#TwitterMusic: is selling out a thing of the past for brand-band partnerships?

With this year's festival season well under way, Rebecca Coleman gets exclusive access to new research from Twitter that offers fresh insights into what fans want from brands' involvement in music.

#TwitterMusic reach out to fans of music and beyond
#TwitterMusic reach out to fans of music and beyond

Head to Twitter any day of the week and you’re almost guaranteed to be greeted by effusive and impassioned comments bound together by a music-related hashtag. At the time of writing that hashtag is #GetStupidOutNow, a reference to the new solo single by Aston Merrygold, formerly of boy band JLS.

74% of fans on Twitter value a retweet as much as a physical autograph from their favourite artist; in fact, they value any perceived digital intimacy when it comes to the object of their fandom

This fits (somewhat disappointingly) with the stereotype of teen girls – or even other, older fans who should know better – swamping the Twittersphere with desperate pleas to get close to the object of their adolescent crush and trolling anyone who disagrees that @HarryStyles is the best.

However, new research from Twitter, undertaken with insights and innovation agency Crowd DNA, quashes these preconceptions. Its findings suggest that music fans on the social network are active and engaged, regardless of gender or genre, and that, generally, they’re after similar things when it comes to music interaction.

One of the major stats to emerge from the research is that 74% of fans on Twitter value a retweet as much as a physical autograph from their favourite artist. In fact, they value any kind of perceived digital intimacy when it comes to the object of their fandom.

For brands and marketers, this is useful knowledge to have, especially when it comes to forming meaningful strategies for the festival season, event sponsorship or partnerships with bands.

Giving fans an opportunity to get close to an artist online is potentially easier than setting up a ‘meet and greet’ IRL (in real life, for anyone not so used to condensing their thoughts into 140 characters), but no less appealing to the global, always-on armies of dedicated followers ready and waiting on Twitter.

Selling out no longer exists

Perhaps of even more interest, from a marketing perspective, is the fact that 89% of fans on Twitter like to see brands get involved with music. This is a notable shift from the days when credible musicians aligning themselves with corporations were treated with derision by many music aficionados, who would immediately cry "sellout" at the faintest whiff of brand/band collaboration.

89% of fans on Twitter like to see brands get involved with music - a notable shift from the days when credible musicians aligning themselves with corporations were treated with derision

It makes sense that this is no longer such an issue in a world where consumers are more media- and marketing-savvy than ever. They know that in the era of Spotify, YouTube and illegal downloads, artists must make money in new ways to facilitate the continuation of the music industry and their entertainment. They are therefore happy for the likes of O2, MasterCard, Burberry and Red Bull to take on this burden on their behalf.

Values must align

However, this doesn’t mean that brands can get trigger-happy by targeting any hot pop star of the moment. It still has to make sense: artist, brand and fan values must align to ensure a solid strategic move.

A recent example of where this backfired badly was when Microsoft cast hipster-turned-mainstream electronic group Clean Bandit to star in its ads for Cortana, the Android rival to Apple’s Siri.

The campaign felt forced, inauthentic and unnatural and caused a storm of humorously derogatory tweets. Even politicians were getting in on the action, with Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeting: "However irritated you say you are by politicians and the elections…at least we aren’t those clean bandit cortana ads….#somedignity #notmuch".

And if you put "Cortana Clean Bandit" into Google , the first predictive search word that pops up is "cringe".

This desire for brand involvement, but not to the detriment of authenticity, is also borne out in the research: 80% of fans think it’s highly important for brands to share the values of the event or artist with which they partner.

Targeting fan tribes

Going back to Creasy, her well-timed Tweet was a clever marketing tactic; she was harnessing music-related social-media action to her own ends, twisting the original point to further her personal agenda.

This was not the only example of politics and Twitter fan behaviour colliding during the 2015 UK general elections. #Milifandom and #Cameronettes were plastered across social media in the run-up to polling day, in a hope to galvanise the public to get behind their party of choice in a combative manner more usually associated with One Direction fans.

If brands can harness this fan-like behaviour in a similar way, they will have a ready-made group of marketers tweeting on their behalf. In our social-media-saturated world, it’s worth thinking about target audiences as fans, before consumers. As demographics become less and less relevant, marketing departments will have to start grouping targets as ‘fan tribes’ united by interests and attitudes, rather than age, location or income.

As demographics become less and less relevant, marketing departments will have to start grouping targets as ‘fan tribes’ united by interests and attitudes, rather than age, location or income

Fan altruism

This is even more pertinent when you consider that most fans would put the object(s) of their interest above their own gain: 77% of fans agree that they’re happy for brands to get involved in music if it benefits the artist, compared with 67% who agree if it benefits them personally.

Not only are fans a passionate bunch, they’re also (to some extent) altruistic. When marketing to the music-loving masses, it’s more about supporting talent than offering one-off freebies. This is perhaps why Red Bull seems so credible inhabiting this space; it invests long-term in up-and-coming artists, supporting them through publishing, events and other sponsorship.

The main thing for brands and marketers to realise in 2015 and the age of the relentlessly tweeting music fan is that there is a prefabricated – and, essentially, willing – gang of consumers who will support music partnerships. All you have to do is strike the most harmonious chord.