It’s All About Community

Using the example of emergent country rockers Parmalee as an example, moderator Maria Brunner of Insight Management hammered home a point from Doc McGhee’s keynote just prior to her panel: If nobody’s talking about it, it ain’t happening. 

Parmalee, with members Matt Thomas, Josh McSwain and Barry Knox in attendance, took on the job of building its community the old-school way – with a marquee-style sign attached to a pickup truck, which they would drive around towns to advertise shows.

on the 'Community' panel discussion

The band doesn’t have to do that any more. It built a following with that truck, that sign, flyering neighborhoods near venues and literally buying their own poster spaces in the windows of popular gas stations.

Parmalee had built a fan base the old fashioned way by the time it was signed by Broken Bow Records. Now, it has a marketing team behind it, allowing the band to focus on its music.

Brunner pulled together a panel of social media and marketing gurus, along with BBR exec Jon Loba, and created a sort-of case study of Parmalee’s own efforts at community building and bringing forth creative ways to build upon it.

“When we first signed Parmalee, they already had a national following,” Loba said. “We needed to have people talking about them. And you can’t rely on radio. In one song they namecheck three different cities, so we decided to play all three of those cities in 24 hours. We wanted to get press and radio involved. One radio station had a correspondent along. It helped start the conversation to start a base for social media.”

Jennie Smythe of Girlilla Marketing explained some of the social tools that help track data and that help incentivize fans to do band promotion – and some of social’s pitfalls, using the Miley Cyrus tour as an example of how important it is that every level of an artist’s campaign, including promoters, managers and venues, need to be on the same page in terms of what social content is appropriate for production.

SMG’s Sarah Haertl, who handles marketing duties at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., was at the center of a firestorm thanks to Cyrus’s “Bangerz Tour.”

The marketing material provided by the Cyrus camp included an image of the diva-in-waiting licking her image in a mirror.

A screen grab of outraged Twitter users sent the message that the local venue knows its broad audience best, and another image was submitted for that campaign.

“The image of Miley licking herself didn’t really go over well in Tulsa,” she said to laughs from the audience. “The nicest thing said about her was ‘ho.’”

Haertl stressed that management and marketing teams need to remember the venue and allow them flexibility to “tweak” the message if it isn’t right for the market.

Smythe used a Rascal Flatts campaign to show engaging a local audience helps to sell tickets.

“The more fans talked about shows, using a particular hashtag, they were able to earn upgraded tickets, concession vouchers, early entry to shows, tours, things they could do at the show,” Smythe said. “It proved to be highly successful and that’s the point to drive home – you have a great community, and great time investing in social to take things a step further.”

Chirpify is one platform that can be used to get data on hashtag useage, which can be converted to value for fans who can use them to buy concessions and merchandise.

But content is always king.

Amanda Cates of Spalding Entertainment explained that social media is like Super Bowl advertising.

“People will pay attention to ads on Facebook if they are interesting. Attention to detail will set you apart. Facebook is limiting. But if you have something engaging, more people share and more people see your content. If I come to a market, I want people to know and help me share – and that comes down to the local venue.”

Loba stressed the importance of staying on message – especially in an online environment where it’s easy to get distracted with anonymous comments and image posting. With the Parmalee social campaign, “we spent a lot of time taking down images, not that they were bad but because they weren’t our brand. There was a big discussion on do we let them be who are, or do they start fresh.”

Parmalee’s Matt Thomas agreed the band needed a fresh start, particularly after his brother Scott was shot in an aftershow robbery attempt.

“We just shut everything down. For the last year, pretty much every radio interview was about Scott and we couldn’t talk about the case,” Thomas said, with Cates adding that there’s a proper time to come back and re-engage.

“I’ve had to deal with traumatic and controversial issues online but there are main rules we stick by,” Smythe said. “It’s a double-edge sword when something happens and my advice to clients is to think before you tweet but sometimes the best thing is to let others fight your battles for you.

“It’s not a secret. The Internet is a cesspool of negativity and people say things to each other online they would never say across the dinner table,” she continued. “The reality is you have control and you can’t always change what people say, but you have the power to change the conversation.”

The conversation is changing for Parmalee. McSwain joked that “after listening to all this I’m afraid of doing anything (online)! We really needed this (marketing) team of people. Now, all we do is travel and play the shows. I’m thinking about all the things we don’t have time to do, and it’s great we have a team to do it for us.”

Thomas said the growth in Parmalee’s fanbase has meant more ticket sales and allows the band to not only focus on its songwriting and music, but affords a bigger show.

“We have stepped up to a full production, full lights, and we go to rehearsal tomorrow. You can’t expect people to just keep coming to the show, you have to keep building and building. We have a team where everybody is on the same page and working to the same goal.” “We need this digital team. We need the label. It takes all of this now to get to this level. You can’t just go hire some girl in college but you need someone who knows what they’re doing. We used to play for the door all the time and now, everybody wins. That’s what it’s all about.”