In 2008, I attended my first ‘social media’ event, South By Southwest. At one point I was chatting with Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, and we were talking social media and the state of the blossoming industry. I remember specifically telling them that while social media was great, that the future of marketing was what they were doing, showing companies the power of connecting with and empowering their fans.
I believe that even more four years later. You won’t find the future of marketing in tools and technology, you will find it in your fans.
In 2005 I began blogging at Beyond Madison Avenue. It’s a blog that’s undergone many transformations and now looks nothing like it did from 2005-2007 when I was actively blogging there. A year later in 2006 I started blogging at The Viral Garden, then in 2009 I moved my semi-regularly blogging here.
But in 2005 and 2006 I blogged extensively about two seemingly (at the time) divergent themes: Music-marketing and online community-building. Oh I blogged about a lot of the same things I do now, the latest news in the social media marketing space, how companies can better use these tools to connect with customers, etc. But the posts that excited me the most were the ones where I detailed how a particular rock star was connecting with their fans, or how a particular company was building an online community.
The problem was, no one seemed to care. I could write a post about the latest example of how Company A is using Twitter to connect with customers, and get dozens of comments and RTs. But if I wrote about how this rock star was leveraging digital technologies to connect with her fans, there were no comments, no emails, no response. If I wrote about how companies could and should embrace and empower their fans, nothing, but the next post I’d write on Five Steps to Getting More ReTweets would get 33 comments and 87 RTs.
It honestly pissed the shit out of me. Sure, I get that people want to learn how to get more RTs or subscribers or whatever, and if I can help them learn how to do that more effectively, I am happy to do so. But I was (and continue to be) passionately in love with the idea of helping companies embrace and empower their fans to be something amazing. And it honestly broke my heart that other people didn’t seem to be as excited about this idea as I was.
At some point in 2008, I realized there were only two possibilities for why these posts weren’t getting any feedback or interest:
1 – The idea that companies can benefit from connecting with their fans just isn’t an idea that has merit.
2 – The idea has merit, but I wasn’t explaining it so that companies could see the value of the idea.
I am extremely stubborn, so I decided that it was #2. I kept fleshing out my ideas and toying with ways to make them more appealing to companies. What was the ‘hook’ that I could give companies to make them see the value in connecting with their fans?
In 2009, Scott Schablow asked me to speak at Social South in Birmingham. I said yes, and when he asked for a topic my first thought was that it needs to be something standard like ‘Five Ways a Business Blog Can Benefit Your Company’ or something straightforward like that.
But then I got an idea: What if I took these two themes I was passionate about (how rock stars embrace their fans and how companies can use social media to connect with their customers), and combined them into one presentation? The result was What Rock Stars Can Teach You About Kicking Ass With Social Media. I was honestly scared to death about what the reaction to this presentation would be. Sure, it was one thing to post about this stuff on a blog and get no response, but if I did a presentation and no one showed up, it would be a pretty big indictment against the idea itself.
Instead, I had a standing-room-only crowd for the session, and there was a ring of people standing up against the wall of the room. I cannot tell you how rewarding it was to see people finally see the value of this idea as I had!
The problem wasn’t the idea, it was how I was presenting the idea. Before when I talked about how rock stars connect with their fans, people that worked for companies dismissed these posts because well…they weren’t rock stars, so it was hard for them to see the significance. When I talked about how companies should connect with their brand evangelists, it didn’t resonate because most companies had no idea how to do that. And even if I tried to explain the process, they couldn’t visualize the benefit because they didn’t have a reference point that inspired them to take action.
But when I married the two ideas, they became something more. Companies can’t always see the value of cultivating brand evangelists, but if you talk to them about how they can have raving fans like rock stars do, suddenly they perk up because you’ve given them a reference point that they understand. The rock star analogy was the ‘hook’ that got people to pay attention to the larger idea: The value that brands can create for themselves by embracing and empowering their fans. I started showing people how rock stars benefited from connecting with their fans. Then I showed them how other companies just like their own are applying these same lessons to cultivate fans just like rock stars do.
The idea resonated when I started putting it in terms that companies could understand and that they saw the value in. After another year or so of fleshing out the ideas behind Think Like A Rock Star, I decided it was ready to present to publishers. Over the course of about 12 months my agent and I pitched the book idea to over 30 publishers. Finally, McGraw-Hill said yes, and my editor Casey Ebro immediately ‘got’ why the idea behind the book was so powerful. And thanks to her and amazing help from Kathy Sierra, I’ve continued to build the ideas this year and the book has become a complete tutorial and framework for how brands can not only connect with their biggest fans, but how they can transform (step by step) into a truly fan-centric company.
The point in all this is, if you truly love an idea, don’t give up on it. I didn’t write Think Like A Rock Star because I wanted to speak more or make money, those will hopefully be happy byproducts. I wrote it because I believe in the power of an idea. The idea that your brand isn’t the rock star, your fans are.
I don’t know what idea you are in love with, but I do know this: If you truly love your idea, then you owe it to us, and yourself, to not give up on it.