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The Art of Music Publicity in the Age of Social Media

The rules of PR have changed.

Listen up, publicists. It’s 2016; things have changed in the last few years, and it’s time to get with the program.

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We all know the PR cliché that "all press is good press," right? Let’s throw that one right in the trash and include the equally clichéd approach to PR that so many publicists out there are still taking. We’re talking about the countless hours spent churning out identical press releases that end up in journalists’ spam folders, the pitches to bloggers that score you about eight page views, and the cookie-cutter stories sold to magazines that are so transparently generated by a PR machine that even Taylor Swift would weep.

The media landscape has changed dramatically, and it’s time we all got on board once and for all.

The most important thing publicists can do for their clients today is to direct their focus to micro-content. We’re talking about digital strategies driven by shareable, authentic content. That’s how you grow an audience. The publicist can still direct the dialogue surrounding their client, but without sacrificing authenticity.

It’s no secret that print is on its deathbed. We’re all on our phones all of the time, and we’re moving swiftly from one social media platform to the next, swinging quickly between answering an email to sending a tweet, then back again to scroll through Instagram. Our attention spans are short, less than ten seconds according to some studies, so the type of content that grabs our eye has to be seriously compelling for us to stick with it for more than a millisecond.

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Source: The Brief Lab via NBC

So, who’s getting it right? Luckily, there are plenty of celebrities giving micro-content their best shot and nailing it in the process.

I know you’d rather throw yourself out of a window than have to read about the Kardashians, but they’re a solid example of publicity done well. They know exactly how to find the balance between unattainable glamor and accessible silliness when it comes to their audience, which wins them millions of #goals comments on every selfie as well as a legion of fans biting their fingernails in anticipation between Snapchat stories.

Kylie Jenner is a great example of the power of the social media PR phenomenon. Fans may have seen her face (well, her old face) on Keeping Up With The Kardashians first, but it was social media that made Kylie. While we warmed up to Jenner through her ridiculously popular Instagram, it was Snapchat where the "real Kylie" made her debut, and that’s where she hit the PR nail on the head.

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On Snapchat, fans aren’t as interested in posting selfies as they are in delivering fun, authentic content that they can instantly interact with. Kylie quickly started utilizing the platform to give her fans a glimpse behind the scenes, whether it was her lip syncing along to her boyfriend’s songs in the car or giving them a personal tour around her mansion. These snaps always have the feel of spontaneous over-sharing, but it’s more likely that they’re carefully curated, designed by the clever Kardashian PR geniuses to make fans feel like no aspect of Kylie’s life is off-limits.

That smart use of social media doesn’t just build Kylie’s fanbase, it also makes her money. Like, a lot of money. Sponsored posts pull in as much as $300,000 a pop, and Kylie’s now booming empire of Lip Kits, hair extensions and apps would have undoubtedly been far less lucrative without the solid relationship she built with her audience through social media.

The real key to building a major brand online is in creating a fandom. In 2016, the power of the fandom is immense. Just look at the insane level of buzz created by the Beyhive when Beyoncé’s Lemonade dropped and Jay Z’s potential infidelity came to light. Precious few people were talking about the visual album’s cinematography, yet within 24 hours the internet was swarming with bee emojis, and "Becky with the good hair" herself was tracked down and bombarded with Beyhive attacks. Cyberbullying aside, this fan-created hype machine made Lemonade’s release a bigger and more exciting event than any other record this year.

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That’s not to say that Beyoncé’s publicist had nothing to do in making a success of Lemonade. Her PR team was directly responsible for creating a gradually escalating level of hype around the album release, leaking snippets of video content on Beyoncé’s social media pages that were tantalizing clues of what fans could expect. In typical Beyoncé PR style, the clips were stylish enough to build a vibe of hysterical anticipation without really giving anything away as to what the content of the Lemonade event would be. This was micro-content at it’s finest — attracting an audience, generating hype, and creating a call to action that could be instantly monetized through TIDAL.

Okay, I know what you’re going to say.

“We’re not all Beyoncé, and being Beyoncé’s publicist has to be a hell of a lot easier than working with a client who nobody’s heard of and nobody really cares about.” — You

True. But understand that it’s the non-Beyoncé’s of the music world who need publicists that truly understand social media and digital content. These are the future stars who could benefit the most from this kind of exposure.

So what do the publicists of these could-be-celebs need to do right now to get their client seen, heard and known?

The millennial audience your client most likely wants to attract has no interest in censored Q&A interviews in which the publicist has vetoed every potentially interesting question, and they’re far more likely to be scrolling through their Instagram feed than picking up a copy of US Weekly.

They want to know what their favorite stars are doing right now, who they’re hanging out with, what makeup they’re using, and what they’re eating for breakfast. Show them what they’re interested in, and they’ll come back for more.

The perfect example of this type of great PR is in the case of Snapchat extraordinaire DJ Khaled. A few years ago DJ Khaled certainly wasn’t a nobody, but he also wasn’t a superstar. He succeeded in taking the infectious edge out of his music, which played to a large but still limited audience and transferring it to the far more extensive world of social media. Suddenly, millions of teenagers started walking around in We The Best hoodies telling each other what "they" don’t want you to do. This didn’t happen thanks to radio play; it happened thanks to Snapchat.

What's Khaled's secret? It’s actually pretty simple. He took the slightly sarcastic, goofy sense of humor that social media loves, mixed it with a healthy dose of ironic arrogance, then made sure he broadcasted the combination on a regular basis until fans caught on and spread the message by word of mouth. DJ Khaled now gets over 2 million views on a single Snapchat story and has grown his audience exponentially.

DJ Khaled also harnessed the power of influencer marketing, by teaming up with even more famous celebrity friends like Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian to show the world exactly how much fun he was having. And that’s what Snapchat and micro-content are all about: shareable, infectious fun.

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In my personal experience, you just can’t compare this form of viral micro-content marketing to the old-school approach when it comes to the raw numbers of potential fans you’re able to reach.

Last May, I teamed up with Fifth Harmony’s top fan account, 5HonTour, and took over their Snapchat account during one of the group’s concerts. Within minutes of broadcasting Snapchat stories of the girls fooling around backstage, we’d reached over 250k views.

Instead of simply seeing edited footage of the concert that they’d missed, the fans got insight into the authentic atmosphere of the event and were able to connect with their favorite singers on a more intimate level with one immediate touch on their screen. They weren’t just another face in a crowd, they were backstage with the girls they fantasize about being best friends with.

Now that is content that builds an audience and sells out stadiums. That’s good publicity; no press release required.


By Nik Sharma. Follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Snapchat



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