How To Use One Superfan To Spread The Word To Millions

Techdirt has been a great believer in connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy for many years, but it’s always interesting to see people come up with new variations on this theme. Here’s the idea in an extreme form, from a couple months ago: sharing a new album stream with just one “superfan” who then spread the word with dramatic results:

To recreate the word-of-mouth phenomenon that made them famous, the xx shared their album stream Coexist with a single fan just outside London last week — days before its official US release.

It was a risky marketing move that set out to test whether the band could replicate their initial viral success with a map that tracked shares with a visualization on the Coexist stream’s host site.

Twenty-four hours after the stream was shared with a fan on Facebook, the site crashed from the millions of streams, with the average user spending 2.1 hours on the site.

The “superfan” was chosen on the basis of frequent postings about the band “the xx” in the past. This meant he or she was certain to be fired up by the prospect of exclusive access to the new album ahead of everyone else. That in its turn increased the likelihood the initial post revealing the location of the stream to the rest of world would be positive. It would also come with the implicit authority of someone who was presumably well-known in the music community for writing about the band, adding to its impact.

Alongside the massive interest this approach generated, the other big benefit for the band is that it avoids the uncertainties of releasing the album first to music journalists, who are much more unpredictable in their reactions. Indeed, it was only the next day that the music press got hold of the story, by which time the huge viral success of this campaign meant that there was no question of ignoring the new album or its enthusiastic uptake. In other words, the traditional news outlets found themselves forced to acquiesce in the narrative generated by the fans, rather than being in control and telling those fans what to think.

Clearly, this isn’t a strategy that can be used too often, and there’s also the issue of how good this kind of connection is at generating sales. But it does underlie the importance of fully understanding the social structure of the community of fans — in this case, in order to find a superfan who could be used to seed the rest of the fan base via an enthusiastic recommendation. There are many other possible ways of involving people who are key “nodes” in the social graph — the ones whose influence really counts — and we’ll doubtless be hearing about them in due course.

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