Online Street Teams: How to Motivate Fans To Spread The Word For You
Whatever happened to street teams? It used to be that artists would have armies of kids in any given city beating the pavement to promote the artist and the artist's shows. These promoters would be rewarded with all kinds of perks and gifts like backstage passes, box sets, or VIP access. These artists realized that fan word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing at their disposal as they seek to gain new fans.
In the digital age, artists fight an uphill battle against obscurity as they attempt to cut through the noise and be heard. Yet the idea of rewarding and incentivizing your fans to get the word out for you seems to have largely been forgotten. There are very few digital street teams. Online fan clubs tend to be insulated, with the primary focus being extra perks for members of the existing community. The external reach of these clubs is minimal, which is a waste of the promotional potential of a fan base.
That said, many musicians are already bringing some street team strategies into the digital age. For example, artists frequently use what I call "sharewalls", which are a step in the right direction. Sharewalls involve requiring a fan to share content before accessing it. The most common example is asking fans to "Like" or share on Facebook in order to gain access to new releases.
If used properly, sharewalls can be effective when there is at least limited access to the content before sharing. For example, an artist might allow listeners to freely stream a song, but require them to share in order to download. Many acts are instituting sharewalls that are completely restrictive, requiring fans to recommend content before they have any ability to experience it themselves. This is problematic for a few reasons.
First, sharewalls take away from the credibility of the recommendation. How can a fan honestly tell her friends a new song is good if she hasn't yet listened to it? Yes, many of your fans love you so much that they'll recommend anything you release. But some of them care about their credibility and aren't going to recommend content they don't like. And they can't know if they like it until they listen to it.
Second, sharewalls make the shared content less likely to be accessed by the person to whom it is recommended. Even if every single one of your fans loves you enough to recommend everything you release without checking it out first, you're trying to reach people who aren't your fans yet. They don't even know who you are, so even if they trust the blind recommendations of your fans and would give your music a listen, they are probably not going to "Like" you or share your post in order to do so.
Perhaps most importantly, sharewalls don't encourage fans to demonstrate their full potential as your promoters. Your fans can likely be placed into one of two categories – Diehards and Casuals. Both Diehards and Casuals like your music enough to jump through the hoop of a sharewall to access your content. The Casuals will hit the "Like" button or tweet about it if they have to, but that's about all you'll get out of them. Then there are your Diehards. If you ask them to, these fans will tweet about it and "Like" it and email it to every listserv they know, and shout it from the mountaintop! Whenever you use a sharewall, you're putting Diehards and Casuals in the same bucket, and you're telling your Diehard fans that they don't need to be anything more than a Casual. If you're a musician reading this blog, I'm betting you want and need your fans to be anything but Casual.
So why not give the Diehards a way to show how much they love your music? One way to do this is to make a contest out of your new release, and reward your fans for promoting for you. Actually base the rewards on how many other people they can get to listen to your music. Release a track, and those fans who can get the largest number of other people to check it out, win something unique and personalized from you like a signed t-shirt, a phone call, maybe even a home-cooked meal. Add that to the prized status of being the most effective promoter for a particular artist, and you have a winning recipe for more robust word-of-mouth marketing from your fans.
Of course, there are some pitfalls you'll want to avoid when you create these sorts of contests. First, it's important that the reward be unique to the artist and personalized for the fan. This preserves the integrity of the promotion. If the fan doesn't actually like an artist, he or she isn't going to strive to be an artist's most effective promoter in order to win backstage passes to the artist's concert. On the other hand, it's easy to imagine a scenario where a fan is excited to win cash prizes from an artist whose music the fan does not actually enjoy.
Additionally, you'll want to shy away from winner-take-all contests, where only the single most effective promoter wins a reward. That way, a fan who doesn't have a chance at the top spot might still be motivated to promote by the prospect of earning a smaller reward. This is especially important as you want the Casuals among your fans to continue to have some incentive to do the small bit of sharing they already do. Finally, even if you don't give them material rewards, you can always recognize your fans for attaining ascending levels of achievement. Then a fan always has some incentive to get to the next level regardless of their chances of earning the limited rewards.
If you're reading this blog, you probably need more people hearing your music. Your fans are your most powerful marketing force, and you should be motivating them to get more involved in spreading the word for you.