Sunday, October 11, 2009

Social Media and Marketing and Kansas City and Jazz

A Saturday morning story on NPR caught my ear, so to speak. Because it addressed a topic I’ve been thrashing through my head of late, though I’ve been tying it to jazz and Kansas City.

In the interview (here), a wine merchant enthusiastically trumpets how he rebranded then grew his business via social media. Through social media, he says, “the cost of creating your voice over the thing that you’re most passionate and knowledgeable about is zero.”

He goes on: “And now, because of things like Twitter and Facebook…[you can] socialize and network, kind of like working a cocktail party. Build your business. Word of mouth is how all businesses have always been built, anyway. And that costs zero. Now it’s time…. It’s time to build a brand around yourself.”

So how can this social media serve as a vehicle to market our spectacular Kansas City jazz talent, both locally and beyond? That’s the question that’s been burning through my brain.

I look at Twitter and some of the jazz tweets. JazzTalk boasts over 22,300 followers. Accujazzradio, among my favorites, has over 1000 followers. And NPR’s Blogsupreme tweet, another I enjoy, attracts just over 900. All tweet often. But why does one attract 900 fans and another more than 22,000?

Do you start small and gradually grow as your tweets are discussed, retweeted and mentioned in blogs and elsewhere? Do you need to tweet profoundly and prolifically for that to occur? Is that the word of mouth, virtual cocktail party aspect?

In short, how do you get found?

It clearly helps if you’re an established brand. Comedienne Sarah Silverman is approaching 325,000 Twitter followers. CNN is approaching 3 million. That suggests to me that Twitter may be a better place to maintain a brand than to establish one.

Same for Facebook. With over 300 million users, how do you break through the clutter? Where’s the cocktail party?

I don’t ask for me. I’m on Twitter and Facebook with no grand desire to build myself a crowd. But if Kansas City’s sterling young jazz talent wants to be noticed -- and they deserve to be noticed -- or if a promoter cares to take that task in hand, how is the the internet harnessed to establish a brand?

Does the online cocktail party need to envelop a broader approach? Do the social media need to be complimented with videos and mp3s, photos and biographies, an online media barrage? If so, how are those virtual treats discovered? Or does the presence of one help build awareness of the next? Do all of the social and online tidbits collectively work to define the brand?

My guess is yes, but that online alone may not be not enough.

Let’s look at this another way: Jazz is a niche product. It’s generally accepted that about three percent of music sales are jazz. iTunes claims over 100 million accounts. Three percent of those music-buying accounts should be our jazz-buying niche. So, unless I’m making an illogical leap of logic, there should be an online audience of three million potential music purchasers considering jazz. Those aren’t Michael Jackson numbers, but it’s a compelling crowd to target jazz towards. If you can reach them economically.

Now let’s look at a recent success. Singer Melody Gardot has a compelling personal story, having been hit by a truck on at age 19, surviving head injuries and a shattered pelvis, she was hospitalized for a year. Music therapy helped damaged neural pathways recover. She began recording songs and made them available on iTunes, then released an album in 2006. That album was re-released by the jazz label Verve in 2008, with a media push. An interview on NPR (here) placed her story before millions. The album is short but the music fantastic. According to one online report, it was downloaded just 400 times before 2008. After her interview, it captured the top of iTunes’ jazz charts for weeks. This year, Verve released her second album.

Word spread virally on Melody Gardot. And when it did, it sparked thousands of downloads by those (I think) millions of potential iTunes jazz buyers. But word started through a traditional medium, radio.

Now let’s look at a local success. I’ve written of the group Diverse. Their fabulous August night at The Blue Room sold the place out. But that performance was preceded by a profile in The Kansas City Star and an appearance on KCUR’s Up to Date. Traditional media drove that crowd.

Maybe the solution is that traditional media can provide a push to start sales or a brand quickly, which social media can then drive further. Maybe marketing solely through the social internet is a slower slog, built through an abundance of posts and media which start people talking, spreading the news, then building over time.

Or maybe there’s a middle ground to which I’m oblivious. If you’ve followed me this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Because I suspect there’s a practical social media answer that I’m overlooking.

Now let’s return to the wine merchant with whom I opened. He was on NPR Saturday morning because he’s selling a book which describes how he rebranded and grew his business through social media. As a result of the interview, I’m buying the book. I want to know his insights and secrets. I want to know how he apparently made social media succeed for him in ways, right now, I don’t see. Maybe as a result of this blog, or as a result of hearing the interview online, others will buy the book, too. If so, social media will have sold copies. But I can’t ignore the fact he needed traditional media for the opening push.

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Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.