In the world of hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, building excitement for new music means creating his own rules for using social media to engage with fans.
Dupri, Mariah Carey’s manager and co-producer, has been a lightning rod for criticism from frustrated Carey fans who have wanted more information about her career moves (especially the status of her new album) than they have received. But instead of appeasing fans with social, Dupri acts like a boxer, sometimes quietly absorbing the blows, and other times trading stiff jabs and upper cuts as he did recently when engaging with impatient fans on Twitter. The way he sees it, frustrated fans are good business because they build anticipation for music.
“If you’re going to be a music executive in the digital era, you need to try different approaches for running a business with social media,” he reveals in an interview with me. “Conventional wisdom says you give fans everything they want when they want it, like all the artwork and information about a new album long before release day. Fans today are buying the promotion that leads up to the music, not necessarily the music. But giving away too much to fans can actually ruin the game plan for someone like Mariah Carey, who is very protective of her music, her brand, and her mystique.”
Applying social finesse is one of the rules that Dupri lives by as he reinvents the role of the music executive in the digital era. Music industry honchos who first made their marks in the analog era, as Dupri did, have famously struggled to embrace digital (hello, Napster). Not so with Dupri. In the 1990s, he exploded on to the music world by breaking successful acts such as Kris Kross and Da Brat before becoming CEO of So So Def Recordings.
The 1990s were a long time ago, though. Then, artists could make millions by dropping CDs like manna from heaven into the hands of hungry fans. Digital downloading was not a threat. No one had ever heard of social media. But unlike many of his peers, Dupri has made the leap into the digital era by making digital — especially social media — the epicenter of a career in which he plays many roles, including CEO, czar of his own social media community Global 14, a popular DJ, and manager of a certain diva who has sold 200 million records.
Here are Jermaine Dupri’s rules for reinventing himself as a digital executive:
Beatrice Brigitte doesn’t like to follow formulas. The 25-year-old singer rejects the lush production and auto-tuned, anthemic vocals that rule the pop charts in the American Idol era, in favor of a simpler, more organic sound. On many of the songs she writes (such as “The Day”), her voice floats like a ghost through spare, quiet string arrangements.
Brigitte paints textured landscapes that combine a dreamy, otherworldly sound (think Mazzy Star) with lyrics exploring dark themes such as fear, personal betrayal, and suicide. In these themes the listener can detect the imprint of one of her influences, Jim Morrison (“Ode to End,” which contemplates suicide, thematically evokes the death wish of “Yes the River Knows” by the Doors).
I discovered her music on Global 14, Jermaine Dupri’s social community where members share interests ranging from music to sports (and it’s an excellent platform for emerging artists). In the following Q&A, Brigitte shares her story and provides a glimpse into life as an emerging artist. Make sure you experience her music on Soundcloud and get to know her on Global 14 and Facebook.
Let’s talk about your background — who you are and how you got into music.
Who am I? Well . . . I’m me. An entrepreneur, an artist, spiritual-being, a wife, an old soul; I have many roles.
To me, music is more of an art form than a way to be famous. I come from two artists who were both painters, and I love painting. I was born in Berlin. My father passed away a month before my seventh birthday, and my mom moved me to San Diego, where she remarried. I grew up in sunny San Diego for most of my life, but my parents moved to Phoenix while I was in high school. At age 17, unlike your conventional rebellion as a teen, mine was discovering music and using it as therapy. I never partied, drank, or did drugs growing up. I was that kid who would be at each concert and festival, standing there in awe.
I have been writing forever, but I did not always want to pursue music. The turning point was watching the band Brand New live in Phoenix. The performance by their lead singer, Jesse Lacey, blew me away. His music was honest, with no bullshit, and very bold. The band’s guitar riffs were very emotional. The experience changed my entire perspective on music.
At age 19 I moved to Los Angeles to work for a tech start-up, which I was working nonstop. I was making a lot of money but not doing what I really wanted to do, which was making music, finding my true self. My first day off occurred when I was 21. I asked, “What the hell am I doing?” I realized how blinded I was by social constraints, and that I can’t be a follower.
I began my journey as a musician by experimenting with being in bands and creating an alter ego, and then concluding that I just have to be a solo artist . . . just to be me, not to hide behind a band or an alter ego. It’s been a great journey and growth process.
Who are your musical influences?
A long time ago, I was really into Jim Morrison. I went into a whole Doors phase. He was into writing poems and turning them into songs, not writing lyrics in the conventional sense. And he has hidden meanings and analogies in his songs, which is how I write. I also enjoyed the melodies and organic pop style of the Spice Girls growing up. And Winston Churchill is a huge influence on everything I do. Yes, Winston Churchill. He was not only a leader — he was an artist, too. Did you know he was a painter?
Welcome to the new modern-day NFL, where athletes are also entertainers and celebrities who cater to every personal taste. Two high-profile athlete/brands will take the stage February 2 to compete in Super Bowl XLVIII. On the one hand, the Denver Broncos feature Quarterback Peyton Manning, who caters to fans of the strong, silent earnest persona — the Harrison Ford of pro football.
And as even non-football fans know by now, the Seattle Seahawks feature Cornerback Richard Sherman, the cocky, loudmouthed Kanye West of pro football.
Within hours, Sherman’s emotional, self-aggrandizing interview with Fox Sports triggered an explosion of chatter and harrumphing not seen since Miley Cyrus twerked on the VMAs. As my blog post for Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 community points out, Sherman’s post-game interview was just the latest in a series of outbursts and stunts that have built his controversial brand. And the Richard Sherman brand is good for the NFL.
On May 7, music mogul Jermaine Dupri and I were fortunate to have a byline published in Fast Company concerning four tips for successful co-branding. Co-branding — or sharing your own brand with an outside brand — is an increasingly popular way for celebrities like Justin Timberlake and major corporations such as Budweiser to generate awareness and to promote launches of products and services. The following post contains the unabridged version of our byline in case you’d like to have a bit more context about how my employer iCrossing has successfully built a co-brand with Dupri. Our bottom line: don’t co-brand to create hype. Focus on co-creating value.
To build your brand, sometimes you have to share your brand. And increasingly, big companies like Budweiser and Harley-Davidson choosing to co-brand with celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Kid Rock through relationships that range from sponsoring each other’s activities to the celebrity taking on quasi-roles such as strategic counselor or creative director.
But for co-brands to endure beyond the superficial level of a one-off press release, both parties need to stipulate realistic goals and co-create value. Those are among the lessons iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri have learned through an unusual co-branding relationship that has helped reinvent Dupri’s image as a technology leader, increased membership for his Global 14 social media community, and developed iCrossing’s image as a creative, socially savvy agency.
After forming our relationship in February 2012, within 10 months we boosted membership for Dupri’s Global 14 community by 43 percent, improved Dupri’s Twitter following from 381,000 to 620,000, increased iCrossing’s own Twitter following by more than 40 percent, and, most importantly, gave both iCrossing and Dupri recognition among mainstream influencers.
Here’s what we’ve learned along the way.
Define Realistic Goals
A co-brand starts with an understanding of what you both want out of the relationship before you start working together. And your expectations need to be realistic. In 2011, Madonna and Smirnoff formed the Nightlife Exchange with goals of building digital reach for Smirnoff and generating business for both Madonna and Smirnoff.
According to Christopher Swope of Live Nation, the relationship (which featured a special global dance talent search in 2011) has helped Smirnoff achieve double-digit sales growth in key markets (with the help of a specially branded Madonna VIP Access Smirnoff Limited Edition pack) and generate 1.8 billion media impressions. The relationship also helped Madonna make her MDNA tour the highest grossing of 2012. Not bad at all.
The relationship between iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri also started with agreed upon goals and a plan to achieve them. Dupri wanted iCrossing help to drive membership for his Global 14 community, which he launched in 2011 as a platform for young entrepreneurs and musicians to share common interests with himself and each other. He was already a music legend. He also wanted to develop his reputation as a technology and business leader.
iCrossing wanted build our reputation for thought leadership, creativity and social media by tapping into the convergence of entertainment and technology.
But our goals needed to complement each other, too. Had Dupri aspired to increase his visibility among the hip-hop community, he didn’t need iCrossing’s help. But iCrossing could definitely help him drive Global 14 membership through social media and content marketing. Conversely, iCrossing needed to define goals that Dupri was in a position to help iCrossing achieve, such as increasing awareness for our own social media and thought leadership expertise.
Co-creating means co-developing products, services, and ideas. U2 and Apple ignited the flame of celebrity/corporate co-creation in 2004, when they collaborated on the launch of the iPod U2 Special Edition, housed in a special black case, and laser-engraved with the signatures of each band member on the back.
As part of their co-brand, Apple and U2 also made U2’s single “Vertigo” exclusively available on iTunes as well as a first-of-its kind digital box set of U2’s catalog. What made the arrangement special was that two icons were sharing their most prized assets to create specially branded products, a model that we’ve often seen emulated, a recent example being Kid Rock and Harley-Davidson agreeing to offer limited-edition, co-branded Rebel Soul merchandise featuring a line coined by Kid Rock: “I can’t hear you over the rumble of my freedom.
By co-creating content, we are both developing a product to support our goals — akin to Justin Timberlake and Budweiser actually making a beer together. Co-created thought leadership is important because content consist of iCrossing’s product given the work we do as an agency.
iCrossing also acts as a co-publisher, relying on our own social spaces to disseminate our ideas and Dupri’s among Fortune 500 influencers — our own clients.
Find Natural Areas of Interest
A hip-hop mogul and a digital agency. The mogul runs a record label. The agency helps companies like Coca-Cola build connected brands. What do they have in common? Well, it didn’t take long to find out. Dupri loves social media and technology; so does iCrossing. Dupri hustles content ranging from his blog posts to Instagram photos. So does iCrossing. We’ve defined a credible intersection of our shared pursuits that makes sense for our brands.
Finding common passions makes for a more authentic relationship. For instance, Dodge Ram and country musician Zac Brown have successfully joined forces around a common interest: community goodwill. In 2010, Ram and Zac Brown launched the Letters for Lyrics partnership to deliver 1 million letters to U.S. soldiers, and in March Brown and Ram joined forces to put up for auction his own Ram truck in order to benefit Camp Southern Ground, which provides programs for children including those with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. The relationship is no gimmick — Ram has a history of working with country artists to support charitable causes, and Brown founded Camp Southern Ground. Theirs is a relationship centered on a true passion for both brands.
Defining common areas of interest also helps you rule out activities that don’t help us meet our goals. For instance, it does not make a whole lot of sense for iCrossing to promote Dupri’s gigs as a DJ. We are not in the music and artist promotion business. Nor will you find Dupri collaborating with iCrossing on a paid search campaign anytime soon. We’re focused only on the activities that make sense for us both.
One announcement does not make a relationship. A co-brand, like a garden, needs to be nurtured to grow.
Certainly Nike and Michael Jordan created the gold standard for a committed relationship between a company and a superstar individual brand. After launching their relationship in 1984, the two brands embarked on a journey that helped change the way brands and celebrities work together — and a journey that has endured highs (six NBA championships for Jordan) and unexpected turns (such as Jordan’s shocking but temporary retirement from basketball to play professional baseball). Jordan did more than collaborate with Nike on the launch of a line of shoe wear; he literally became a business partner. The Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, helps Jordan earn $80 million annually in retirement. And Nike has obviously benefitted, releasing its 28th shoe in the Jordan franchise in 2013 and commanding 58 percent of the shoe market in the United States according to SportsOneSource.
Jordan and Nike have provided a model for anyone who aspires to create a long-term relationship, including iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri. We have also stayed committed to achieving our goals for more than a year, investing our time and effort to brainstorm on ideas, adjusting our approaches when needed, and refining our messaging as Global 14 has evolved. We focused first on creating content on social media and then more actively brought event appearances into the mix, and we’ve also adapted our story to bring in fresh thinking, such as how a CEO like Jermaine Dupri can become more effective thanks to social media.
Relationships are going to experience occasional hiccups, such as the awkward moment that occurred when it was reported that Alicia Keys uses an iPhone after she signed a co-brand with Blackberry. No relationship is perfect, and you’re both going to need to be open to learning and growing together in order to succeed.
We believe that iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri are creating a model for co-branding because of our focus on creating content together. Stay tuned. We’re just getting warmed up.
From Down Under comes a shimmering new song by Vanessa Elisha, “Home to Me.” The song layers Elisha’s lush R&B-inspired vocals on top of a sexy chill-out groove to capture what Elisha describes to me as “that yearning for first love, or that feeling that you have in the beginning of a relationship.” Vanessa Elisha took time out of her recording schedule to answer a few questions about the song and her career on the rise, including how Jermaine Dupri and his Global 14 community has helped her. As you can see from the following Q&A, she’s understands the art of social. Learn more about Vanessa Elisha on her website here, Global 14 community here, and Twitter here. Meantime, thank you Vanessa for your gift of song.
What’s the inspiration for “Home to Me”?
Definitely a long-term relationship – that yearning for first love, or that feeling that you have in the beginning of a relationship.
The song has a sensuous chill-out feel to it. Do you consider “Home to Me” a chill-out song?
It definitely has that smooth feel that you can listen to and vibe to at any time of the day.
Who has influence your singing style? I hear an R&B influence.
So many people! Lauryn Hill, Monica, Keke Wyatt, Jon B and so many others. That ’90s feel is really what gets to me the most – that was real R&B, and it’s making its comeback with a lot of current artists.
The video is simple yet complicated: a straight-head shot of you but overlayed with fireworks, flames, fields, and mountains. What’s the story being told in the video?
I think that the video is open to interpretation, which is what I love about it. For me the projections signify the range of emotions that are felt throughout the relationship — they run smoothly with the lyrics to really enhance the story.
How are you promoting the song and building your own brand?
I’m really just trying to get my music out there! Twitter, Facebook, blogs – the bloggers have been amazing. They hold a lot of power in the industry, and the reception of my music has been amazing and unexpected!
How does Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 community help you?
Global 14 has been a great place to meet some amazing and talented people. The fact that Jermaine Dupri interacts with community members and has said he’s liked my music is an inspiration to just work that little bit harder. I love it, and the support I get on there is amazing.
Recently, I sat down with Jermaine Dupri, to discuss how social media helps him be a better CEO of So So Def Recordings. As you might know, Dupri blew up the So So Def Recordings website and replaced it with his own social media community, Global 14. Dupri and I published the outcome of our conversation as a byline in Fast Company, available here. The byline discusses five ways social helps him run So So Def, an example being the way Global 14 gives him insight into up-and-coming musical talent. We also cite other CEOs who use social media effectively, such as Richard Branson, whose use of platforms like Twitter humanizes the Virgin brand.
If you are a CEO (or aspire to operate at that level), I hope our byline helps you embrace social, even if all you have time for is the occasional tweet. Just don’t blow off social.
On November 1, I was honored to appear onstage with Jermaine Dupriat the PSFK Conference San Francisco 2012, where we discussed how Dupri’s Global 14 social networking site brings community back to social media. The entire conference featured designers, creative thinkers, and marketers who shared innovative ways to operate businesses and build brands. The underlying theme was that brands should seize the opportunity to do good, not just make money.
Global 14 helps emerging musicians develop their careers and creates an environment for all members to share ideas, not just social updates. (“We have lost communication on social networks and have become a social notifying world,” Dupri said.)
Regina Ellis of the Children’s Cancer Associationdelivered the most powerful presentation, which concerned the business of spreading joy. She opened her talk by describing the loss of her own daughter to cancer — an experience that Continue reading →
Jermaine Dupri and Global 14 have put community back into social media. That’s what I have to say in an interview conducted recently with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. But a community needs to be visible in order to thrive. Throughout the Q&A, I provide an update on how Dupri’s Global 14 social media community has grown in popularity and visibility through an innovative co-branding relationship that I manage at iCrossing. For instance, iCrossing and Dupri have collaborated on the co-creation of thought leadership and the launch of earned media activities. (Recently we worked together to introduce Global 14, which Dupri founded in 2011, to European and Latin American markets, as I noted in an iCrossing Great Finds blog post.)
Ultimately, what we’re doing is helping Dupri build a community of 37,000 people (and counting) who care about each other and share common interests ranging from sports to hip-hop. My main take-away: you might join Global 14 because of Dupri — but you’ll stay because of the people you meet. I have more than 700 Global 14 friends. I met all of them on Global 14 rather than importing those relationships from elsewhere. And I doubt I would have met my fellow Lifers (as Dupri refers to Global 14 members) had it not been for Global 14. Isn’t meeting new people and sharing with a community what social media is all about?
The ad itself was simple, clever, and perfect for the Pinterest age: a gay-pride themed Oreo cookie accompanied by a post, “Proudly support love!”
Within days, the ad accumulated more than 280,000 Likes and 55,000 comments, ranging from supportive to critical — and the comments keep pouring in. For instance, on Friday afternoon as I wrote this post, Facebook member Jake Pisano commented on the Oreo wall, “I have a question. . .if being gay is so natural then why can’t 2 gays have a baby together hmmm i mean if it was something natural then shouldn’t they be able to have a baby.” Meantime, Facebooker Jocelyn Battisti wrote, “Oreo I bought some of your product yesterday just in sheer respect for your open support of equal love! I am a straight female who also supports equal love and I also am a huge fan of PROGRESS. KEEP IT UP!”
The comments exploded across the digital world, creating a firestorm of media coverage from publications such as ABC News, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.According to Radian6, as of June 27, the ad had sparked 11,600 mentions of the topic across the web (and no doubt the figure is hire by now.) For instance, Music Mogul (who is also my friend and business partner) Jermaine Dupri triggered a passionate conversation on his own Global 14 social community when he posted an image of the cookie and asked, “How do you feel about this?“ Some Global 14 members asked whether the ad might unwittingly segregate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. On the other hand, a Global 14 member nicknamed Crush wrote, “Why is this even news? It’s not that serious! I respect everyone’s opinion but I will be who the hell I want to . . .OREO COOKIE OR NOT! I am VERY GAY and VERY normal…”)
And in the grand spirit of user-generated content, consumers created their own images inspired by the ad:
Interestingly, Radian6 also reported that eight out of 10 of the comments made about the ad are positive with a disproportionate share of virulent remarks posted on the Oreo Facebook page — and suggesting that the media coverage overstates the controversy.
A Kraft spokesperson responded to the controversy by saying, “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values.”
I would like to see Kraft do more than make a statement. This kind of advertisement can do something very important, which is to invite people to take a closer look at how corporations like Kraft can enact change to make society more tolerant. Big brands can act as powerful agents of change through their statements and more importantly through their actions. AT&T and Disney are among the companies receiving perfect marks by the Human Rights Campaign for being LGBT-friendly based on a number of factors ranging from the nature of their domestic partner benefits to resources they provide for LGBT employees. (Kraft scores well but lacks a perfect score.) I see an opportunity for Kraft to lead a conversation now the ad has caught our attention.
The song “Hotel x Music” by BruthaZ-N-ArmZ has been going through my head for a few months now, which is a good sign that I should highlight it on Superhype.
The video for “Hotel x Music” seems prosaic on first viewing: a bunch of slow-mo shots of guys hanging around in a hotel not doing much of anything. But in fact there’s more going on: a group of hip-hop artists holed up in a hotel take a hard look at their lives (“”The fans . . . consider us popular/we ain’t goin’ nowhere/It’s safe to admit that”) while appreciating for the moment (“Cool life I’m livin’/Hotel lifestyle”).
My favorite moment occurs about 27 seconds into the song, after the band quietly watches the lights of the city outside the hotel, before an infectious horn and percussion sample straight out of James Brown kicks in — a recurring riff that carries the song.
I first heard about “Hotel x Music” on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out BruthaZ-N-ArmZ here.