Evan Greene, chief marketing officer at The Recording Academy, discusses the pros and cons of social media marketing in the music industry and the challenges of mining and interpreting massive amounts of social data.

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Argyle Conversation:
[Lily Robertson]:How has The Recording Academy changed its marketing strategy in the digital era?

[Evan Greene]:It’s been very important to us over the past four years to have a deep and integrated social media and digital strategy within our overall marketing plan. We established a core team within The Recording Academy marketing group to focus exclusively on social media. Digital music conversations are going on across a variety of different platforms. Rather than be passive observers of these conversations, we wanted to be active participants in them. And that required a significant financial commitment as well as a shift in our mindset to ensure that this was not just a passing gimmick but rather a part of our DNA.

Have you had to take resources away from more traditional marketing to focus on the digital space?

Above-the-line advertising and marketing still have a meaningful place. But we’ve significantly expanded the scope of our below-the-line effort to make digital a more meaningful part of everything that we do across the entire Academy. It’s not something that we take lightly and virtually every single thing that we do now has some digital element to it. It’s a pretty straightforward equation for us. It’s all about having a respectful, organic, two-way conversation about music with our audience. Essentially there are two things that people are interested in. The first is discovery and the second is community. If we can empower a dialogue that allows people to discover, that encourages them to share, then that builds a community.

What challenges have you faced as you increase the focus on your digital strategy to make it a more substantive part of your marketing efforts?

Financial resources are always a challenge when you’re trying to do something new. But the biggest challenge with getting this initiative started and incorporating it into the fabric of The Recording Academy is getting buy-in and support from our board and entities within the Academy because it’s generally been a conservative, traditional organization. We’re a not-for-profit company. At our heart and soul, we’re a trade organization designed to serve the industry and we happen to produce a television show that has become our calling card. Getting people to embrace social media and engage in a two-way dialogue has caused some anxiety because people didn’t necessarily want to hear negative things about us. But if you’re going to be part of a conversation, you have to open it up to and allow people to talk and listen.

Did you do anything different in the social media space during this year’s Grammy Awards?

Our social engagement was pretty extraordinary this year. The recent 54th Annual Grammy Awards show was the largest social media event in history. We surpassed the Super Bowl in terms of engagement and social comment. The Super Bowl had about 12.3 million social comments, whereas the Grammys had over 13 million, so we were very gratified and encouraged by the level of engagement and excitement people had around the show. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we were engaged across a variety of different conversations on a number of platforms. We were aligned with some of the more credible platforms out there. We had our Grammy Live initiative, which was a three-day interactive participatory backstage live streaming experience. All of those things coalesced to create a lot of engagement.

We also have to be mindful and acknowledge that at least a portion of that engagement was a result of the unfortunate passing of Whitney Houston a little more than 24 hours before the Grammy Awards. Intuitively, we would have expected a massive amount of engagement around Whitney and curiosity about her passing. What we found when we did a fair amount of listening and monitoring is that comments about Whitney Houston were a distant No. 6 in terms of ranking. So we don’t know what percentage of our viewership and our engagement came from curiosity about Whitney. We would have expected it to be significantly higher but it wasn’t and that’s just another example of how you can’t really handicap what people want to talk about.

Was the social media engagement predominantly on Facebook and Twitter or was it broader than that?

The majority of social comments are going to come from Twitter. That’s just the reality of the social dialogue right now. But we also audit the Web, including Facebook as well as a number of blogs and other platforms.

Did the Grammy Awards experience most of its digital marketing success due to the social media arena or did you generate conversations in other areas as well?

I don’t think that you can look at our success and say it’s strictly because of social media because social doesn’t work in a vacuum. I think the reason social worked so well for us is because we’ve built an amazing platform that was consistently applied across every single outlet and channel that we had. We developed a marketing campaign with the help of our agency that included consistent elements that were applied across all of our above-the-line and below-the-line outlets. CBS helped us promote the show on the air. We had engaging announcements about the telecast on Pandora and Spotify. We were doing interesting things with Shazam. I do think social media played a key role, but I feel strongly that social doesn’t exist by itself. It has to be part of a broader strategy that creates consistency, messaging familiarity, and a desire to participate. If all those other pieces that I mentioned were not in place, I don’t think social media would have had nearly the impact that it did.

How do you sort out all the data you receive from auditing various platforms? Do you have particular ways of capturing and measuring all that information?

That’s the new frontier. The next step in social media is how to quantify and use that data. Social media is in its adolescence, but monitoring it is in its infancy. We’re all trying to figure out how to parse all this information to use it more effectively. One of the things we’re doing is trying to gauge the effectiveness of our programs for our marketing partners and sponsors. We’re using the data to show a return on investment or return on engagement. To me, that’s the really interesting important next phase of digital and social media. How do you better interpret the results and then how do you use those results to be more efficient?

Are you looking at ways to slice and dice the information internally or do you outsource that task?

I feel strongly that brand strategy and social strategy need to be driven internally, so we don’t outsource any of that. But we do pay companies to help us monitor and listen to the data we gather. I think we’re getting better at interpreting all this information but we’re still at the early stages. Mining data is very involved. We’ve got a lot of really good core competencies but that’s not necessarily one of them, or at least not yet.

What other challenges do you expect to face as you embrace digital marketing?

The challenge is that all of the rules are changing and will continue to change. Whatever the right formula was last year or even six months ago is no longer the right formula. You’ve always got to be pushing ahead. If you’re not driving forward, you’re stagnating and you will be left behind. But the most important thing is to not look at social media as a tactic. View it as a really important part of your communications strategy. It’s not about finding another way to help you sell more stuff. It’s about finding a way to engage your audience more and develop a deeper relationship with them. We’re in the relationship business. How can we strengthen those relationships? By having a dialogue with our audience.