What We Can Learn About Social Media, Disruptive Innovation & Marketing From U2’s Biggest Album Launch of All Time.

U2’s Songs of Innocence has not had a very innocent launch. It has been quite disruptive. Disruptive innovation is a term that has been very popular in the technological economy. Clayton Christensen first introduced this theory that holds established companies, acting rationally and carefully to stay on top, leave themselves vulnerable to upstarts who find ways to do things more cheaply, often with a new technology. To stay on top for a technology company or even a rock band, they must disrupt the market improving a product in ways that the market does not expect.

U2 front man, Bono said in a recent interview, “Part of the DNA of this band has always been the desire to get our music to as many people as possible.” How does a band in their 38th year continue to live up to that goal when more current acts like Maroon Five, One Direction and Taylor Swift are topping the charts and drawing traditional and social media attention? You creative a disruptive innovation.

Unless you were off the grid, you know that U2 launched a surprise new album at the Apple live event on Tuesday September 9th. More surprising was the fact that it was gifted to all iTunes users as a free download. U2’s manager Guy Oseary says the band wanted to reach as many people as possible. Apple reportedly paid the band an undisclosed direct payment for the exclusive iTunes release and will be running a 100 million dollar ad campaign to promote the album. That is a big promotion budget for a single album, but for Apple, the campaign also ties into promoting iTunes and their new iPhone 6 and iWatch. Apple is no stranger to disruptive innovation when it comes to the music industry and the wireless phone industry turning disruption into profits.

Ben Popper from the The Verge says this may be the future of music promotion, “Time was, the recipe for a superstar artist to create a Big Event Album was well known—a few teaser ads in the music mags, a lead single for radio, some late-night talk show appearances, then sit back and watch the fans line up at the record store on release day. But now that basically every entity in that sentence has been culturally marginalized, and the propeller churn of social media refuses to tolerate slow-burn marketing, the best—and, perhaps, only—way to get everyone talking about your record at once is to release it with no warning.” Popper goes on to say U2 crossed the line by inserting their new album into our libraries without consent. True, but the definition of disruption is “to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something).” Isn’t that exactly why we are all writing these articles, and posts and updates and tweets about U2? To be honest, no one outside of their preexisting fan base would notice a regular album release by four Dubliner’s in the 38 year of their music careers.

Why is this release so disruptive? Apple is giving the album away for free to 500 million iTunes users around the world. On one day 7% of the planet had one button access to the songs instantly. But the band is also thumbing its nose at traditional music industry signs of success. Because Songs of Innocence has been released free at first, it is ineligible to appear on the Billboard 200. Also, because of the delay of the commercial release it will not be eligible for this year’s Grammys. It is also disruptive because a lot of iTunes users are angry that they got a free album. People are talking all over social media about getting the album off their playlist– free or not. But doing something that people don’t expect (causing a disruption) always causes a stir and a big stir is exactly what U2 and Apple wanted.

What kind of stir or buzz? SocialMention reports a 45% strength, 43% reach and 34% passion in the term “U2.” At the time of this writing sentiment is running 6:1 positive versus negative. Some top keywords are “album,” “iTunes,” “Songs,” and “Innocence.” Top Hashtags related to U2 are “Apple,” “U2songsofinnocence,” “applelive,” and “U2tour.” I saw a big spike in #U2 on Twitter from the site hastags.org and Google reports “U2” was the 7th hottest trending topic in search on Tuesday, September 9th.

Is this free, surprise album launch meeting business goals? Not even a week since the launch the data says yes. The album was downloaded over 2 million times in 3 days. And most likely, an even larger number of people have sampled some of the album by streaming it from iTunes or iTunes Radio. What’s more, the band’s back catalog is selling

17 of U2’s old albums have suddenly jumped up on the iTunes top 100 charts; including The Joshua Tree, their 1987 release, which is at number 12. There are also a lot of tweets out there from kids who are 14-18 saying this is really good and are discovering the band for the first time. But didn’t they mess up the commercial release? Why buy it after October 13? The record company promises a deluxe version with 4 new songs and up to 5 acoustic versions of released songs.

Still many critics say giving away an album is bad business. Before agreeing, consider that U2’s last album release lead to the 360° Tour which is the highest grossing concert tour of all time – netting over $736 million. To put that in perspective, One Direction’s 2014 tour grossed $230 million. With those numbers, giving away some albums for extra social media buzz and exposing the band to new listeners for an upcoming concert tour doesn’t seem like it will disrupt the band’s earnings.

Do you agree? How can you too disrupt your industry to build social media buzz and exceed business goals?

The 12 Ways of Brand Community Value: My Year End Social Media Tips List

A couple of years ago some professors conducted research published in the Journal of Marketing. Using social practice theory, they studied 9 brand communities from various product categories to discover 12 common practices consumers realize value beyond what firms create or even anticipate. I thought I would take some time to explain these practices with examples, but also ask you to consider whether you are leveraging these insights to optimize collaborative value creation. Through these 12 practices, consumers can affect the entire marketing mix, enable brand use and encourage deeper community engagement.

1. Welcoming – Greeting new members and assisting in brand learning and community socialization. Welcoming can also be negative and discourage participation. When I started following @JHUCarey they sent a quick note welcoming me to their Twitter brand community with, “@Kquesen Great to connect with you! Looking forward to your tweets. 🙂 ”

2. Empathizing – Lending emotional support to other members, including support for brand-related trials (product failure) or life issues (job). Apple’s new version of Keynote is simplified, but also deleted features upsetting Apple community members. Here is one member empathizing with those trials starting by saying, “Relax and breath.”

3. Governing – Explaining behavior expectations within the brand community. I return to Apple Support Forums for their governing example. The Community Etiquette guidelines are simple, yet enforced. One member remarked how his first post expressing frustration over Keynote ’13 was removed for obscenities. He removed them and the comment was returned to public view.

4. Evangelizing – Sharing brand “good news” and inspiring others, which may involve negative comparison to competing brands. This summer the Android Community website published a blog post evangelizing Android, “iPhone 5S specification rumor wrap-up: this is no Android competitor.” It spurred 26 emotional comments from brand enthusiasts.

5. Justifying – Rationale for devoting time and effort to the brand. Lego Certified Professionals does a great job of justifying more time spent with the brand by explaining their existence as “… a community-based program made up of adult LEGO hobbyists who have turned their passion for building and creating with LEGO bricks into a full-time or part-time profession.”

6. Staking – Recognizing variance within the brand community membership and marking intragroup distinction and similarity. Yahoo Answers provides staking with Top Contributor badges for its most active brand community members.

7. Milestoning – Milestoning is noting seminal events in brand ownership and consumption. When Facebook surpassed a billion users it was a big deal. The facesoffacebook.com is milestoning by cramming every user onto a single page of over 1.2 billion colored pixels that can be zoomed to reveal individual faces.

8. Badging – Badging is translating milestones into symbols. Samsung Nation is an online loyalty program that offers virtual rewards to consumers who talk up the electronics giant and offers badging such as a virtual “Twitterati” turquoise circle for posting links to samsung.com.

9. Documenting – Detailing the brand relationship journey as a story. Chipotle Grill’s “The Scarecrow” does an excellent job at documenting their brand story as over 11 million now know their commitment to food with integrity.

10. Grooming – Caring for the brand and optimizing use patterns. The Home Depot’s YouTube Channel is a great place for grooming the brand’s “You Can Do It” image including their “How to Tile a Bathroom” video with over 1.3 million views.

11. Customizing – Modifying the brand to suit group or individual needs by changing factory specs or enhancing performance. NikeiD has built a community around customizing by allowing “you to personalize your performance, fine-tune your fit and represent your style.”

12. Commoditizing – Recommendations directed at other members or at the firm (you should fix this/do this/change this) improve products brought to the marketplace. Five years ago Dell brought commoditizing to a new level with IdeaStorm, which has received nearly 15,000 suggestions and has made 500 refinements based on them.

That is my year end top 12 list. I hope you found practices to implement this year that will add value and increase engagement in your brand communities.

Marketing Communications: The Language That Drives Business Revenue

An article I tweeted  talks about the increasing emphasis on content creation for marketing: “@Kquesen: The tables turn – in social media marketers must think & act like publishers: 4 tips for building brand & audience … http://t.co/MQiGxDFe

But that is just one small example. B to B reports that marketers such as Nick Panayi from the IT services company Computer Sciences Corp. have gone all-in with content creation with an in-house department of former journalists who create branded content for their website and social media channels.

Marketers are becoming bloggers and are Tweeting and creating videos and filling Facebook pages. They are creating a lot of content. Content  with value that delivers knowledge, entertainment, something people will choose to engage with like they do newspapers, magazines, and TV. Forbes agrees saying brands such as Virgin Mobile, American Express, Marriott, L’Oreal, and Vanguard are becoming publishers and this is a vital part of their overall strategy.

You may call this content marketing, but it made me think about the overall importance of communications in business. We live in an age of customer-driven capitalism where the customer is now in charge. As Steve Denning, author of Radical Management points out in one example “… focus on customers first doesn’t hurt Whole Foods’s bottom line. The ten year share price of Whole Foods is up 330%, compared +30 percent for the S&P 500, and minus 40% for a traditionally managed supermarket chain like Safeway.” That’s consumer focused communications increasing revenue.

How many e-Books/White Papers do you get invited to download? They are generating valuable sales leads. As I highlighted in an earlier post, Forester Research reports in the book groundswell a case study where a corporate blog is credited with generating five contacts a week – contacts that represent early leads worth millions of dollars to this B to B company’s salespeople. That’s consumer focused communications increasing revenue.

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article credits carefully worded and tested fundraising e-mails as the main source of $690 million raised online for the Obama campaign. Of hundreds of tested subject lines “Hey” was the most successful bringing in millions of dollars alone. That’s consumer focused communications increasing revenue.

Those are positive examples, but poor communications can cost corporations revenue. Poor communication contributed a great deal to Merck loosing $253 million in the Vioxx trial. The jury was confused by their scientific explanations. The Wall Street Journal reports juror John Ostrom as saying “Whenever Merck was up there, it was like wah, wah, wah. We didn’t know what the heck they were talking about.” That’s poor consumer communications losing revenue.

An Accenture study reports American and European consumers returned over $25 billion in electronics in 2007. Between 60%–85% had nothing wrong ($15.2 and $21.5 billion). Why? Confusing interfaces, features difficult to access, no customer education, and weak documentation. That’s poor consumer communications losing revenue.

In 2006, a disgruntled customer used YouTube and Twitter to spread a music video about United Airline’s mishandling of his $3,500 guitar. Within a week the video received 3 million views (12.5 million by 2012) and coverage in CNN, The Wall Street Journal, BBC and the CBS Morning Show. Fast Company reported that Carroll contacted United for nine months with calls and emails, but only after the video’s success and United’s stock price drop of 10% ($180 million) did the company try to make things right. That’s poor consumer communications losing revenue.

Then there is the tweet that sent the Dow average down 145 points in Spring of 2013. Hackers used @AP to spread a rumor that two explosions had gone off at the White House, injuring the president. This caused a two-minute selling spree in which the Dow stocks dropped $200 billion in value, which emphasized the power of social media content on the financial industry.

Of course no article about communications would be complete without a reference to Apple – the World’s Most Powerful Brand valued at $87.1 billion. In an Entrepreneur article “Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success,” six of the seven rules are communications oriented: Have passion, deliver vision, make connections, create experiences, master messages, and sell dreams.

Jeffrey Rohrs takes this concept to the next level in his latest book Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers. Communications, through publishing content, is how you build audience and proprietary audience is a valuable business asset. Whether you are a CEO, CMO, marketer, or entrepreneur communications can be a competitive advantage. Do you believe that what we say and how we say it matters to the bottom line?