The tipping point, and how to build loyal fans.
by Jilla Webb
Hello everyone. I’m Jilla Webb. I’ve been a music industry professional for over 40 years, and two years ago I decided to go back to school one more time to complete a master’s degree in Strategic Communication. At its core, I believe all entertainment is strategic communication. The communication and entertainment industries have unmatched potential to connect with people on multiple levels just as great art and great literature. Every aspect of a career in the music or entertainment industry, not just PR and marketing, involve strategic communication, media skills, and foundational leadership abilities. All choices communicate something to an audience. In preparation for a professional career in the music industry, students must carefully and thoughtfully consider what their communication is portraying across every platform. Connection, musicianship, and entrepreneurship are inseparable.
This blog is the second in a series of blogs that I am writing for a class in my master’s program. I will be taking the principles discussed in the class and applying them to the entertainment industry field. I’ll post every Friday by 5:00 p.m. CST at https://jillawebb.com/category/communication-emerging-media/
I’m continuing to post and talk about communications and the music industry because every single thing we do as artists requires communication. I hope we start to see more collaborative classes that talk about the importance of communication skills in this industry. Communication is not a soft skill. It is ubiquitous and in every aspect of our lives and our businesses. Academic classes should combine communication and music industry skills in all music industry programs. As an artist in the music industry, it’s not only essential to know how to communicate with your audience, but also with your band, your tech people, your music director, lighting and video designers, your agents and manager, your accountant, venue owners, promoters, digital designers, interviewers, and your bus driver to name just a few. However, all of that outward verbal and non-verbal communication begins with the awareness and communication you have with yourself. I’ve had over 40 years in the music industry to learn to communicate in numerous and varied situations. I’d like to share with you some of my insights on performing, communication, and audience building that I have learned from my many professional experiences and time in this industry.
This blog provides a platform for me to deep dive into some communication issues that every artist, entrepreneur, and business should be discussing. We live in an exciting world, but it is fast paced, and the rate of changing technology is a challenge for all business owners. I’m looking forward to a more in-depth discussion on a variety of topics in this blog. As always, if you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comment field, and I’ll get back to you asap!
In our readings this week we are studying the Diffusion of Innovation, a theory by Dr. Everett Rogers. Diffusion of innovation studies when and how new ideas or innovations hit the tipping point and become mainstream in different social systems and cultures. How does this connect to the music industry? Well, artists who are starting out are a new innovation themselves. Even when they gain some notoriety, they still introduce new songs to the public throughout their career, and they must continue to market themselves and their new songs to the public consistently to maintain a career. In reality, an artist is a commodity. They are no different than an app or a pair of tennis shoes. If they are useful and provide value to the customer, if they provide utility or enhance the customer’s life in some way then their diffusion rate into the mainstream society might increase. People are trying to reduce uncertainty in their lives. You must prove that you are a reliable and consistent performer, or why should people spend money coming to see your shows and buy your products. Concert tickets can be expensive these days and maybe more importantly, seeing a show requires an investment of someone’s time. They may have to hire a babysitter and be going out to dinner before your show. They may be driving to another city and getting a hotel room to see your show. You need to have a track record that is high quality and consistent to gain the trust and loyalty of the majority of your fans.
Dr. Rogers talks about four main elements in the Diffusion of Innovation. 1.) The innovation. 2.) The communication channels. 3.) Time. 4.) The social system. Let’s look at those one at a time.
1.) Innovation. You, your songs, your concerts and all of your merchandise are the innovation that you are trying to make visible. The first step in the decision-making process for your fans is to get to know the product, or you. So you must have a social media and marketing plan that is consistent and cohesive across all media and live platforms. Everything from what you wear, to what and how you say things, to the actual products you create are communicating things to your fans. This is the area where you really get to let fans know who you are, and you get to start connecting with other social systems which share the same norms, values, and practices as you.
2.) The communication channels. Most artists seek out other groups of society who share similar interests in hopes of introducing themselves or their new songs to a receptive audience. This is also the area where influencers and change makers can help bring visibility to you and your songs to a much broader market. Many times people will make purchasing decisions based on the attitudes and activities of other members in the group. If you can get a decision-maker to endorse your product you may again increase the rate at which you and your songs are accepted by new fans. One way to do that is radio. You may think that streaming services are the only way to go, but keep in mind that they do not offer a chance for your fans to get to know you. Decision makers and influencers can get to know you in the different markets and help the viral spread of your product.
3.) Time. All of this takes time, and different segments of social systems will decide to add you at different times. Some will add you quickly, and others will be resistant to new artists and new music. You must know where you are in the cycle of adopter categories, so you know how to communicate with each segment. For instance, fans who are innovators or early adopters will give you a try early on because they can cope with higher levels of uncertainty more easily. They like a lot of face-to-face communication and may even enjoy becoming a part of your team. The early majority segment is where you hope to land fans quickly. These are the busy people who want an endorsement from others, so they know their investment won’t be wasted. To this category of people you can offer giveaways and free trials of things, so they don’t feel like they are locked in before they make a decision. Here playing to mainstream advertising and featuring you similar interests are where you should focus your communication. The late majority and laggards are segments of people who resist change. They don’t like uncertainty. You must change your communication style here to talk more about social norms. It will be vital for you as an “up-and-coming artists” to do cover songs of favorites from this category of people. If you give them something familiar and promote the social norms within their comfort zone, you will begin to win them over.
4.) The social system. Here is where implementation and confirmation of you as an artist by others start to become crucial for your success. Now you must continue to utilize your influencers and change makers, but you must also use mass media to continue to push you out to the world. You might get a write up with some independent bloggers who have a wide net, but you might also take out an ad in Rolling Stone Magazine or Country Music Weekly. Opinion leaders are going to help you move into new, or heterophilous, segments of society and mass media is going to help you get coverage in a homophilous social system, or one that shares the same values and norms.
You, the innovation, will spread from early adopters to the majority of society over time. Although mass media is still a useful tool, face-to-face communication is the best way to influence change. So, you have to get out there and do shows, talk to and really get to know people. It’s all about building genuine relationships with people. Networking is still KING. And for that to be effective, you have to know and understand how and what you are communicating to the world.