February 21, 2009

Big Day Out Public Relations: Is Silence The Best Response?

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:29 pm by Andrew McMillen

A 17-year old girl died from a reported drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out music festival earlier this month, after taking three ecstasy pills to avoid being caught by police at the gate. This was an unfortunate, but unsurprising occurrence. 

The surprising element is how Big Day Out publicity have marginalised her behaviour by silencing their highly active online community.

A statement published on the BDO site on 2 February 2009 reads:

Perth drug overdose statement

Early yesterday afternoon a 17-year-old girl was taken to hospital after a suspected drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out. Tragically she died overnight.

While details have yet to be confirmed, it has been reported that the teenager consumed a number of pills outside the event to avoid being detected by police sniffer dogs that were in operation, in this instance with fatal consequences. 

Big Day Out does not condone the use of drugs at the event.  The same laws of the outside world apply inside the event. Over 3 million people have attended the Big Day Out in its 17 year history and this is the first time an incident of this nature has occurred. 

Sniffer dogs are commonly used outside large events like the Big Day Out and are part of the police’s harm minimisation responsibility. 

The investigation is being followed up by the Police. 

To respect the privacy of the family, no further comments will be made.

In contrary to that final statement, there’s also a dedication page on the BDO site, containing a message from the girl’s mother.

While the Big Day Out brand will remain untarnished by this event – it’s arguably stronger than ever – this sad occurrence is now inextricably linked to the event’s brand in the same manner as 16-year old Jessica Michalik‘s death during the 2001 tour.

Where Michalik’s death was the result of inadequate crowd control measures – a mistake rectified from the 2002 tour onwards – Thoms’ drug-related death requires a conversation between Big Day Out publicity and the hundreds of thousands who attend the tour across Australia and New Zealand each year.

Critically, the online community who follow the event have been silenced: the highly active Big Day Out forum was disabled immediately after the news of Thoms’ death broke, and it remains closed almost a month later. 

bdo_closed

http://forum.bigdayout.com/ as of 21 February 2009

Silence isn’t the best response here.

In this case,  Big Day Out publicity invite criticism by refusing to allow a dialogue to occur.

The only publicised offshoot of Thoms’ death is a Western Australian police commissioner agreeing that “amnesty bins” should be installed outside music festivals, to allow punters to deposit their drugs without fear of prosecution. And to minimise the likelihood of festival attendees overdosing in a panic before entering the venue, as in Thoms’ case.

There’s nothing new about youth drug culture. But when an unfortunate event such as an overdose occurs, people start asking questions of the police, of the festival organisers, of each other.

In a time of crisis or confusion, people want to connect with each other. And while an isolated festival overdose isn’t the strongest catalyst for either impulse, it’s still an occasion better met with community encouragement than marginalisation; with noise instead of silence.

I understand that moderating public opinion becomes exponentially more difficult as a greater volume of people converge in one location. The need to consistently and accurately monitor the fine line between opinion and libel is likely at the forefront of the organisers’ swift decision to close the public forum.

Censorship aside, an alternative forum named Small Night In has sprung up following the closure. But many questions remain unanswered:

  • Why silence an established, highly active online community following a drug-related death?
  • Why not encourage a dialogue between festival attendees and festival organisers?
  • Why not partner with an established organisation such as the Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) and encourage participation – both online and in BDO-sponsored community forums held in capital cities – to gauge youth opinion on drug use, so as to minimise the chances of a repeat e?
  • Most importantly: why not work harder to turn a negative event into a positive by reinforcing a sense of community?

Funnily, I was only provoked into thinking about the BDO organisers’ handling of the Thoms death after I received an email  sent to the BDO user database advertising Lily Allen’s June Australian tour.

Promote a tour; marginalise the voices of Australian youths itching to converge and converse.

Poor form, Big Day Out.

February 15, 2009

Mirror Groups: Animal Collective

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , at 9:16 pm by Andrew McMillen

Simon Reynolds discusses how Animal Collective have become a “mirror group” at The Guardian’s music blog:

…with their new album Merriweather Post Pavilion, they have been promoted to a bigger league, where they’re a talking point for a whole new set of people who, until recently, had no interest in their existence.

Just like when you pass by a mirror and can’t resist taking a glance, people are looking for the flattering angle, for a stance on the band and their music that makes the opinionator look good.

I like this concept of a mirror group. Reynolds cites MIA, Vampire Weekend and Kid A-era Radiohead as recent examples, though I’d argue that the release of OK Computer heralded Radiohead’s tipping point.

I’ll add Kings Of Leon to that list. Two mildly successful albums, and then a surge in popularity upon the release of Because Of The Times and its lead single On Call in 2007. But that album was nothing compared to the runaway success of 2008’s Only By The Night and Sex On Fire.

Reynolds is right about Animal Collective. They’ve flittered away under my radar for a couple of years, and I chose to ignore them, if only because I wasn’t pushed hard enough in their direction.

But that’s changed with the new album. Aziz Ansari linked to their excellent video for My Girls, which burns bright with kaleiodscopic joy. (The “woo!”s in the background of the chorus totally make the song, btw)

And that’s all it takes. A solid recommendation, and I’ll pay attention to a band for a song or an album or a lifetime. I downloaded the album and I like it. I’ll recommend it to my friends and see them when they tour.

At a deeper level, beneath the particulars of aesthetics and resonance, what’s really at issue is, I think, the status and function in our culture of “middlebrow”. With Merriweather, almost everyone is either castigating or applauding Animal Collective for their tentative steps into the middling regions of pop culture: that Kid A zone where mild experimentalism meets not-too-obvious melodicism.

The space between the underground and the mainstream is a tricky intersection for musicians to navigate. Stray too far from your roots, and you’ll be abandoned by your core fanbase – your tribe.

Primal Scream are a fine example of a band whose sound has varied wildly across their career, yet their musical diversity allows them to successfully embody many genres – or wear many masks, if you’d like – when performing live.

The Reynolds column is worth a read, even if he does wander several hundred words past his point. Then there’s Kevin Kelly‘s ‘1000 true fans‘ notion, which requires a new discussion altogether.

Many musical thoughts for a Sunday evening. An open question – which sounds are exciting you at the moment?

February 9, 2009

The Next MySpace for Musicians

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , at 9:02 pm by Andrew McMillen

I’ve stopped logging on to MySpace. The only reason I’d continued to check it was to read bulletins posted by bands I enjoy.

But then the noise became deafening.

Too much effort for too little reward.

Processor-intensive Flash ads swarmed my homepage.

And instead of including bulletin pagination, to allow me to view 25 or 50 or 100 bulletins on a page, they kept with the original model of dividing bulletins into groups of 10. Each page yielded a new set of flashing ads. Awesome.

But that’s in the past. Bye, MySpace.

So if you’re a band I listen to or a band who thinks that I might like to listen to you, there’s a question you should be asking yourself. How are you going to connect with me, now?

How are you going to coerce me to join your tribe?

Or, more importantly: where is your tribe going to converge?

I don’t friend bands on Facebook, because Facebook is for human friendships.

I rarely visit band websites, as I’ve discussed.

If I don’t visit your Facebook profile or your website, it’s going to be tough to convince me to join your mailing list. And mailing lists aren’t the ideal method for artists to broadcast from, as it’s one-to-one. Not one-to-many like the sense of community you felt when browsing a band’s MySpace profile.

MySpace succeeded for several years because it provided the tools for musicians to share their craft and assemble a community in a central location.

But if the community is dispersing, where are they going to meet next?

Where is the next MySpace for musicians?

Finding a suitable answer for this question is as important for me, the music fan and critic, as it is for the artists who want me to hear their music.

I want a central hub to connect with hundreds of artists I admire and enjoy. I want to listen, to follow, to gain an insight into their recording process and international tours and personalities.

MySpace is no longer the answer. It’s old tech.

I don’t care about exclusive album streams. I don’t care about digital music store partnerships.

I just want to know when my favourite artists have recorded new music. When they’re touring. What other people think of their music.

Twitter is not the answer. Too shallow. When it comes to musicians, it’s a case of too little data spread too thin. I’ll happily read essays on subjects that I’m interested in.

If you’re a musician, I don’t particularly want to know what you’re doing all day, every day. Just the important stuff. Specific, anticipated, relevant. New music, tours, reviews, videos.

Again, these kinds of periodic updates could be delivered via mailing list. But I’m not going to go around visiting band websites and joining lists.

Like I said, this is as important a question for me, the music fan, as it is for the artists and labels.

Build something remarkable. Something worth sharing. Somewhere worth returning to. And I’ll be there.

January 27, 2009

Design By Humans’ Music Series: Fleetwood Mac

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:37 pm by Andrew McMillen

User-generated shirt design website Design By Humans have partnered with Fleetwood Mac for an upcoming world tour:

Taking a page out of rock n’ roll’s history book of music icons, DBH will be partnering with bands that span the spectrum from the great classics of all time to the hottest emerging musical artists today. Packed with tons of cool prizes and a chance for worldwide recognition, the DBH Music Series brings a whole new level to the world of t-shirt design contests.

First prize: $1500 cash, $200 DBH store credit, and 2 backstage passes to a Fleetwood Mac concert with an opportunity to meet the band.

Nevermind that Fleetwood Mac aren’t cool anymore – this is a great example of an industry dinosaur adapting to the community-based nature of the web. Hot Chip ran a similar contest in conjunction with Threadless, though the winning shirt was only available online.

No tandem announcement on the band’s website, which is a missed opportunity. While DBH would have a sizeable database, how many of those are fans of the ‘Mac? Though, maybe they’re not necessarily targeting fans of the band: the chance for your design to appear behind the merch desk of a hugely popular band’s world tour is a unique proposition.

But it shouldn’t be.

Artists across the world should buy into the opportunity to foster community participation in their merchandising decisions. Advertise, outsource talent, and encourage your fanbase to vote and comment on the result.

Unhappy with the designs presented by local artists? Advertise online describing the look you’re after, and see what comes back. A fan on the other side of the world might have kick-ass shirt ideas and the talent to deliver. So why bother with the same tired plain-colour-with-chest-logo formula that many bands still follow?

Interesting, non-standard shirt designs attract attention. I wear Threadless and, more recently, DBH designs because they’re far more remarkable than the marginally modified crap that popular Australian labels churn out each season. They stand out, so you get noticed. Which is great, if that’s your goal.

Furthermore, I know that the design I’m wearing was made by a person who was rewarded for their efforts. That’s how Threadless and DBH work: you submit a design, and if it gets printed, you get paid in cash and store credit. And your name (or pseudonym) is attributed to your work, which appears online and on the neck of the shirt.

All of these factors add to the stickiness of user-generated clothing designs. They’re worth sharing, which adds to your brand equity. People talk about your brand. The successful designers are happy because they’re rewarded for their talents. They show their friends and family. They promote their work on their personal websites.

All of these factors create a community – a tribe – around your brand. A group who’re happy to champion your cause and improve the quality of the result. If that’s not your goal as a company in 2009, it should be: maximise returns by engaging with and listening to your userbase.

I’m glad that Design By Humans are working with popular musicians to form tribes around their merchandising, which is an area of fiscal pertinence in an era of diminishing returns on recorded work. For all but the biggest bands, it’s no longer a matter of selling albums: instead, the goal is to maximise the amount of ears that hear your work in order to encourage tour attendance.

November 10, 2008

Effective Tribe Management: 200 Nipples

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:40 pm by Andrew McMillen

200 Nipples is an online t-shirt store with a twist:

That’s how many nipples we assume will be covered by any single run of our high-quality shirts. (We’ll have the third-nippled buyer in there occasionally, but we didn’t want to count on it when naming the company; this is serious business, after all.) 

One hundred shirts per month, individually numbered. Shirt prices range from US$1 to US$100 inclusive. First in, best dressed.

I’ve had my eye on them for a few months, since they were mentioned on Seth‘s blog. Funnily enough, I can’t find the post where he initially linked to them.

I received notification this morning, Brisbane time, that a new shirt was due to go onsale later that afternoon. I set a reminder in my calendar and went about my business for the rest of the day.

At 4pm, I logged onto the site and found that their 100-item cart showed that no shirts had been bought. Weird. I proceeded to checkout and received order confirmation of my longsleeve shirt, which cost US$11 including postage. Sweet.

Except that their shopping cart and database broke, and 76 users thought they’d snapped up shirts for a dollar or two. Whoops.

This potentially painful ordeal was handled brilliantly by Wade, 200 Nipples’ founder. He replaced the storefront with a temporary ‘out of order’ page and kept hundreds of repeatedly-refreshing users in the loop by updating two blog posts.

A couple of dozen users chatted amongst ourselves in the comments sections until Wade initiated a ‘do over’at 4.30pm. Best of all, Wade defused the fiscal situation by creating and publishing a 33%-off coupon, which was valid for an hour. 

Shirts 1-30 were snapped up in minutes, but I snagged #11 for US$11.

200_nipples_intrusion

This year, Seth’s all about tribes. He posits – bolding mine:

Tribe management is a whole different way of looking at the world.

It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn’t an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.

It adds to that the fact that what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. So the permission is used to build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about.

At a guess, Wade’s tribe numbers in the low hundreds right now. His tribe was brought closer together today, by sharing a disruptive experience that was elegantly and openly managed. 

We ended up taking a $150+ hit on the coupon code, but that’s OK. Above all else, we always want to deliver a good experience to you, the users of the site. The overwhelming majority of our customers were very cool about it. Thanks so much for your understanding.

Perfect. This is the kind of experience that gives Wade’s tribe a story to tell and something to talk about. You can bet I’m going to tell this story to everyone who asks about my long-sleeved shirt.. which mightn’t be worn for months, since it’s almost summertime in Australia.

200_nipples_intrusion_guy

Tribes is a great concept and a book that I look forward to reading. 200 Nipples is an example of gathering a tribe around a niche concept – attractive, limited, (potentially) cheap shirts – and today, a great example of masterful tribe management.