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BirdsEye View

lady gaga, social media and banking

I’m a fan of The Gaga.  I like her music, her style (meat dress notwithstanding) and her spunk.  She is everywhere and her concerts are cult happenings to which my husband refuses to go.  Yet in fall 2008 Gaga was merely the opening act of New Kids on the Block.

What can we learn from this phenomenal success story that can be applicable to the stodgy business of banking?  We can learn about the power of social media.  Harvard Business School believes we can learn much from her strategy as well, and a new HBS case has been written about Gaga and her key decisions.

Kanye West and Lady Gaga were about to launch a tour that was a huge step forward for her as a commercial success in 2009.  Unfortunately, West stormed off the MTV awards stage after “dissing” Taylor Swift for winning instead of (his choice) Beyonce.  In one fell swoop this promising tour became a significant financial risk.
Gaga and her manager faced a three-pronged decision:

  • They could continue the tour, which will require another $12 million production costs alone, which is a high risk proposition for someone who never headlined arena tours, let alone solo.  The payback was handsome though, with ticket prices in the $100-125 range, and the purse for a sell-out nearing $2.5 million per concert.
  • They could opt for a smaller tour in smaller venues, which will reduced their investment risk but also the potential payback (to $800,000 max per concert).  This option had further complications – they’ll have to scale back the tour and her last experience in small venues was not profitable.
  • Cancel the tour and lose the $4 million already sunk into the project.

The decision was critical for Gaga’s future, since tour profits have been ascending while music revenues have been declining steadily.

We already know how the story ends, but the path to success is the fascinating part.  Lady Gaga is awesome, but her success was not based on her talent alone.  She utilized Facebook and Twitter to build a strong support team one fan at a time.  Starting in March 2008 she starting writing her own Tweets and continued to do so.  She also syndicated her content, from videos to social messaging, to other media, gave interviews to influential bloggers and repackaged her content for YouTube airs.  Through an intense and intentional marketing strategy utilizing social media, Gaga managed to create real connections with her fans, which turned into genuine passion.  She fortified that passion with carefully selected sponsorships and consistent messages in her various interviews on the special connection with her fans.

I will grant you that banks are not nearly as exciting as Lady Gaga, but they CAN create personal connections with their fans using social media if they were intentional about it and became thought leaders in that arena.  Banks just haven’t developed a social media identity that most people can relate to – and they should.  That identity does not have to be stodgy and traditional, nor should it be too hip to be trust-worthy or believable.  It can become, though, the true heart-felt connection we all strive toward, if we think creatively and present the human side of our banks on Facebook and Twitter.

Think recipe clubs, anything to do with chocolate (now THAT’s exciting!), bike rides, community activities, exercise classes, local high-school football news – anything to engage the hearts of your constituents, not just their purse strings.  Social media is a powerful tool if used effectively.  Most banks that happen to be on Twitter or Facebook show their stodgy, boring side.  We should get hip and create interest and viral communications that use our site as their focal point.