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Unleashing the Artist Within the Fan: Social Media Lessons From Imogen Heap


Crowd-sourced concepts and products as well as those that simply elicit fan feedback along the course of the creation are a growing trend. But sometimes I question the intentions behind them — being more of a goodwill, look-what-we’re-doing tactic or a way to create buzz rather than for true inspiration.

Not the case with Imogen Heap (if you will consider how this talented artist has built herself into a stand alone brand). By nature, she’s fueled by comments from fans. And it was when she started blogging a couple years ago that she really began to embrace fan’s influence on her music.

Now, with the help of a number of social networking tools, she’s involving her fans every step of the way. In her Twitter bio she says:

I’ve been tweeting about making my new album, Ellipse (out 24th Aug). Now… I guess I’ll be tweeting about how it gets from my studio to your ears…

Yes, while working on her latest album, Ellipse, she would occasionally share 12 seconds of a track with her nearly 1MM twitter followers and ask for feedback. Admittedly she says (in an npr interview heard on-air) it didn’t really cause her to go back and change any part of the song. But it did give her positive reinforcement that she was moving in the right direction.

Asking For Feedback Through YouTube
Throughout the process, she posted sound clips in her video blog on YouTube as well as 12seconds. In vBlog#35,  she talks for 10 minutes in her home studio (as in most of her vBlogs) about how she’s working through the track “Tidal.” She goes into detail about her struggles with how to put the song together until she had an epiphany that caused her to change the song. She teases her fans with a couple short recorded clips.
Then she plays the first chorus of another new song “Swoon” as the clip shows her recording it. She goes on to play “Bad Body Double” while demonstrating the beat on a kazoo-like instrument. The video is raw and conversational. I felt like I was there in the studio with her. Like I was getting a private inside tour.
One video alone garnered 127,646 views, 5 video responses, 280 ratings and 184 comments. At one point she asked fans to send her their version of a song. 300+ fans responded and she plans to put out an EP of her favorites.

Letting Her Fans Write Her Story Via Twitter
Heap goes so far as to have her fans tell her story. Using @heaptweets, she asked people to send in short sentences about interesting aspects of her life. With the help of a journalist, Heap assembled it into a “biog.” She put forth 12 questions or topics as thought-starters. In her vBlog invitation, she even called out to some of her celebrity followers — Perez Hilton and Kanye West, just to name a few — to contribute. More than 1500 tweets were collected for the “first crowd-sourced press biography of a musician.”

Collaborating With Amateur Artists on Flickr
Artists presented their portfolios and told Heap a bit about what they’d create for her involving some part of her house. Heap agreed to cook, feed, play piano for, “whatever [they] want within reason” for one week in her home as a payment for collaborating on the design of her new album artwork. Pretty awesome payment, I must say, if you’re a fan. But more over, it’s a big savings for Heap as an alternative to enlisting a pricier professional artist who may want royalties. And think of all the friends and family of this artistic fan that could potentially purchase the album just for sake of his artwork. Oh, and it makes a good story too.

Maximizing Reach with Various Channels
Heap has her own blog, tweets regularly and maintains Facebook, YouTube and MySpace pages. Plus she’s used Flickr and 12seconds.

She’s definitely not missing out on fan connections. Though I find her social presence too overwhelming. I’d love to provide feedback, inspire and be part of the process, but I don’t have time to keep up with all of her scattered updates. So I pick Twitter, like the majority of her fans.

I just downloaded Ellipse. I liked her in Frou Frou, and now her entire, fascinating creative and marketing process has transformed me into a long-term fan.

It’s really about being vulnerable and having the guts to show your work-in-progress. To me, that makes you much more humble and likable. Fans everywhere must agree. In just one week, her album charted at #5 on the U.S.’s Billboard Top 200, #1 on the Internet Album Chart and #2 on the Digital Albums Chart, #4 on the Canadian Top 200, and #39 on the UK Top 40.

Who Should Take Note
Should more musicians use twitter or 12seconds as a sounding board? I’m not sure collaboration or in-process feedback is right for every artist as it could quickly turn disastrous if artists don’t cultivate their community like Heap does.

Some other artists could creatively use social media for fan feedback or collaboration along the way:
1. fiction writers: Use fans to help them develop characters or plot.
2. painters: Show work in progress and gather critiques.
3. fashion designers: Help with fabric selection or pairings.
4. red-carpet celebrities: Which outfit, asseccories, hairstyle should I wear?
5. movie producers: Should a scene make the chopping block?

Can you think of others?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

Does Your CEO Really Need to Be on Facebook?

maritasquote.jpgIt’s a huge debate around the Organic circle and it doesn’t appear many CEOs are. Out of the 2009’s Fortune-100, only 19 (gasp) have a personal Facebook page. But don’t go shaking fingers just yet. What I found even more shocking was that only two had Twitter accounts — one of which has ZERO tweets.[1] Wait. I’m not done. None had blogs.

Some of the Organic pool seemed to think that was okay. But the rest of us think they’re missing a huge opportunity. The bigger question is, does your CEO need to be participating in social media? According to Organic’s CFO and COO, Marita Scarfi, the answer is absolutely.

Her reasoning? “Being engaged with your customers allows you to produce better products/services which, in turn, leads to improved customer loyalty. Ultimately this helps increase sales and fosters stronger company financial performance (e.g. increased shareholder value).”

Customers usually know what they want today, yet they don’t always know what they want in the future. This engagement can help companies lead the innovation and development of future products — a critical part of the CEO’s role. It’s really not about the tool. It’s about communication with your customers.

What Does This Have to Do with Facebook?
There’s a rampage in the social media world driving companies to get on the next big social network. First it was MySpace. Then Facebook. Now Twitter. Sure, customers are there. But before you go pushing your unsocial-savy CEO to Tweet, ask him (or her) how he likes to talk to customers.

Part of the company’s social media strategy should take into account the CEO’s personality and what tool is best at helping them feel comfortable in their dialogue. They can start by simply talking to customers face-to-face, unstructured. Then maybe they try posting some short thoughts on Twitter (Marita’s pick). If they like that, it’s a good fit. If 140 characters just isn’t enough to express themselves and they’re finding it tough to inject their personality into anything coherent, they should try another means of conversing with their customer.

This is different than the brand presence. While the brand can sustain a Facebook page, it doesn’t seem plausible that most CEOs can. It takes a lot of work to attract a following and keep them engaged. Work that a CEO just doesn’t have time for.

Yeah, Like I Have Time To Be Updating My Facebook Status
Realistically, you can’t expect a CEO to be logging on to Facebook a few times a day, or even every day, for that matter. They first have to figure out what to focus on. If you’re interested in driving shareholder value, then you do that through knowing what your customers want or trying to predict what your customers want. That insight comes via dialogue.

Isn’t That What I Have a Customer Service Department For?
This is different than traditional reactive customer service. It’s more than answering questions or addressing complaints and feedback. Still your customer service department, or better yet, your social media specialist can help. Enlist them to help you listen. Then get someone to summarize the chatter, pull out the themes and put together a plan of action. That will tell you what your customers need to hear from you.

Only the CEO can communicate that transparency, because their job is to see the company holistically. Other positions are simply too specialized and focused. When it comes from the top dog, it’s much more believable.

Help! I Have Writer’s Block
If a CEO doesn’t feel comfortable posting him- (or her)self, he might consider a ghostwriter (a la community manager) to do it for him. The point is that they should be responding to their community (read: customers and potential customers).

It’s also important that they be authentic. Forget marketing-speak. Customers can get that from your ads. If you were having lunch with me, what would you say? Forget lawyers. Forget PR. I’ll read right through that. Put yourself out there. I want to know what’s really going on. Consumers these days want to be part of the process. Hence why when done correctly, crowd-sourcing projects are so successful (think Dell Idea Storm, My Starbucks Idea, etc.).

Another reason this is important: according to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, faith in companies is at a 10-year low. And “The Most Respected Companies” in the Global Pulse 2009 Study from the Reputation Institute all have one thing in common. Brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Costco, Whirlpool, Google and FedEx are open and honest about what they’re doing. That resonates more with customers, who tell their friends — on- and off-line. You can’t do that through advertising alone.

The study further reinforces the benefits of transparency:
“54 percent of consumers would give the most reputable U.S. companies the benefit of the doubt in a time of crisis and that perception of a company’s ethical behavior and transparency in business dealings holds the most weight…”

The Institute goes on to recommend that by communicating to customers, companies “will create a connection with the U.S. consumers that with garner them resiliency and support in any situation.”

A Few Are Doing it Well
• Marita likes how Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal gets out in the stores and talks to his employees and his customers. She believes you can do the same through social media.
Fred Smith, FedEx Chairman, President and CEO, frequently contributes to the Company’s “Citizenship Blog.”
• Tony Hsieh of Tweets, blogs and interacts with employees face-to-face. His social media astuteness has become the company’s mantra.
• Sun Microsystems’ CEO Jonathan Schwartz writes a well-read blog for industry insiders. His open dialogue philosophy has become core to Dell’s business strategy.
• Most of the CEOs on Twitter are from tech companies and the like. And while that appears a natural fit, I’d like to see more CEOs from the CPG industry — the products I use (or could use) every day.

CEO’s, the worst thing you can do is be silent. Consumers want information. If nobody is giving that to them, people will come to their own conclusions or write you off altogether.

1 Source: CEOs and Social Media from UberCEO

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

Finding the Perfect Mommy Hands

In my earlier post about why brands need Mommy Bloggers, I talked a little about how these influentials review products. Get your product into the right hands and let them advertise for you. Sounds easy, but finding those perfect hands takes a bit of planning.

Everybody Loves Swag
Yes, everybody loves free stuff — especially Moms, often on a budget, infrequently indulging or buying things for themselves. I’ve never seen so much swag at a conference [BlogHer ’09], not to mention the frenzy over it. One even went as far to blackmail a brand rep.

swag.JPGYes, one company even sent flowers to every attendee’s room.

While most of the BlogHer conference goers took advantage of the freebies (myself and Lindsay Ferrier included), many (most of the eco-conscious bloggers) questioned the true intension of the parties and even the day parts including Lynn Miller, and Cate Nelson,
Christine Koh, and Stephanie Precourt.

One of the best brand interactions I saw* was from GoGirl. They sent “GoGirls” (young, bubbly brand representatives) to give out free samples and coupons and answer questions about the novel product. No boring representative parked behind a booth. No free sample stuffed inside a bag with a plethora of other goodies. Real girls who’ve tried the product showing, telling other women about it. Unfortunately they ran out before I could get one, but one GoGirl gave me her card and told me to contact her if I’d like to blog about it.

One area that was lacking was technology. Annie from PhD in Parenting nailed it when she said she’d like to see more companies who are behind the technology they’re using or might potentially use. Think: blog platforms, software, apps, etc.

To brands, it was better to be there than not. Face time with these influentials is key. If they’re not in love your brand, talk with them one-on-one and find out why. Maybe it’s just that they don’t understand your product or your company’s mission. Make plans to attend BlogHer10 if you haven’t already. Just make sure you do it in the most eco-friendly way possible. [Sidebar: This is an already huge and growing Mommy Blogger niche. There surely was no shortage of expert bloggers in this area.]

How Do You Pick the Right Mommy Blogger?
Readership is a must of course. But it really comes down to personality and chemistry. How well does she (or could she) represent your brand? Check out her writing and previous reviews. Are you okay with her style and tone? If you’re not, don’t even think about asking her to change for you.

This can get tricky, because sometimes the blogger picks you. If you’re not doing it already, you should be monitoring who’s talking about you. If they’re saying good things, wonderful. Send them an email or comment on their blog to say thanks. But what if they give you a poor review?

Counter the Bad with Some Love
You can’t please everyone, but you can do your best to address their concerns. What is it about your product or company that they didn’t like? It might be something that can be rectified over honest-to-goodness customer service.

Don’t fix the review or demand that it be taken down. That will cause your brand more harm than good. Instead, use it as an opportunity. Dell did this when a blogger complained about a computer and the company, fueling a firestorm of more hate posts. Dell countered first with a blog post, then by asking customers what they wanted (hence, IdeaStorm was born).

Are They Blogging With Integrity?
The latest FTC rulings demanding that bloggers disclose paid reviews have changed the landscape and spurred many questions surrounding transparency (as reported by NPR). Before the influx of brands turning to Mommy Bloggers, brands would occasionally sponsor a blogger’s writing, meaning the blogger still retained her Mommy Blogger identity and not one of a brand spokesperson. As of late, some Mommy Bloggers have taken up gigs writing for brands. Also, advertising on blogs – if any – used to have no links to editorial content. Now, they’re being mixed.

Some Mommy Bloggers (remember I’m using this term loosely), like Jessica Gottlieb, welcome this. Four longtime female bloggers, Susan Getgood, Liz Gumbinner, Kristen Chase, and Julie Marsh, created the Blog with Integrity pledge and badge where bloggers vow to disclose relationships with marketers, cite sources, credit inspiration, be professional and most of all honest. This is good for consumers and if done right, it’s good for brands.

It’s Okay to Pay
Ideally, the best praises are the ones that happen by chance. Though paid reviews or ones where brands offer their product to the blogger, can still work in your favor.

Make sure your blogger creates transparency by dedicating a page to strictly show sponsors and advertisers. Make sure the paid review mention is immediately visible. You might think this would turn away readers. But those who blog with integrity have built a trusted following and that following expects truth in both sponsorship and the review. Most Mommy Bloggers will only write about products they’ve had a good experience with.

If you’re asking a Mommy Blogger to review your product, foster better reviews by:
1. Allowing her to write how she writes.
2. Refraining from changing or editing the review. Remember, this is how she feels about the product, brand or company, not marketing speak.
3. Making sure she discloses to her readers the sponsorship.
4. Bloggers: what are some other ways we can work with you?

Stay tuned for examples of brands who’ve enlisted Mommy Bloggers successfully in this series about using one of your most networked customers to advertise for you.

*I didn’t attend the exhibitors’ floor. This opinion is based only on Thursday evening’s parties.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

Advertisers Should Focus on Content Over Location

There’s a debate going on in the online advertising world. It’s getting tougher and tougher to grab the attention of viewers with so-called banner ads. Yet, some sites are charging more than ever for space.

Online Broadcasts vs. Television
James Kewageshig tipped me off to a piece from PC World that states advertisers are paying more for a slot online than on primetime.

“If a company wants to run ads alongside an episode of The Simpsons on Hulu or, it will cost the advertiser about $60 per thousand viewers, according to Bloomberg. On prime-time TV that same ad will cost somewhere between $20 and $40 per thousand viewers.”

Could it be that they don’t have to worry about fast-forward? Hulu claims their space is “clutter-free” — unlike many sites. So they’re banking on the viewer’s full attention. Plus, the ads are usually a lot shorter than the 30-second-minium television ads. As I viewer myself, the ads can still be annoying. But at least they’re not as frequently annoying as being interrupted every seven minutes during a 30-minute primetime show.

Websites vs. Magazines
So how does this all compare to print? A short FastCompany article that surmises that the reason print is dying is because of online ads being crud. Advertisers are still prepared to pay higher for ad placement in a well curated magazine than your website.

How about simply adding interactivity to your banner? According to, the addition of interactive doodads to banner ads increases click through up to 70%!

Their parting shot:

If Web advertising’s formats were half as clever as all the internet content out there, wouldn’t everyone be better off, and making a lot more money?

It’s All About Relevancy
True. The key is knowing your target and providing them with interesting, informative information. It’s our job to provide the exceptional experience, not the space we buy.

Stephen Murray takes this a step further:
There was a quote this morning in the newspaper that struck me. The author was discussing the Obama administrations recent efforts to overhaul how professionals are paid (Teachers, Doctors, Executives). Essentially, the goal is something that’s closer to a Pay-For-Performance model:

“In executive suites, he says, we rewarded reckless risk-taking and got the worst recession in half a century. In doctors’ offices and hospitals, we pay for more care instead of better care and get a wastefully expensive health-care system. In K-12 classrooms, we pay teachers, good and bad, for showing up instead of successful teaching and perpetuate schools that fail.”

Attempts at progress increase the risk of failure….

“The risks of unintended consequences are large, and there’s a chance we’ll get more of what can be measured — not what we truly want or need.”

These same goals and risks apply to our business as well. We must not fall into the trap of focusing on what can be measured easily. In our role, as Intelligent Marketers, the most important skill we possess is the ability to listen closely and be sure we’re answering the right question. We could all design misleading ads that had tremendously high click rates. But that doesn’t mean we’re doing our job of delivering an exceptional user experience.

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds. Written with Dean McRobie and Stephen Murrary.

Infusing Personality on Corporate Blogs

1. First and foremost, determine and write for your audience.

Are they customers? Stockholders? Industry enthusiasts? If you pick more than one, devote separate articles to each, then tag or categorize them so your readers quickly find the one for them. Connect with your audience by showing them how they should trust what you’re telling them. Talk on their level. I like Rubbermaid’s blog for this.

2. Be current, but don’t use it as a press release dumping ground. is good at taking a news piece and giving it their own spin.

3. Encourage and empower contributors to speak freely. Have them write their own pieces as opposed to using PR ghost writers.

4. Encourage authors to publicly respond to comments in conversational tone.

5. Take a stance. Not everyone may agree with a post, but they’ll know what the author upholds. And sometimes a little disagreement is just what it takes to spur comments. (See my note below about Microsoft.)

6. Enlist multiple authors with different editorial styles. Edmunds is good at this.

7. Don’t use marketing speak and don’t push the product (unless it lends itself naturually). I can read about your products or services some other place. I want to learn something about you and your company.

8. Ask for input from your customers. It could be something one author would like help with. Rubbermaid does this well.

Coco-Cola also has a weekly contest they call “Friday Fun.”

You can read more about my this tip (No.4 in 9 Keys to the Perfect Corporate Blog on iMedia Connection’s blog).

9. Show personal, candid, raw photos. Tell people what you’re up to. Walmart got readers excited with their day’s activities at a gaming conference.

10. Admit when you’re wrong. Then tell your customers how you’re going to make it right. Dell does a great job at this.

Microsoft pulls in employees’ personal blogs. By doing so, they nail many of these tips right on the head. Here’s one example taking a stance.

Yes, You’re A Community Manager

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Any other social network? Then, you’re a community manager — managing yourself as a brand.

This is the reality of our digital life. We constantly create artifacts that others come to know us by, whether consciously or subconsciously. This is the first in our three-part series on social media monitoring ourselves. Let’s start with defining yourself and your community.

What Have You Got to Lose?
Your reputation. Make one wrong move and you’ve blown your credibility, likability and/or your community’s trust. For example, piss off one follower, and his reaction might cause you to lose many more in the process.

How you portray yourself online is tougher to do than in person. You must always put your best foot forward, because you never know when you’re making a first impression or the hundredth impression. Understandably you can’t always be “on.” But it’s worth taking the time to think twice about what you’re “saying.”

Who Is Your Audience?
Or more importantly, who do you want it to be? Determining who you’re talking to is the first step in building your community. Get inside the minds of your followers.

1. What do they care about?
2. Why should they care? Give them something more interesting, informative, indispensable etc. than their friends can give them. Anyone can talk toothpaste. What can you say about it that either no one else has or no one else would? Be relevant enough to break through their inundated world.
3. How do you reach them? The old adage “fish where the fish are” couldn’t be more fitting here. But it also means making sure your bait is visible and enticing. And by your bait, I mean your name/identity.

How To Captivate Them
Think of your community as a party where you’re the host. In order to be a better host, here are the questions you should be asking yourself often:

1. Who are my biggest supporters? Recognize them both publicly and privately. Find a way to reward them. (That could simply mean giving them exclusive content.)
2. Am I being a good host/hostess? A good host/hostess will be a catalyst for dialogue.
3. Have a given people a reason to come back?

Say you do all this. How do you know if it’s all working? There are tools for that. Check out Part Two of this three part series as we talk about the pros and cons of what’s available to help you analyze your party hosting — or community management — skills.

NOTE: This originally appeared on Threeminds.

Inspiring People to Share

Chrysler’s From Where I Sit Contest was the brainchild of CEO Robert Nardelli. I worked with designers [remotely] from Organic’s Toronto office as well as a strategist and experience architect to formulate a solid strategy, concept and execution that would inspire participants and attract entries.

I concepted, wrote, directed and oversaw editing for three videos that conveyed the campaign message and roused participation.

Call For Entries

Online Media to Drive Traffic and Entries

View and Vote

Inspiring Eco-Consciousness

I concepted Geek Squad’s Idea Festival microsite along with an interactive design and flash technologist. My role also included strategizing and writing all content for the site and online media.

I also wrote a series of videos to inspire users to submit ideas for the contest.


Untapped Resources

Power Conservation 

Chevy Goes Rock-n-Roll

Alongside print and TV ads and a celebrity calendar insert inside Rolling Stone, this microsite showcased celebrities and their longtime love of Chevys. Some of the songs that feature a Chevy are cult classics and some are timeless classics. This microsite gave users a little behind-the-scenes info, while a monthly poll allowed them to vote on their favorite song.

Reaching Teens

The goal was to create an entire campaign to educate and remind teen girls about online predators. I had the idea of a branded ring. One that could be worn by celebrities and be instantly recognizable as an icon for online safety. Hence, 2 SMRT 4U was born. Over 44,000 rings were ordered from microsite the first week it was launched. Spokesperson Hayden Panettiere helped launch the campaign and was the face of the site for nearly a year. The look has changed a bit since it’s inception, but my tagline still resonates. at launch 2006

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