will benefit from the enthusiasm and support Heap has ignited in her fans by maintaining contact with them throughout her career (not just when she’s trying to sell something).

That said, were Heap’s efforts worth it for the sake of the release of Ellipse? Well, as of 11:00am this morning (release day), Ellipse was #4 on iTunes Top Albums Chart, #2 on Amazon’s MP3 Download Chart, and #6 on Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers Chart.

Lefsetz also suggests that Heap should have been selling tracks one-by-one, as they were ready, “If only she had put tracks on iTunes as she completed them, when the desire was still white hot.” I agree that makes sense for some artists during various stages of their career. In fact, Heap may do this some day. But for now, Heap actually created more desire and lasting value by involving her fans in the making of the album, track by track. Heap did something that is very difficult to do – she maintained desire throughout the entire process of making the album and through the release date.

Just 2 out of hundreds of Tweets from excited Heap fans

Just 2 out of thousands of Tweets from excited Heap fans

This is something many major-label as well as independent artists fail to do – they release an album, go on tour, go home (or disappear in the woods somewhere) and record another album.  Then, a year or several years later, they release the new album and need to build excitement for it within a much shorter time-frame leading up to its release. There’s no continuity. The momentum they gained from one release or tour doesn’t carry through to the next. They then have to revive old mailing lists (at which point many email addresses are no longer valid) and inactive communities on their social networks.  If fans haven’t had a reason to come back to an artist’s online communities for a sustained period of time, it’s difficult to re-engage them when you have an important message (such as the release of a new album) to communicate.

Is the artist becoming a personality instead of a musician? Lefsetz says, “But suddenly, you’re no longer a musician, but a personality.” Well, I don’t want to be the one to tell Bono, Madonna, Mick, Prince, Bruce, Thom, and Trent that they’re no longer musicians, so I’m going to say that it’s possible (and in fact, beneficial) to be both a musician and a personality.

Here’s the deal — when an artist leaves a record label, the fans don’t stay with the label, they go with the artist. The more musicians can authentically and consistently connect with their fans, the more emotionally invested the fans become. As they did with Heap, not only will they buy your record, they may help you keep it from illegal distribution; they’ll be your eyes and ears and inform you about things in the periphery of your career you otherwise may not have known; they’ll tell their friends to buy your music; they’ll buy your music as a gift for their friends; they’ll be at your shows; they’ll offer their talents (design, tech support, photography, etc) to help you succeed; and as they do for Amanda Palmer, they’ll open their home to you when you’re passing through town.

Building your persona and your fan base isn’t just important in case you leave a record label (or the label drops you) – it’s equally important if you’re one of the artists who actually still wants to get a major label deal. Record labels want to sign acts who they think can sell records.  They want to see some evidence that people actually give a $h!t about your music.  They look at the number of profile views and audio streams on your MySpace. They get a sense of the “scene” at your live shows. You don’t have to amass an enormous fan base, but if you can show that you have a loyal following and that there’s a “buzz” about you, people will pay attention. The Arcade Fire, Taking Back Sunday, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Katy Perry, The White Stripes and countless others know this to be true.

What if you’re truly independent – you’re not on a major label and you have no intention of ever signing to one?  Well in that case, investing your time in building a relationship with your fans is as important as the music itself.  One benefit of the current state of the music business is that indie artists no longer need a middle-man to handle distribution.  However, it then becomes solely the musician’s responsibility to create the desire for their music and to build a base of fans who will purchase the music, buy some merch, or attend the live shows. Ani DiFranco has built a very successful career this way.

What about practicing, gigging, getting good? Lefsetz makes a good point – you can build the largest fan base in the world, but if your music isn’t good, then you don’t have anything.  Oh wait… have you listened to the radio lately???

In his follow-up article on Heap, Lefsetz says: “If you release music the public loves, the public will spread the word, you don’t even have to.” Ok – but how is “the public” going to get exposed to your music if you don’t communicate with them? Putting your song up on MySpace doesn’t mean that all 125 million users will hear it.

I’ve sat in Chris Blackwell’s den, in his house outside of London, while he played me some of the best music from around the world that I had never heard (nor have you).  Every time I said, “Wait! Who is this? Where can I get this?” Blackwell would politely tell me who the artist was, where they were from, and how I wouldn’t be able to get it… These artists put their music out there, but not enough members of “the public” knew about it, so they couldn’t sustain.

Yes, musicians should “practice, gig and get good,” but all of that means little if they don’t have an audience. Luckily Heap is good and she has the audience to share her talents with.

So what does this mean? Lefsetz says, “If this is truly the future, we’re fucked.” Do you need to speak with every fan one-to-one? Do you need to build a huge following on every social platform known to man? Do you need to invite your fans over for dinner? No. No. And no.

The most important thing you can do to build a relationship with your fans is to be yourself and give them a glimpse of who you are.  Authenticity is key.  If you ordinarily wouldn’t be on Twitter, then don’t just throw up a Twitter profile because it’s “the thing to do.” If you need help managing your fan communications, that’s ok too – but make sure whoever is interfacing with your fans is doing so in a meaningful, genuine way.

Your interactions with your fans should absolutely reflect your personality.  Look, Trent Reznor built up a Twitter following of more than 800,000 people too.  And then –  just like Trent Reznor would –  he closed his Twitter account.  While some fans may be disappointed by that, they’re certainly not surprised.

In Imogen Heap’s case, her online efforts are not merely a ploy to sell records.  Heap genuinely cares about her fans, she knows who many of them are, and she values their ideas and opinions.  That’s why her online networks are growing exponentially daily – people understand that Heap genuinely cares for them; that she’s making music precisely because of them; that if they encounter a problem with one of her products or platforms, she will fix it; they know she may ask for their help, and that she’ll appreciate it.

It’s also beneficial to engage in a two-way conversation with your fans.  This doesn’t mean you need to address each individual personally.  It means you ask them collectively for their feedback. And you listen. You let them know that you heard them and how you plan to (or not to) incorporate their ideas. Instead of bombarding people with “Buy this!”, “Sign up for that!”, “Come to this!” messages, ask, suggest, and invite. As you notice trends in questions or suggestions, you address them.

I profiled Imogen Heap because she is an exceptional example. She uses practically every network online, as appropriate, with an integrated approach.  She’s consistent. When her fans finally do meet Heap in person, they realize she’s quite the same as her online persona – this isn’t  some bad JDate. That’s not to say that every artist has to do every thing that Heap is doing in order to be successful, but it certainly doesn’t hurt and I don’t think Heap nor her fans would consider it a waste of time.

You can listen to full streams of all songs on Imogen Heap’s Ellipse here.

Fans expressing excitement for Heap's tour

Fans expressing excitement for Heap's tour

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Imogen Heap “Ellipse” Full Album Streaming Here

For those of you who read my article The New Music Business Model: Imogen Heap and responded by asking, “What about the music?!”

Well, here you go – full-streams of Imogen Heap’s forthcoming album Ellipse:

Influencer Marketing

You might be wondering why it’s been 3 weeks since my last post (The New Music Business Model: Imogen Heap). . .

Initially, this entry was going to be about the benefits and differences between using Facebook and Twitter to share articles.  I’ve been tracking traffic across multiple blogs, looking at referring sources, and trends in the ebb and flow of visitors to each blog or article.  As we know, social media platforms and search engines often continue to breathe life into stories long after they’ve been published.

What I initially set out to do was offer tips for maximizing the reach of your content online, specifically leveraging Facebook and Twitter.  But in the midst of all this research something happened and traffic to a blog I posted 3 weeks ago skyrocketed.

The graph depicting traffic to my blog originally included spikes as more and more people re-tweeted and shared the post.  There were additional spikes when Imogen Heap’s PR Twitter account, @HeapWire, Tweeted my story and then again when @ImogenHeap sent a Tweet reminding followers that PR stories could be found at HeapWire.  Then, Monday morning, what was previously charting as significant traffic had been trumped and now the graph looks like this:

Daily Traffic to The New Music Business Model blog post

Daily Traffic to The New Music Business Model blog

What happened? Bob Lefsetz, arguably the most influential (and often controversial) writer in the music business, and Scott Perry whose New Music Tipsheet is a must-read for anybody who’s trying to stay on top of music news – found, responded and linked to my blog. From there, Josh Groban re-tweeted Lefsetz’s link and several other established sites (including Hypebot) requested to re-publish the post.

I was instantly reminded of the important role influencers play in spreading content.  Influencer marketing and relationship building is a core component of almost every campaign I conceive.  That said, I was not actively “pushing” my own blog nor did I send it to Lefsetz or Perry. Yet as a result of their attention, I decided that a blog about influencer marketing is probably more meaningful at this point than a blog about maximizing your reach via Facebook and Twitter.  Let’s face it – there are numerous platforms available that effectively support the viral distribution of your content, but those are merely delivery channels.  The most beneficial thing you can do is leverage each network to reach the people who matter most — the influencers.

Who is an influencer? It’s important to define “influential” because it is often confused with “the person who can reach the largest audience.”  While it may be the case that the person with the most “friends” is also the most influential, what truly defines “influence” is the ability to incite action.

A person with 500,000 “friends,” followers, or email subscribers may be able to communicate a message to a wide audience.  But is that audience actually paying attention? Are they moved by the message to take action? Are they even reading the message? Conversely, a mom who has 10,000 dedicated blog readers, who are excited about her blog daily, forward her advice to their friends, and buy the products she recommends, is certainly influential. Influencers are trusted members of a community, who have perceived expertise.

Another thing to keep in mind is that influence varies among different target audiences.  In niche or exclusive communities even fewer members hold greater influence.  Within a broad community (i.e. pet owners) there will be one set of influencers, but as you drill down into specific sub-categories (i.e. dogs) and then further (i.e. German Shepherds) there will be a different set of influencers altogether. The more targeted you are when connecting with influencers, the more likely your message will be “heard.”

Similarly, each platform or network tends to have its influencers.  This is particularly visible on Digg and Twitter. To get a sense of somebody’s overall influence on a target audience, you need to look at all of the places that member is engaging with the audience (Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, etc.).  Often it’s easier to find the most influential people within one network and then dig further to find the most influential people within a target audience on that network.

When it comes to entertainment marketing, sometimes the most influential sources are not the official ones.  During a recent music campaign we found that 2 super-fans were able to drive more views of an artist’s video than the artist herself.  Similarly, the more commercial or corporate the campaign, the more likely the most influential and trusted sources will not be the official representatives of each group.  People are looking for trusted, third-party validation which means we need to find the trusted “validators” — they have been proven to drive awareness, adoption, and sales.

Who influences the influencers? It’s important to remember that no matter how influential somebody is, they too have their own trusted network that they turn to for information and recommendations.  The influencer’s influencer may not be all that influential in the larger community, but by having the ear of the recognized influencer, this additional source is actually a key enabler in the chain of influence.  For example, if you really want to reach a celebrity (a primary influencer), it helps exponentially to have a good relationship with their personal assistant or management team.

There are numerous occasions when it is difficult to gain access to the primary influencer.  So don’t just know who the influencers are — know who their influencers are! Twitter can help give you some insight into this – find the influencers and then look at whom they’re following.  On Facebook you can look at whom the influencer is engaging with most frequently (via wall posts and comments) as well as their “Top Friends” (if they’re using that app).  At Digg there are a group of very influential members — if enough of them Digg your article, you will end up on the front page. Look at who these influencers are Digging and get to know them as well – chances are they’re the ones feeding information to the primary influencers on Digg.

Where can you find influencers? It depends on your target audience.  Some communities are more active online than others, some audiences prefer one social network to another, and some influencers have private social network profiles but publicly accessible blogs.  It’s not only important to understand where your influencers can be found, but also the best way to reach and engage them.

A real world example: the yoga community. According to a study published by Yoga Journal magazine, “Yoga in America,” Americans spent $5.7 billion in 2008 on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations and media such as DVDs, videos, books and magazines. 44% of yoga practitioners in the US have a household income of at least $75,000.  24% earn more than $100,000.  An estimated 15.8 million people now practice yoga in the US. This is undeniably a group of people many brands and advertisers would like to reach.

The thing about the yoga community is – the most influential members are not online all that often (speaking relatively of course).  One of my dear friends is a very well known yoga teacher — the auto-reply on her email currently states she’s away until July 18th.  Nearly a month later even the auto-reply is out of date (and by the way, she is no longer “away”). Several of her students (and my friends) are members of Facebook, but compared to other audiences who log on daily or multiple times daily, the yoga community seem to participate less frequently.

This is not to say you can’t reach the yoga community online.  I’m merely pointing out that many of the most influential people in this group are traveling the world, leading workshops, and participating in offline gatherings.  So, if you really want to connect with the influencers in the yoga community, grab your mat and hit a class or attend a yoga conference or workshop.

Generally speaking, influencers in most target audiences can be found across multiple online platforms including: Facebook, Twitter, Digg, YouTube, WordPress, etc.  But keep in mind that it may also be beneficial to reach influencers offline, and authentically connect with them in the physical world.

How do you identify influencers? Companies such as BuzzLogic and Nielsen BuzzMetrics offer services that tell you not only who is talking about your brand or a specific topic, but who the most influential communicators are. There are also several sites that attempt to measure influence on Twitter based on various criteria (# of followers, influence of followers, # of RTs,  etc).

All of these services are helpful and can make the process of identifying influencers more efficient. At the same time, the most essential element of successfully tapping into influencers is building authentic relationships with them. While a service may point you in the right direction, at the end of the day you still need to do considerable work to really understand individual influencers and how they engage their followers.

Personally, I still identify influencers manually. I look at who’s writing about various subjects (social media search tools like Who’s Talkin? make this more efficient), look at who their audience is, and monitor audience engagement with each person’s communication. People ask, “Well, doesn’t that take a lot of time?” Yes, it does.  But through this process I also learn a great deal about each member of the community – their preferred methods of communication, the types of content they’re most interested in, how they communicate with their followers, how frequently they engage with the community, and probably most important – what they don’t like.

Working with influencers: This is where the real effort kicks in. Working with influencers requires that you have solid, relevant, and interesting content and exceptional relationship-building skills.

As previously noted, often the most influential people are those who are very difficult to reach directly – celebrities, athletes, highly respected writers and industry leaders like Bob Lefsetz and Scott Perry. Furthermore, the top tier influencers typically do not want to be told what they should be paying attention to.  They’re influential because they know what to pay attention to.  Again, this is why it’s important to maintain good relationships with the people the influencers are watching and ultimately, to become one of those people yourself.

Do not assume that since you’re one of the biggest brands or that because you created a once-popular product, people are going to care and be excited to hear from you. The most influential people are bombarded with similar requests and although you may think otherwise, you’re nothing special. They also tend to pride themselves on their credibility and their inability to be “bought” (although most will be happy to offer you advertising on their site).

Building these relationships takes time and requires patience. I once worked for somebody who was frustrated that influencers weren’t signing on to our promotion as rapidly as he would have liked.  Not understanding what it takes to develop these relationships, he said, “Well, just tell them you work for the guys who created MySpace.”  To which I responded, “These people hate MySpace.”  Next, he suggested we modify our communication and tell people we worked for News Corp.  Ummm… see the previous paragraph… and have an understanding of how your brand (and its parent company) is perceived.  Authentic relationships are built between individuals.   It’s okay to tout your brand to the right people. It’s even better to reach out with humility and gratitude and recognize you need these relationships more than they need you.

After many years of working with influencers, I haven’t found a fail-safe formula. However, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of success:

  • Understand the audience you’re trying to reach. Make sure you “know” them.  If you’re not familiar with a particular target audience, find somebody who is a member of that community or shares their interests and let that person handle communications.
  • Provide relevant content – something people will want to re-publish or respond to.
  • Make sure the content you offer is of value to the people you’re trying to reach (again – relevancy, quality, and knowing your audience)
  • Be aware of the boundaries of the relationships you create and what you do and don’t have permission to do.  Lefsetz’s response to my blog includes a link to a helpful article about Permission Marketing written by Seth Godin.
  • Maintain good relationships with everybody you encounter – you never know who has the ear of the most influential people in their community.  Don’t underestimate the power and influence of bartenders, personal trainers, the hotel concierge. . .
  • Be patient and respectful. Building relationships takes time and if somebody isn’t interested in what you’re offering, thank them for their consideration and remember you may have something down the line that they will be interested in
  • Instead of telling people what you want, invite conversation.  Let them know what you have to offer and remain open to suggestions.  Influencers likely know their audience better than you and chances are they’ll offer better ideas and even help you optimize your content.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. But it is possible to build sustaining relationships with people who ultimately help support the longevity of your brand. I believe it’s worth it.