I'm in the process of creating a new personal website. Here is the word cloud that might make it to the header.
At the tail end of 2005 I was sitting in my office as Digital Product Manager at Sony (BMG) working on the Take That website. The band had been away for ten years. Take That were making their comeback and this event was marked by many things a documentary, a new “Greatest Hits” album called “The Ultimate Collection - Never Forget” and of course their first official website. Until this point in time the “Take That Appreciation Pages,” has occupied the prime real estate of web space as the number one destination for all things Take That. The owners of the “Take That Appreciation Pages,” were doing a better job then we ever could of managing the fans. Resources at Sony were stretched between many, many artists. The “Take That Appreciation Pages,” were dedicated to their cause. When it came to Take That as Lulu says in the documentary you weren’t so much a fan as you were a disciple.
When TakeThat.com was live I asked five level headed fans from the original site to help moderate the forum. My intention was to compliment not to compete. We soon struck up a great team effort. The new team of girls was fantastic and to this day I don’t know where I would have been without them. It was comfort to know they were there helping me hold the fort on this project. To me, they were part of the Sony/Take That team. I was and am still very grateful. Within a short while we had 16 thousand Take That mostly female fans on the forum animatedly discussing all manner of Take That topics.
However, things took a dramatic turn on the forums. There was now a disturbing presence. The peace was broken. The moderators reported a new person on the forum, someone with an attitude. We decided to observe, hoping he would go away, but the fans were reporting that they were finding his comments upsetting. I, as the administrator and the moderators felt responsible towards the fans.
Several days later, the moderators told me they received private messages on the forum threatening physical and sexual violence. This “threatener “had even obtained emails and had IM’d one of the moderators. Naturally, I was extremely upset for the moderators. I immediately went to my line manager the Head of Digital and told him what was happening. Surely there was a protocol for this kind of thing at Sony. My boss shrugged his shoulders looked at me like I was wasting his time and asked “What do you expect me to do about it?” He was nonplussed. A few terrified fans just were not worth the effort. In short he didn’t care. It was written all over his face.
I went back to my office and shut the door. I was numb with shock… to the core. I couldn’t believe that someone in my opinion could be so cruel. Then I got angry. Not for me, I didn’t matter I was in the ivory towers of Sony. I got angry for the moderators. They were loyal fans who had stayed true for a decade whilst Take That were inactive. They were doing an unpaid job for Sony, a labour of love for their band, reliving their teenage years. There was now a man terrorising these girls and shaking up an entire community and then someone in authority who had plenty of power to do something about it and couldn’t be bothered.
So I got on the phone and called a friend. A friend who I knew was very high up in the police force. He advised me. He told me to send screen grabs of all the messages to him. By this time I had already banned the IP of the person in question. He returned under another alias and had started sending me death threats and he now knew where the Sony office was. The next afternoon I was gathering all the messages and disturbing images together in PowerPoint format. I took stock of the volume of material and at that point of clicking send - I finally gave in to the upset and cried a little.
Then there was nothing. No more messages no more threats, no more of the person that had caused all the distress. Things went back to normal. The moderators were happy, relieved and the appreciation I got was wonderful. A few days later I asked my police friend what had happened and he said, “Don’t worry about it.”
To this day I still don’t know what happened. But I do know this.
Those Take That fans deserved better than what they might have gotten had I not taken action. I do know that no matter what any organisation has a duty towards its fans. An organisation with fans must show its fans respect. Where would we have been had I taken the same approach as my boss and done nothing? What kind of a fan experience would that have been? A horrific one?
Without our fans we are nothing.
A Small Clip Of The Take That Documentary On The Fans
Image: Salvatore Vuono
"My whole philosophy is to broadcast the way a fan would broadcast."
How many times have we been inundated on Facebook with "spray and pray" wall messages from "friends" promoting their music or tagged in photos and videos that bear no relevance to us? How many times have "Tweeple" tweeted us to watch music videos that we didn't ask for and don't have an interest in. It's annoying isn't it?
This happened to me recently (again) whereby I received a charming rock video that involved all kinds of torture, sex and death imagery (evident within the first ten seconds you could see where it was going ... no major label deal for this band!). They were a follower of mine on Twitter. This video however, was unsolicited and not to my taste. Consequently, I blocked them.
Theoretically, we have permission so why do we find this kind of thing so irritating? Surely, by default, we are fans of our friends' and followers' musical endeavours? This got me curious why we feel this way and got me back onto a marketing strategy I am working on based on trust.
With our social networks opening further and further our beloved Permission Marketing seems to be open to abuse and is becoming a precious thing. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that a connection via a social network gives us permission to promote to others when it hasn't and doesn't. Approval on a social network gives you permission to be social. It gives you permission to strike up rapport and then start a dialogue. You might then become better acquainted and form a relationship. When you know enough about the person concerned and have a friendship you might then move to promoting yourself. In the end, it feels a little like when you willingly pay a friend for the work they do for you and the work is of an exceptional standard because both parties care.
The reason we find unsolicited promotion via social networks so annoying is that it smacks of interruption marketing. What I mean by that is "commercials," think radio, TV and press. In the early days, we used to find commercials irritating. They would come on in the middle of a film or programme we watching interrupting our reverie. Our professional commercials are now targeted entertainment. Therefore, a raw "watch my music video, come to my gig, listen to my track, buy my stuff" message saturating a newsfeed is much like the first round of commercials that came about when the first ad-funded TV stations emerged. It roughly shakes us out of any enjoyment we might be experiencing and demands that we do something for someone else we don't know so well. As such, we might approach with caution.
Our true friends, however, know us; they know our tastes and preferences and respect them. We are open to what they have to offer as we share plenty in common with them and they will have our best interests at heart. In the spirit of preserving those relationships, they wouldn’t suggest anything to us that they suspect we wouldn’t like. When friends come to us with music they are a fan of it is because they are a raving fan of it. They love it and want to share the love with us.
This means that we are now in the firmly back realm of relationship marketing (we have been here before.) TV will soon be interactive - broadcast is over. Broadcast is “pushing one way” and this doesn’t nurture trust and is definitely not suited to a multi-way digital medium like the internet. The important thing to remember is that without trust there can be no relationship. Trust is our guarantee that a person will deliver to expectation. Without trust, there can in fact be no permission because if I lose trust in you I revoke my permission and I can help revoke the permission of existing fans and potential ones. I would do that because I care about my friends. Trust is an important component of the fan experience.
“Band - To – Fan,” simply is not enough … think about “Fan – To – Friend”. Fans already have their friends’ attention they don’t need to interrupt anyone. Fans have the ears of their friends. Fans have dialogue. Fans have formidable leverage.
“It's a small world, but we all run in big circles.” Sasha Azevedo
In the early 18th century Great Britain was still agrarian. This meant that in England, a traveler from the North arriving in the South would find themselves in largely foreign territory. There were even time differences in durations of minutes between some counties. The Victorians however had a need for speed and with that the railway and the steam train arrived. The steam train made the Victorians limitless by comparison. Where they were local they were now national. Communication was stimulated as was connection. This is turn affected music with Victorians travelling from villages to towns to experience live music hall entertainment. Similarly it would also seem that our need for connection via the Internet has stimulated the live music sector today. There have been numerous reports to suggest that the sharing experience of music via the Internet has developed our live music appetites.
Is it a case of swings and roundabouts? Perhaps. In the Victorian era another technology was born. It enabled us to talk to each other across vast distances, it used code, new types of crime emerged from it, romances blossomed in chat rooms, businesses practices were flipped on their head and whilst the some sought to control the this brave new medium others predicted utopia and an evolved global consciousness. We are of course talking about the introduction of the telegraph. But doesn't it sound remarkably like our Internet? The point that I want you to remember is that there is no original thought. Everything has been created and everything we experience today is simply an improvement on that original wheel.
So is streaming music is old news? Well yes, it used to be called the "wireless" or as we now call it "radio". When radio arrived it was boycotted by the recorded music industry, after all who would buy records they could listen to the wireless for free? As it turned out the recorded music industry greatly benefited from the radio with the introduction of licences. Copyright as we now understand it was established. Radio gave music a wider reach, and a wider reach meant an expanding audience, and an expanding audience meant supersonic record sales. We had entered The Golden Age.
Beyond radio our next disruptive technology was TV. Radio lovers bemoaned the loss of the radio star. We know, however, that video didn't kill the radio star in fact video created another type of star and another type of experience with megastars such as Michael Jackson pushing the envelope of the medium with the multimillion dollar "Thriller". So now we have YouTube stars. Internet stars with billions of views on YouTube, reams of comments and millions of friends and followers. Internet stardom is a decisive factor in any artist obtaining a record deal or for a record label securing radio and TV airplay.
Let’s not forget the sheet music industry. The sheet music industry boycotted the recorded format. The argument was this, why would anyone buy sheet music if they could simply buy the record and listen to it. Nevertheless, the recorded format took over regardless. Today, people all over the world obtain tracks and make them their own. They put their own take on the original composition. We have mash ups, remixes, fan made video and presentations. Not unlike music fans back in the sheet music era who took their copy home and improvised with it to the delight of their audiences at home.
So what's next? Well our forthcoming technology in music is cloud storage. Cloud storage means that we can share out data and then access that data anywhere globally. Like water or electricity. This means that our music can be streamed from anywhere to well … anywhere. It might give us total mobility. A world without wires. A world where there is nothing to tie us down and we can be on the move with the information we need to share at the tap of our fingertips.
So, there have been a few technologies that have made progressively made the world smaller. The Internet is not the first and it won’t be the last.
Sometimes we need to reference from the past in order to learn and move on. There no problem that we have that hasn't been already solved on some level. So sometimes looking at the stories of the past can teach us about the future as we can see patterns and trends and attempt to plot a loose trajectory. No one can predict the future, but it is wise to plan for the best and prepare for the worst and consider every scenario possible and perhaps even make some future recommendations.