The following is a guest post from James Duthie.
Obama’s recent inauguration seems to have a lot of business people thinking seriously about social media. Obama’s ability to digitally connect with millions of people to achieve campaign goals (Eg. record fundraising) seems to have a whole lot of people thinking about how they can use social media in their business.
However, despite Obama’s amazing online achievements, it may be questionable whether he’s the ideal social media role model. Indeed, some industry insiders have even gone as far to say that he has implemented broadcast marketing techniques. So, who should budding social media pro’s look to emulate in the social stratosphere? Simple; if you want to become a social media rockstar… act like a rockstar!
Meet Lily Allen. She’s a rockstar. A lot of you probably already know her. After all, she’s been known to cause the odd headline or two. Aside from her music, Lily is perhaps best known for her potty mouth and public drunkenness. Lily may seem a strange choice as a benchmark, because she’s clearly not a role model! In terms of character she’s a long way behind Obama. But she knows a whole lot about connecting with people via social networks!
You see, Lily Allen is one of the original MySpace rockstars. While she wasn’t exactly the epitome of a struggling musician before she joined MySpace in 2005 (she already had a lowly £25,000 record deal) it was her ability to connect with and create a huge MySpace fan base that propelled her towards international stardom. And it’s the way in which she achieved this feat that all businesses can learn from. Let’s take a look at the factors that helped contribute to Lily’s meteoric MySpace fame:
Rather than using MySpace solely to redistribute her music, Lily embraced the full range of functionality offered by MySpace to deliver exclusive content to fans. At the forefront of the exclusive content is Lily’s blog, which has become one of the most infamous in the global music industry. Indeed, it was nominated in the 2008 NME awards for the category of best band blog.
The blog itself hosts strong opinions from Lily on a wide range of issues including:
- Double standards in the media
- Explanations of her controversial (and drunken) antics
- Wardrobe malfunctions
- Flame wars with Perez Hilton
The list goes on… Most of the content is far too controversial to be applicable to a business environment. But on a more conventional level, Lily also uses MySpace to distribute exclusive multimedia content including:
- Behind the scenes footage from album cover shoots
- Photos of music video shoots
- Original covers of popular songs such as Britney Spears’ ‘Womanizer’
- Everyday video footage of Lily in her home
- Photos from her personal life
The broad range of exclusive content gives fans greater insight into who Lily is as a person, thereby building deeper connections. In the pre-MySpace days, this level of intimacy was impossible. But the Internet has forever changed the way people publish and consume information. Lily has embraced new forms of media to truly give fans a window into her life. Likewise, businesses wanting to leverage social channels need to follow Lily’s lead and deliver meaningful content. Recycled press releases won’t cut it. Indeed, most businesses need a complete transformation in their communications practices. Rather than approaching the channel with the question ‘What do I want to say’, businesses need instead to ask ‘What do my customers want to hear?’
If there’s one thing Lily Allen can never be accused of it’s a lack of personality. Indeed, her mouth has continuously got her in to trouble since her swift ascent to fame. Whether it’s feuding with fellow musicians, pissing off Elton John or justifying topless romps, Lily has stood by her controversial actions and words. Indeed, her strong personality and ‘eff you’ attitude is perhaps her most endearing quality to many fans. It makes her real. It makes her interesting. And her fans love it, as can be seen via the comments on her MySpace blog:
“It’s great to see a true down to earth celeb, who can voice an opinion and not have someone make their decisions for them! Keep doing what you do Lily, you are fabulous!!”
“Lily, its great to see you being so real…work it out, girrrly…I adore you and your music. Your personality makes me love you more. Eff the media, I dont care what they say.”
“I think you’re great, lily. You’re talented and funny and very entertaining. I love that you respond to crap in the press in your blog. It’s nice to hear your side of things.”
While Lily’s personality is likely to be too controversial for most businesses, the lesson is simple. Personality builds interest and advocacy. Conversely, marketing/ corporate speak turns people away in droves. Businesses that succeed in social media manage to create personality around their brand. While it might seem difficult, even the most boring of products can be successful in social media with a little creativity and personality.
Lily’s MySpace page is predominantly home to her legion of fans. But, with outspoken opinions and occasional loutish behaviour, she also attracts her fair share of critics. Naturally, some of her detractors are drawn to her blog to respond. But rather than try to stifle negative commentary, it seems Lily allows all comments to be published (a little spam moderation on her wall wouldn’t go astray though). As much can be seen from a couple of the comments below:
“Oh babydoll…you can’t be drinkin’ like that when you’re in front of the camera all night. I’m sorry ”
“On the aforementioned YouTube video, Elton John referred to you on camera as a “rude, vile pig.” Somehow, I don’t think that “friends” would make such comments.”
For most businesses, the natural instinct is to shield the brand from negative discussion. However, doing so detracts from the credibility of the medium. Tightly moderating user comments and only publishing positive feedback reduces the channel to little more than a glorified press release. In social media you have to take the good with the bad. It’s the nature of the beast. While criticism may cause some short-term pain, being open, honest & transparent in social channels is far more likely to lead to longer term gain. And for businesses, actually listening to constructive criticism may just teach you something about what customers want…
These days it’s difficult to find a lot of evidence of direct interaction between Lily and her fans within MySpace. But with almost half a million friends and hundreds of comments on most blog posts, scaling personal interaction becomes almost impossible. For the same reason, a number of the marketing industry’s biggest names rarely interact directly with readers via their blog (Eg. Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse). Of course, much like these marketing superstars, it’s likely Lily takes this sort of interaction out of the public eye. In an interview with musicOMH, Lily hinted at intimate direct interactions with some fans:
“Sometimes I get a bit worried, as I get things from girl fans who are going through a hard time and want me to pull them through it, and I feel a responsibility to them in a weird way as they’re relying on me to help them out. But I’m not a therapist! But I keep in contact with them and try and make sure they’re alright.”
A look at comments now on Lily’s MySpace profile shows endless requests from fans craving a direct response. While a brand is rarely going to engender the same level of passion from customers (Apple aside), there is no doubt customers appreciate direct one-to-one interaction. Just ask Comcast customers, who are beginning to rave about Comcast’s reach out program via Twitter. Alternatively, ask Ford fans and detractors alike, who Scott Monty connects with via a range of social networks. In a world where one-to-one connections have been phased out in preference of bulk communication, many customers value being treated as an individual. Or as Scott so aptly put it:
“It’s learning how to speak with your customers again”.
The REAL lesson
While this article talks about a number of specific behavioural characteristics, there is one overriding lesson for businesses to absorb. And that is to be real. Lily is real. Lily is flawed, but people love her for it. Her flaws make her real, and that helps people relate to her. For businesses to succeed within the social web, they need to be real, flaws and all. Because people relate to people, not faceless/lifeless corporations.
Forget the PR. Forget the spin. Just be real. It’s as simple as that.
James Duthie is an Australian digital marketing expert. He writes on all things social media, blogging, SEO & digital marketing at his blog – Online Marketing Banter. Subscribe to hear more of his ramblings here.