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Why every digital marketer needs to watch Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk

What are you doing with social media? Are you developing high-quality content? Curating your Twitter feed? Are you connecting with your followers? The answer to that last question should be YES, because if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. Social media is all about relationships, which means – for better or for worse – so is digital marketing.

Photo credit: katypang

Nowhere is this more wildly clear than in musician Amanda Palmer’s instantly viral TED Talk. Palmer’s talk is called “The Art of Asking,” but it might as well be called the art of connection. An alt-rock icon and former member of the Dresden Dolls, Palmer made headlines last year with a Kickstarter campaign to fund her new album. She asked for $100,000 – and received $1.2 million, the largest Kickstarter to date.

Before you say that this isn’t surprising, given that she’d already had success as a musician before the Kickstarter, consider her answer to a question about how much time she’d invested to get to a point where crowdfunding success became possible (excerpted from her blog, typos and punctuation intact):

“this kickstarted is the culmination of YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS of connecting with my fanbase and my community. 
some people who read this blog have been following my movements for years, and don’t need to hear this part. others are brand new and REALLY need to hear it.
in a nutshell: i have a connect-at-all-costs policy 24/7. brian and i, as the dresden dolls, toured for three or four years SOLID and signed after every. single. show. we hung out with our audience. we got to know people. we stayed in touch. we cared that they cared about our band and we showed it. the internet is an extension of that. the twelve years of blogging i’ve done and the 25,000 tweets haven’t been for strangers. they’ve been ways of connecting with my crowd…all over the world. …you know that 10,000 hours theory? i’ve spent more than 10,000 hours connecting with my fans, figuring out how to be with them. so i’m an expert in them.”

This is why social media is the game-changer for marketing.

So what did Amanda do right that we, as digital marketers, should seek to replicate? We can extrapolate three success factors from her talk: Connect, Converse, and Call for Action.

  • Connect. Palmer has embraced the idea of exploring a new relationship between artists and their fans, or as she defines it: “no more celebrity at a distance.” She has made an extraordinary effort to connect personally with her current and future fans. Her initial connections were made offline at her concerts. But she has worked social media tools relentlessly. What’s notable about her Twitter feed is not that she tweets incessantly, but that most of her tweets are turns in the conversation. Thus, she has built a fanbase by connecting not just superficially but deeply and emotionally. As she says in her talk about her fans, “We see each other.” That’s powerful stuff.
  • Converse. Those conversations on Twitter and after her shows aren’t of the moment. She uses these tools to talk to her fans not just about her music and art, but about also about philosophy, issues, health – anything that her fans care about. She’ll actually send a request on Twitter for an item and then have coffee – and a lengthy conversation – with the fan who delivers it to her door. For Palmer, social media has offered an unprecedented way to continue conversations far beyond her milk crate.
  • Call for Action. What’s most interesting about Palmer’s strategy is that asking for help is a cornerstone. Her approach to giving away her music – and her marketing pitch, in fact – isn’t much different than that of NPR or PBS. Take what I create, if you enjoy it and can afford to, make a donation. If not, don’t worry about it. Thus, her fans pay for the value of what they perceive her music and art to be worth. It’s very authentic and also very different than the practice of giving away free eBooks as a marketing tool. There’s no hidden sales agenda behind it. It’s transparent, which is yet another reason her fanbase trusts her and is willing to provide support.

Palmer’s story is also a great example of how the new economy can support even the smallest businesses in a big way. As Palmer says, it’s a “few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”

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