"My biggest asset is not cash — it's a large, growing, devout fanbase," Imogen Heap was quoted as saying recently. She has nigh-on 1.5 million followers of her Twitter feed at the time of writing, and is often held as an example of how engaging with your audience can keep them interested and, as a happy by-product, keep them buying (though as the article makes clear times are tough even for her).
Can such fan-engagement and community-building strategies work for bands and artists aiming to establish a fanbase, or indeed for entertainment and sports properties more generally? If so, what technology platforms and services can best support these strategies? In particular, can mobile messaging encourage greater trust and intimacy among fans, or might it seem like an intrusion on a more 'personal' channel?
It's two and a half years since I first wrote about Swarmteams, the cross-platform messaging service that combines high tech with high touch. Its design is based on the way insects and other organisms self-organise with short, timely updates. And it's two years since I announced that I was evaluating a pilot project, SwarmTribes, which aimed to adapt that service for working with music bands and fans. Both the SwarmTribes pilot and my evaluation of it were supported by funding from NESTA.
Finally I am publishing the report of that evaluation and some audio interviews. In a nutshell, the project didn't go quite according to plan — as pilot projects are wont to do — and my challenge became one of explaining the reasons for that. I summarised the lessons in the report.
- Test, revise and keep communicating the proposition
- Keep the branding low-key until it has momentum
- Keep platform options open
- Explore multiple positions in the market
- Build experimentation into planning and resourcing
- Ease of use is critical to building momentum
- Prioritise exemplars where concepts are hard to explain
- Understanding the ecology of a new sector takes time