I was asked recently by BBC Radio 4 about how I use social media to achieve real results, bearing in mind that this artform also doubles as a ‘favourite waste of time’ for some people. I was drawn towards two examples, one hugely successful, the other a comedy of errors which ended in glorious failure. The comparison provides real contrast. To read more about the Monty Pythonesque failure, go to The real SPINAL TAP tour – a story of a failed rock world tour which I sponsored to the tune of £40 000, to my wife’s great disappointment! My story today concerns something much more positive for the enigmatic but reclusive rock star Bill Nelson, leader of 70’s pop art bands Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise, admired by Sir Paul McCartney, Brian May, Eno et al.
Bill had been persuaded to perform at a special series of concerts for the “ITV Legends” series. Bill is not a great fan of music business contracts. This meant that he stood to lose a considerable sum of money if the concert did not sell out it’s 125 tickets at £175 each. His fanbase had drawn a deep breath at the ticket price and 4 weeks out from the date, Bill told me that ticket sales were very poor indeed.
I decided that it might be possible to use our social and traditional media skills to see if we could improve things. Nelson has a loyal but small fanbase, so I wrote them an open invitation entitled “Let’s make this a sellout for Bill”. The initial reaction to this innovation was fairly risk averse. If I could typify the reactions, they would include:
“I don’t know anything about marketing and frankly I think it is the pursuit of the devil”
“I would like to help but don’t know how to”
“I don’t have much spare time”
“Isn’t it too late now?”
… and so on
To address the concerns over capability and time, I adopted the following strategy:
- I provided the group with a set of sample letters that they could use or adapt
- We established a series of ‘media targets’ e.g. national media, related fanbases and so on
- I provided market intelligence on some of the people we were to attempt to involve and their personal connections with Bill Nelson
- Crucially, as time was short, we agreed to operate on a ‘seek forgiveness, not permission’ principle. Just do it and then tell others what you had done – a kind of ‘constructive chaos’
At first, very little happened, but then we had a breakthough. I had done some homework on the veteran BBC Radio 2 deejay Johnnie Walker and managed to get him to give the concert a mention. Here’s the radio piece which I turned into a youtube video the same day to multiply the effect of the radio exposure with over 6000 viewings:
Shortly after that, another admirer managed to get a slot on BBC Radio 2’s Radcliffe and Maconie show. Again, we quickly used this to multiply awareness and reach parts of Bill Nelson’s fanbase that had lost touch with his work.
Once the fanbase saw that their actions could have an impact, we gained momentum and morale. The concert went on to break through the break-even point for Bill, bringing new and old fans of his work back to the fold. Bill himself said: “Just to say thanks again for your kind and generous efforts to publicise the ‘Legends’ TV show amongst fans and the media. Ticket sales, as of this evening, are now 108 out of a possible 125 sales. Thanks once again, Peter”
What then are the transferable lessons from this project?
- This project could only be achieved with a small army of committed people. I managed to secure their initial commitment to run a few ‘experiments’.
- Without an early success via the Radio exposure, it is my feeling that the group may have never gone on to multiply its efforts.
- The principle of ‘just do it’ and encouraging a sense of urgency were essential in getting people to move beyond ‘watching things happen’ to pro-actively ‘making things happen’.
- To make social media work for you, it takes BOTH numbers AND quality of the message / content. Through a participative strategy without too much central control, we achieved both of these objectives, which fed through to ticket sales and mass media attention, which have since had other benefits on BBC 6 music and in other places.
Let’s take a look at one of the concert pieces – A masterpiece from Bill’s first Be-Bop Deluxe album entitled “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape”:
image credit: academyofrock.co.uk
image caption: Flaming Desire – some of Bill Nelson’s albums – recent and ancient – with my Bill Nelson Campbell American Transitone and my beloved battered and flamed Fender Strat
Peter Cook is Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy or Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. www.humdyn.co.uk and www.academy-of-rock.co.uk. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock