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10/18/2011
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How Warner Music Turns Social Media Fans Into Customers

Execs from Warner's Atlantic Records describe at Web 2.0 Summit the strategy and metrics they use to convert music fans into music buyers.

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Atlantic Records digital media leader Eric Snowden remembers excitedly promoting the fact that one of the label's artists had just topped 4 million fans and getting a pithy reply from his CEO: "What is this doing for us?"

That was a reminder that getting the fans was only half the battle, said Snowden, who is vice president for digital creative and technology at Atlantic, a division of Warner Music Group. "Over time, we've become really focused on figuring out what do we do all these people we've sort of corralled?"

Snowden and Carmen Sutter, the senior director of data services at Warner, spoke Tuesday about the progress they've made establishing strategies and metrics to answer that question. The two appeared along with Tim Waddell, director of product marketing for Adobe, Web 2.0 Summit, which is produced by Federated Media and O'Reilly Media in partnership with UBM Techweb. Warner uses Adobe Social Analytics, part of Adobe's Omniture Web analytics product line, for social media measurement.

Waddell said businesses of all sorts are "spending a bunch on social media" and increasingly are under pressure to prove that it delivers real results.

[ Get more news and videos from the Web 2.0 Summit. ]

Sutter said she used the website and social media of Atlantic artist Bruno Mars as the test case for her participation in Adobe's beta program for the product, and it turned out to be a good choice. She was able to see when particular Tweets that he published himself from his phone drove spikes in traffic to his website. An example was his promotion of the Liquor Store Blues video just posted to his site. Even more dramatically, she could see the way his Video Music Awards tribute to Amy Winehouse drove 170,000 social media mentions. Then she could chart how that social media spike was echoed, the following day with 159% increase in visit to the artist's website and a 302% increase in orders, she said.

She can see patterns like that much more easily by having a social media tool that is tightly linked with her website and e-commerce analytics, she said. "If I didn't have that, I'd have to match it all up in Excel somehow."

Snowden said he thinks of fans acquired through a Facebook page or Twitter profile as being at the beginning of the process. Ultimately, he wants to bring those people to the artist's website, get them to join a community there, and become a customer who buys CDs or digital downloads. Sutter's team has created a corresponding set of metrics to track each conversion from one stage to the next. She also tracks things like the number of fans posting comments, divided by the total number of fans, as a measure of engagement, and seeks to separate the more influential fans from the rest.

The promotional strategy is also different for new artists than for established ones, Snowden said. "At the beginning of an artist's career, we want to keep the barrier to entry very low," he said, and that may mean publishing more free content and sharing it more widely. As an artist becomes more popular, "we ask a little bit more from fans and try to drive them to our own wholly owned properties more."

Artists are encouraged to tweet and post on their own, rather than having someone do it for them, Snowden said. "We have to be careful that everything stays in their voice," he said. This presents challenges because recording artists are "imperfect marketers" and don't always understand the impact their posts will have.

Marketing an artist as a brand is also different than marketing a product, Snowden said. "Our brands are people. They get upset, they get angry, they feel neglected. It's different than, you know--Dr. Pepper is not a person."

The emphasis on personal marketing also means matching social media campaigns to the style of the artist, so they publish what comes naturally to them, Snowden said. When his team first sat down to coach Rob Thomas, lead singer for Matchbox 20, he initially rejected all their selections. But once they found out that he did a lot of texting to friends and family, they were able to sell him on Twitter as being like "texting to all your fans." Initially skeptical, Thomas wound up tweeting 70 times the first day and building a huge following (more than 250,000 followers as of today).

Sutter said one of her challenges is that artists won't necessarily cooperate in including the tracking code she would like to see in every post. However, Snowden's team has been clever about getting artists like Bruno Mars to use smartphone apps that include that code automatically. "Bruno doesn't know it's there, but I do," she said.

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