Why It Took Me Six Years to Write Think Like A Rock Star

by Mack Collier

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.

Braden Thompson December 6, 2012 at 5:29 am

Good for you man. Love the closing line. I think a lot of people let setbacks discourage them from doing what they love.

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Thanks Braden, this experience has been an eye-opener for me it’s not always about what you are trying to say, sometimes it’s about how you say it.

Jackie Huba December 6, 2012 at 7:44 am

You have been an advocate for this idea for so long and kudos to you for having the perseverance to make it happen. You have to stay true to what you believe in and you have done that. Congrats again on the new book! I can’t wait to read it.

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Thanks Jackie, can’t wait to read and promote your new book! It’s important to get this message out there to brands.

Ryan Ashton December 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Mack, I remember those early days back in 2005/2006 when blog posts about music marketing were mainly what we talked about. So inspiring and great to see how you’ve grown it to what it is now. Congrats.

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Ryan I still remember you and Jordan talking to Erin Kinghorn (who was with Nettwerk Music at the time) about how the music industry could connect with bloggers and remember thinking how BIG that was and what companies could learn from that example.

Sigh…refuse to let a good idea die 😉

Tom Martin December 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm


Loved your preso at Social South.

Loved your blogs over these years that helped lead to the whole Market Like a Rock Star mentality.

And can’t wait to buy your book! Keep rocking it man.

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Thanks Tom, Social South was a great event, glad we could both be a part of it.

Beth Harte December 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I’ve watched you pursue your dream over the past four years — never giving up, never giving in — and I am so proud of you, my friend!

If anyone in this space deserves a book deal and the platform to help companies reconsider their thinking when it comes to customers — it’s you. Why? Because you have always rolled up your sleeves to get down to work in a way that is persistent, intelligent and HUMBLE.

I have learned so much from you over the years — especially what perseverance means. I know your book will break down barriers and help companies to appreciate their customers. So, thank you for never giving up!! :) Looking forward to reading “Think Like a Rock Star”!

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Thank you my friend :) And you helped give me the kick in the pants to start talking to publishers about turning these ideas into a book, so thanks for that as well!

Beth Harte December 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I seem to be good at kicking others in the pants… 😉 Cheering you on!

Jay Baer December 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Super job Mack. Can’t wait to read it.

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Thanks Jay! Looking forward to your next one as well!

gianandrea facchini December 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Mack, I do remember those times when I first meet The viral garden. I commented on one post of yours calling you Marc…..and you very politely pointed out that your name was Mack. Since then I’ve been reading your writings and always found in them something inspiring. In bocca al lupo!

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm

G I still want to have a Blogger Social in Roma with food in an authentic Italian restauarant 😉

Jennifer Kent December 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for sharing this Mack for two reasons! The first, is that it is inspiring to hear some of the story of how you got to be here now, with your book on the way. The second is that I think your message to brands about how to engage their marketplace is dead on and desperately needed by so many businesses.

I am so excited to read your book when it comes out this spring! Please keep inspiring us to think like Rock Stars and to embrace and empower our customers!

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Jennifer you should get it about a month before everyone else 😉 Can’t wait to hear what you think about it!

Toby Bloomberg December 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Congrats! Mack .. you are definitely a rock star in my book.
Your fan,

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Thank you darlin’!

Ben McConnell December 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I remember that meeting at SXSW. You worked hard and stayed focused. Congrats!

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Thanks Ben, still remember those red WOM Nikes 😉

Scott Schablow December 6, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Mack, its great to hear the story behind the rock star idea and I’m glad you stuck with it. It’s going to be an inspiration to so many. I know I can’t wait to read it. I remember your presentation at Social South. It was downright electrifying to see the crowd gathering. We gave up on trying to get more chairs and frankly I think the masses sitting in the floor added authenticity to your talk. There’s been a movement forming to organize a Social South 2013. If it happens you may have to be our keynote speaker and sign lots of books. Get the limo and the sunglasses ready to rock!

Mack Collier December 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Scott sounds like a great idea, I spy 4 Social South speakers just here in the comments 😉

Kathy Sierra December 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

This book will be such a treat for people.

And about not giving up… publishers turned down Head First Java, and even when we found a publisher willing to take a chance, the bookstores didn’t want it. Fast forward, the series has now sold over 2 million print copies. So, yes, I agree: “if you truly love an idea, don’t give up on it.” though I would add something that you have certainly done: “do the homework.”

You can’t really know how “good” an idea is until you’ve done the heavy-lifting of finding enough examples to truly understand what matters. You have done this, Mack, with your deep interest in how rockstars enable their fans, and again, I am so honored to have played a small role.

Mack Collier January 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Gak! I somehow missed your comment here, Kathy! And Kathy your positive impressions of the those VERY rough first drafts I showed you was a HUGE validation for me about the value of this book. I think long-time fans of yours will (hopefully) pick up on how your thinking has influenced mine as they read the book. At least I hope so.

And you played a HUGE role in what the book became. You influenced my thought process countless times, and the actual content of the book. The Backstage Pass in each chapter came from you challenging me to create how-tos in every single chapter.

So your fingerprints are all over this book. And I am thrilled beyond words 😉

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