Why I’m All-In on Social Music App Smule

Photo Jul 06, 12 09 25 AM

It’s amazing what a good song can do to connect people and bring their worlds closer together. Think about the legacy Coca-Cola created and where it would be today without their iconic “Hilltop” ad? Or the music that defined Apple marketing over the last decade and a half? Hell, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t hear a certain Seger song and think about my employer.

But beyond brand taglines, a good song can change everything from moods to cultures.

If you’re in a bar and a certain song comes on and the vibe is just different, it evokes the kinds of things that you want to feel, and if music can do that it’s a very special thing.
– Julian Casablancas

Over the last 3 months I’ve fallen in love with performing music again, and  Smule has helped enable it. Founded in 2008, they’ve used the nearly $90 million dollars raised through seven rounds of investment to create a number of music-related applications like Sing! Karaoke, Magic Piano, Guitar!, and AutoRap.

It’s estimated that they have over 200 million users and 35 million engaged content creators from around the world. Consistently ranked in the top 5 best apps in its genre, Smule has created a social network powerhouse all on its own. Built around the concept of singing duets with complete strangers, on any given day I may sing a song with someone in Australia, Indonesia, Brazil and Canada.

What I find the most fascinating though is how Smule has incorporated mainstream artists organically, with huge engagement numbers to back up their platform as a vehicle to launch new songs.  Want to sing Grace’s new single “You Don’t Own Me”? Or NE-YO’s “Let Me Love You”?  JessieJ’s song “Flashlight” has been listened to nearly 8 million times through the app, with thousands of duet performances. While the duets are asynchronous, there’s an authenticity in the Smule community’s reactions to singing with artists that suspends belief and makes you think for a fleeting moment that “OMG…Mary Sue is singing with Luke Bryan!!!”

What’s next? I don’t know. I’ve gone on record saying that I truly believe they have the opportunity to become the next YouTube. Partnerships with mainstream music-based television shows such as X-Factor and The Voice are natural extensions. Singing Selfies? Yes, they’re a thing. True brand integrations? Why couldn’t Hilltop be recreated through Smule?

The first seven years of Smule’s existence, they’ve been under the radar, despite extremely high user engagement. I think the next seven will prove just how powerful the intersection of mobile, music and social media can become.

In the meantime, if you’d like to connect on Smule, you can find me here.

I’ve always felt that the quality of the voice is where the real content of a song lies. Words only suggest an experience, but the voice is that experience.  – Jeff Buckley



Madonna, Snapchat and the Art of Discovery

This is probably more of a thought than a post but two things struck me over Madonna’s release of her latest video on Snapchat:

    1. Good for her. The stigma of Snapchat being an app of unsavory content and mischief is old and tiresome. They have a userbase that exceeds 100 million with 1 in 5 U.S. social media users using it and 71% of all users being under the age of 25.
    1. Pioneering the Discover feature on Snapchat means some growing pains but could ultimately pay off. The assumption is Madonna released the video to stay relevant with Snapchat’s demographic. I think the strategy was more complex than that.

According to  a Consumer Trends survey by the Recording Industry Association of America, the 45+ age group is actually the largest music buying demographic. Madonna using the medium means reaching a new audience of 20 somethings while bringing a new demographic to Snapchat with Gen X. If she extends her relationship with the social network, using features such as My Story, Madonna could give unprecedented real-time access into her life, her tour, and her music all the while keeping this new demographic of Snapchat users engaged as she reintroduces herself and her relevance to new fans.

So when you combine those two stats, you kind of get tweets like this:

The learning curve for Snapchat isn’t easy, however, the value proposition delivered in the case of a brand (In this instance Madonna) releasing exclusive content through Discovery is compelling. Discovery’s UX is very simple and straight forward, and the experience feels both real-time and exclusive. PSFK has a great overview of the feature that I recommend checking out.

Gary Vaynerrchuck made the comment on a LinkedIn post that Snapchat is a media company now. I don’t think they’ve ever pretended to be anything other than that however. They just evolved. People are media just as media is media. On a platform that can scale content from 1 to 1 to 1 to many, Snapchat is proving that evolution doesn’t need to take place over a millennium.

How Tommey Walker Turned Detroit Into A Movement

I’ve referred to Detroiters as masochists. We’ve seen our industries collapse bankrupting our city in the process, with widespread corruption inside our local government to boot. We’ve been a national punchline for Congressmen and comedians alike. Yet there’s a certain je ne sais quioi in terms of Detroit’s public image and designer turned entrepreneur Tommey Walker perspicaciously capitalized on the very undefinable elements that make his label DETROIT VS EVERYBODY one of the hottest national global clothing brands of the year.

So as marketers, what can we learn from Tommey Walker? Well for one, he created a movement that every company, from clothing goods to electronics and automobiles should be envious of. While putting on my best Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hat, I’ll attempt to explain how celebrities from Ricky Ross to Stephen Colbert to Keith Urban brought national attention to a fledgling clothing company with a small storefront in the heart of Detroit.

The Three Laws For Creating a Tipping Point-Like Movement

Law 1. Invoke Intimacy Through The Law of the Few

When Walker decided to open a storefront in Greektown, a historic commercial and entertainment district in Detroit, he did so in a small space on the third floor of a mixed retail/commercial building. His actual location was nondescript in every sense of the way, where if patrons weren’t huddled in to find a shirt in their size, you’d probably think you were in the wrong location. The message on his apparel was so powerful, and resonated with so many Detroiters, that it created the equivalence of a hipster scavenger hunt. You weren’t going to find DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodies in your suburban Urban Outfitters store.  No, you had to work to be a part of this inclusive movement. His customers didn’t mind however, and considered it a right of passage to joining the cause Tommey Walker had created.

Gladwell refers to this as “The Law of the Few”. About.com’s Ashley Crossman explains that “Gladwell argues that the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. This is the Law of the Few.”

The three types of people who fit this description? They’re referred to as Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.

  • Mavens are individuals who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family. Their adoption of ideas and products are respected by peers as informed decisions and so those peers are highly likely to listen and adopt the same opinions.
  • Connectors know a lot of people. They gain their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected to various social networks. These are popular individuals whom people cluster around and have a viral capacity to showcase and advocate new ideas, products, etc.
  • Salesmen are individuals who naturally possess the power of persuasion. They are naturally charismatic and their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

Mavens include Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson, who joined Colbert on the air to defend Detroit, presenting him with mainstream America’s first look at a DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodie to open their conversation. Walker has been quoted on record saying the hoodie on Colbert was a watershed moment for the brand, increasing sales significantly online thereafter.

Connectors include rappers Eminem and Big Sean who took the clothing label and brought it to the forefront of society’s conscience in their own unique way, including limited edition SHADY VS. EVERYBODY apparel.

Salesmen include the DJ’s, musicians, athletes, and local celebrities who turned a t-shirt slogan into a rallying cry.

Law 2. The Stickiness Factor

Gladwell refers to the stickiness factor as a unique quality that causes the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behavior. Taking the concept of the stickiness factor further, Dan and Chip Heath wrote an entire book on the concept called Made to Stick. In the book, the Heath brothers create an acronym that best defines how one creates a sticky idea:

  • Simple — find the core of any idea
  • Unexpected — grab people’s attention by surprising them
  • Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible — give an idea believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

It goes without saying that Tommey Walker’s clothing label successfully indexes high on the stickiness factor.

Law 3. The Power Of Context

In previous interviews Walker mentioned that in his travels, he personally observed a lack of respect for Detroit. At one point in his life, he helped define Detroit rapper and fellow Cass Tech high school alumni Big Sean’s fashion style, only to see other musicians copy him without paying homage. The perpetual feeling of Detroit constantly having its back against the wall was easy to manifest into a mission statement. If I were to take a stab at it, I’d probably go with something like this:

By creating a brand that reinforces the spirit of Detroit: an attitude that conveys feelings of accomplishment, regardless of the objects that stand in the way of achieving one’s goals.

Gladwell refers to The Power of Context as the environment or historical moment in which the trend is introduced. If the context is not right, it is not likely that the tipping point will take place. When taking the bankruptcy, the political upheaval, the nation’s disparaging comments about the city and its people, there may have been no better time to turn a statement based on defiance into a national rallying cry.

What’s Next?

It’s a million dollar question. Walker’s sales continue to grow stronger, with recent expansions outside of his Greektown store, into the posh suburbs of Detroit. Tommey Walker is the type of entrepreneur Detroit rallies around. He has created a tipping point with DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY, developing a social purpose through The Power of Context, creating a social movement grounded in The Law of the Few, and embraced social outcomes through The Stickiness Factor of his messaging. It’s my opinion Walker is here to stay, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks of next.

In the meantime, you can count me in to represent my city:

Detroit Vs. Everybody

Google Glass & Facial Recognition: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Approximately two years ago I was walking through CTIA looking for something different. You see, I’ve attended CTIA every year since 2001 and for a while it seemed as though the exhibitors were all showing similar offerings.

But that all changed when I met Jason Mitura, Chief Product Officer of the company Viewdle. Viewdle you see, was using augmented reality and proprietary facial recognition software to append social media data through mobile cameras. Jason took me through a demonstration and my mind was blown. I figured that this was the future of pervasive media and the demise of privacy all in one product. Image

I left CTIA excited to continue the conversation with Jason but then one thing lead to another and a few months go by. Then *poof* they’re gone.

Out of business? Hardly.

Viewdle, was bought by Google. Maybe you’ve heard of them?

So fast forward to today, where Google Glass is now the topic of either admiration or disgust depending on which side of the fence you’re on. Amidst the controversy surrounding form, function and adoption – privacy has seemed to fall of the radar in terms of a point of discussion.

Well Google didn’t wait for the press to come knocking on their door, taking a very assertive stance yesterday through their blog on facial recognition:

When we started the Explorer Program nearly a year ago our goal was simple: we wanted to make people active participants in shaping the future of this technology ahead of a broader consumer launch.  We’ve been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass. As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.

I’ve been a proponent of Glass since I first heard it was coming to market. In its current construct I admittedly voiced skepticism – future applications however I can’t help but smile at what we’ll see developed. One thing is for certain however – Google has the technology to add a deeper layer of engagement that could change how we perceive PII but they have proven quite successfully that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Maker’s Mark Open Letter to its Facebook Fans

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You spoke. We listened.

Dear Friends,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.

So effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.

The unanticipated dramatic growth rate of Maker’s Mark is a good problem to have, and we appreciate some of you telling us you’d even put up with occasional shortages. We promise we’ll deal with them as best we can, as we work to expand capacity at the distillery.

Your trust, loyalty and passion are what’s most important. We realize we can’t lose sight of that. Thanks for your honesty and for reminding us what makes Maker’s Mark, and its fans, so special.

We’ll set about getting back to bottling the handcrafted bourbon that our father/grandfather, Bill Samuels, Sr. created. Same recipe. Same production process. Same product.

As always, we will continue to let you know first about developments at the distillery. In the meantime please keep telling us what’s on your mind and come down and visit us at the distillery. It means a lot to us.


Rob Samuels Bill Samuels, Jr
Chief Operating Officer Chairman Emeritus
rob@makersmark.com bill@makersmark.com

Maker’s Mark letter posted to Facebook fans in its entirety.

Book Review: Social Media Is Bullshit

ImageComedian and author Brandon Mendelson carries the burden of 762,697 followers on Twitter like that of a tortured artist. As he mentions countless times in his book, back in the day of Twitter’s suggested followers page, Mendelson had the chutzpah to ask Twitter to support his cause against cancer as a fledgling social media user and as such, Twitter bequeathed Brandon the gift of exposure, handing him the equivalent of a perpetual Yahoo home page ad , rocketing him to bot notoriety in the process.

His platform of social media relevance secured, Brandon set out to burst the social media balloon in his aptly titled book “Social Media Is Bullshit” through dispelling the urban mysteries behind such cultural phenomenons such as Twitter’s rise to relevance via SXSW, or Justin Bieber being a legitimate internet discovery. Taking an acidic tone through 80% of his prose, Mendelson pulls absolutely no punches in his quest to make certain the reader understands that the very fabric of what makes social media so enticing to marketers – especially those who own small and medium size businesses – is both a fountain and tomb. That the ROI one may see from a Fortune 50 through social media endeavors more than likely has other aspects of media incorporated into a singular campaign, such as paid media to help amplify performance. 

While Mendelson could have come off sounding like Phil Mushnick at a Vince McMahon charity event, I actually felt an underlying layer of sincerity in his desire to assure SMB’s avoid the pitfalls and traps set by the carpetbaggers (or Cyber Hipsters as he refers to them) of the industry.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Brandon wrote a book I’d recommend to everyone. While I selfishly enjoyed his overly-honest assessment of social media professionals (and their reactions on the Amazon review page), and I too have felt the sting of watching not just a campaign, but an entire start up endeavor sink to oblivion, I’m not certain I agree 100% with the message Social Media Is Bullshit offers. Mendelson essentially tells his readers to simply avoid social networking as part of a marketing plan. That Twitter seems “okay” but LinkedIn is a dead zone. Oh and don’t get him started on Facebook. Most importantly he wants you to believe that the big corporate social media accounts are not patterns mom and pops should follow.

The real message needs to be that if you’re a marketer, big or small, don’t put 100% of your eggs into earned media, which is something I’ve seen countless times. Diversify plans, and expect to heavy up investment into paid advertising. Learn to optimize your messaging – the copy you may use on a Facebook post could inspire the copy used via SEM.

What I hoped to read was that the days of your social media guru telling you that sharing is caring are over. $150.00 classes on Google+ for business are as good as equity in pets.com because the “awareness” chapter of social media has indeed closed. 

Social Media should not be horded within a single entity. Nor would I look at Social Marketing as an avenue that can live autonomously from the larger marketing ecosystem.

I think Brandon would concur.



IT vs. Social Media: The Race to Chief Digital Officer Has Begun

I have an acquaintance who’s a CIO. Well by trade at least, as he’s currently unemployed. He’s bright, articulate and understands code. However as the world rapidly changed, he admittedly fell behind. As he told me the story over drinks the other night about the murmurs questioning his competence that turned into a steady rumbling, he ultimately found himself on the outside looking in when his more agile coworkers introduced his company to acronyms and terms of unfamiliarity.

“Why did I have to know what a tweet was?” He asked rhetorically.

Being informed by his employer they were going in a different direction, being rendered a commodity that simply wasn’t core to his company’s business, was a wake up call and in turn, a reinvention of his skill set of sorts. He buried himself into the new digital landscape, specifically social media – learning the platforms, the intricacies of how they worked symbiotically both internally and externally. He figured out the CMS players pretty quickly, grasped SEO and before he knew it, he had re-branded himself as a Social Media consultant. Yet he never considered himself as such.

Joking with him about his “reinvention” he turned his nose to the label. “I’m not a social media guru…I make business decisions.”

I admittedly wanted to remind him that he made business decisions since he was on the outside looking in on a job but I restrained myself. You see I was offended by his statement; I for one working in emerging channels for the majority of my career. But the more I thought about what he said and not how he said it, I realized he was kind of right.

Now before I continue I need to preface that this post is not an indictment on your company’s IT or Social Media Director. Nor am I attacking the social media profession. What I am doing though is questioning the lack of speed of which roles are evolving within corporate walls – that social media and those who steer its strategy within an organization are simply empowered to provide counsel but lack the responsibility to actually lead the business.

Conversely, twelve years ago technology spending outside of IT was 20% of total technology spending; it will become almost 90% by the end of the decade. You read that correctly: IT will lose 90% of IT spend according to Gartner. How does IT reinvent itself to stay relevant?

Social Media and the Accountability Debate

Nobody can question the value of social media. In fact Gartner predicts that in three years, 10 organizations will each spend more than $1 billion on social media. Yet the question persists, does a billion dollar spend rest in the hands of a non-executive?

“You absolutely need to have someone at the Senior Executive level who shepherds social media investments across the enterprise, who guides overall investment strategy, especially where capabilities must be shared across teams.” Said Accenture Global Technology Offering Development Lead for CRM/Social Media, and founder of Social Media Governance, Chris Boudreaux.

According to Boudreaux, “A Director level person in most cases hired into the organization,  (1) has limited knowledge of the business, and (2) does not have the relationships to influence across an organization. Those two points are far more important than knowledge of social media.”

It goes without saying then that you are extremely unlikely to find anyone who has those two items AND understands social media deeply.  But relax social media professionals, your Senior Executive’s role is not designed to cannibalize your skill-set.  The Director-level leaders need to understand social deeply and take on initiatives funded through that Senior Executive. That way your Senior Executives can keep their directors accountable to the business.

Enter The Rise of the CDO

This is why you’re finding more restlessness in social media positions today than ever before. The social media leader is being exposed to new experiences first within corporations that impact consumer behavior on a daily basis beyond a single platform such as Facebook; all of this predicated on rapid changes in the digital ecosystem that occur faster than IT can keep up with. Rhys Grossman, Managing Director of executive staffing firm Russell Reynolds & Associates lists a number of contributing factors that include:

  • In March 2011, Apple announced it had sold its 100 millionth iPhone. As of July 2011, Google’s Android Operating System was on 130 million devices.
  • In July 2011, it was reported that the Apple Retail Store is handling 24 million app downloads per day, and the Android Market is handling 17 million app downloads a day.
  • In April 2011, it was announced that more than 200 million people had signed up on Twitter, while, in September 2011, it was revealed that there were 100 million active monthly users.
  • In 2010, global revenue for the virtual goods industry was over $7 billion, according to Ted Sorom, CEO of Risty, a virtual currency platform.

So while organizations myopically consider a single purpose for their Social Media Director, the truth is that their hands are touching multiple digital platforms.

Fortunately, organizations are paying attention. The advent of the creation of the Chief Digital Officer role as part of business unit leadership will become a new seat at the executive table. Gartner predicts that by 2015, 25% of organizations will have a Chief Digital Officer.

Furthermore, according to Grossman, a spike in demand for Chief Digital Officers has been felt globally. In Europe, the number of search requests for this role has risen by almost a third in the last 24 months. The United States has seen the same growth in half that time.

All of this is good news for those who come from a non-traditional discipline such as Social Media. The industry is evolving, however it requires industry players to evolve with it. That means a greater concentration on e-commerce and expertise pertaining to conversion/revenue. It means online marketing experience across all aspects of the purchase funnel. It requires an understanding of the venn that resides between the tangible and digital landscapes.

There will be a day when a digital CEO is given the reigns to an enterprise large enough to turn heads in the press and on Wall Street. That’s inevitable. The real race however is going to be based on who can evolve faster: your IT or Social Media leaders. Make no mistakes about it, bridging the gaps between business knowledge, and cross-functional influence will be requirements to survive the next wave of demands corporations will place on their employees. Never before has the phrase “Change or Die” ever been so salient.