How Social Media Made Indie Hip-Hop Artist Macklemore #1 on iTunes

by on October 29, 2012

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How did Seattle-based, independent, hip-hop artists Macklemore & Ryan Lewis not only reach #1 on iTunes in it’s first week after being released, but keep the spot for four days straight?  The answer is simple and it may or may not surprise you: social media.  Using social media isn’t rocket science, but it does take a certain amount of knowledge and understanding to do social media effectively and that’s exactly what they’re doing.    

Selling 78,000 copies of The Heist in the first week alone, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat the likes of Mumford & Sons and Jay-Z for the #1 spot on iTunes and #2 on the Billboard 200.  With 83% of The Heist’s first week sales being digital downloads, it’s obvious that they have a large online community and an incentive to keep it engaged.  

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis focused their efforts on four social media channels to build their fan base so successfully. And in an interview with DropOut UK, Ryan Lewis explained that those efforts were all them, “I think that just for how we’ve been operating and how we continue to operate, um, we probably just have too far reaching of a hand across the board of our brand. Whether that be web sh*t, or photography or music videos or sounds or fonts, like, we care about everything.”

So, let’s take a look at how that effort and care manifested itself in their social media channels:  

Social Media Channel 1: Website/Blog  

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s website is what all musicians’ websites should look like.  The cover is their macklemore-website-snapshot-social-medialatest album at the top of the page directing visitors to purchasing their latest album.  Underneath the album cover is a navigation bar directing visitors to where they can find merchandise, information about show times and locations, as well as additional information about the performers.  

Their blog is on the main page “below the fold” and has tons of pictures of their performances, fans, and a few of their friends.  The “letters” section acts like an extension of the blog where they post pictures with longer explanations of where they were and what they were doing.   

The website is incredibly user friendly, loads quickly despite the amount of media on it, and the feel of the site is intimate, and lets visitors feel as though they are getting a behind the scenes look at the process.  

Social Media Channel 2: Facebook   

With 313,008 (as of January 8th: 498,556) page likes and growing every day, Macklemore updates his Macklemore-Facebook-Ellen-Twitter-Shout-Out-social-mediaFacebook page every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sharing with his fans everything from announcing a free performance, thanking them for their support, and even cross-promoting what is happening on other social media channels, for example Ellen DeGeneres tweeting about him:             

Beyond what he posts on his page, Macklemore has also included photo albums on his Facebook page that include images from shows, pictures of and from fans, pictures of his family and friends, as well as pictures of his life outside of his music career. He is also tagged in fans photos, and so their pictures show up on his page. Allowing his fans to be a part of his life by letting them see what he does outside of music and connecting with them outside of music, is an important aspect of building loyal and excited online communities.  

Social Media Channel 3: Twitter  

It seems like not a day goes by that we don’t hear about a politician, celebrity, or Courtney Love making a Macklemore-twitter-feed-social-mediafool of themselves on Twitter and consequently getting tons of media coverage on TV, radio, and in print. Needless to say Twitter is a platform with a potentially alarming large reach where a screw up goes very far.  However, the potential for high ROI from Twitter, cannot be ignored.

Macklemore uses his Twitter account as a direct line of communication between him and his fans (now including the famous ones like Ellen and Taran Killam).  He often retweets fans’ tweets, he responds to their questions, and he makes announcements about upcoming shows all on his Twitter account.  

Because Twitter also requires people to keep their communications short, Macklemore is able to more easily communicate with fans.  Retweeting a tweet from a fan is a really simple way of letting them know that you are paying attention and that you care about what they have to say.  It’s the same in any business. You quote and pass on what you find valuable, thus giving props to the originator of the content (whether they’re a fan, customer, business partner, etc.).  

Social Media Channel 4: YouTube   

For years Macklemore has allowed most of his music to be posted on YouTube.  Ryan Lewis has an Macklemore-YouTube-videos-social-mediaaccount through which they both post music videos as well as short clips of them promoting upcoming events.  

However, they’ve relinquished a lot of control over their music on this channel and you can still find tracks from Macklemore’s earlier albums on several different YouTube channels.  Making his content available to his fans has allowed the fans to market his product for him by placing it on their own channels and sometimes even making their own music videos to go with his songs.  

None of their official music videos from the Ryan Lewis channel have advertisements at the beginning, and I’m sure with 30+ million combined views (Update: since this blog post the YouTube video for “Thrift Shop” alone has gotten 300+ million views), that they’ve received offers to include advertisements.  But by doing this, he’s allowed his fans to access his content completely free of charge.  This decision to make their music accessible to anyone who wants it is actually a brilliant marketing move.   

Since the flash in the pan that was Napster, the relationship between musicians and their music has changed, a lot.  Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  Where most musicians don’t want their music on any websites for free, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have chosen to ignore such advice like this from the New York Times:  

 “Get money from YouTube ads. If your video is on the road to viral success, YouTube, a  part of Google, is eager to make money from you. It will send you an e-mail asking if you want  to become a partner. If you give your permission, the site will run ads alongside your video and share more than half the revenue with you, sending you a check each month.”

Instead, they went a different route, confident in that their content is good enough that fans will still purchase their music, purchase tickets to their shows, and purchase merchandise even if they are able to listen to their music completely free.   

Update: At around 90 million views the duo opted to add advertising at the beginning of “Thrift Shop”.

Obviously, content is king, and with songs like “Same Love” and “Thrift Shop” Macklemore is making content his target customers can get behind and support financially – not because it’s required of them in order to listen to his music, but because it’s the kind of message, the kind of brand they’d like to support with their dollars.  

How to do Social Media like Mack  

Now don’t worry, you don’t have to be Macklemore in order to get people really excited about your brand.  He is just one example.  One of my favorite things about using social media for business is that it allows you to connect with your customers on a more personal level.  And you end up brand building organically.  For example, you could be selling business cards, and on your Facebook page you’re raising awareness for bullying by participating in something like Glaad’s Spirit Day

Social media channels give you the opportunity to connect with your customers on a much deeper and meaningful level.  

Macklemore has taken all the necessary steps to avoid making the mistakes a lot of other businesses are making in social media right now by: 

 1. Consistently updating his channels
 2. Understanding how each of these channels function
 3. Crossposting content across the different channels
 4. Making his content easily available to locate, purchase, and share
 5. Interacting with fans and participating in social media beyond his pages

Today social media is one of the few tools artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis can use to get their message – their brand – out to the masses, but it’s a powerful one.  Social media is one of the few marketing platforms that allow your customers/fans/friends to act as direct marketers for your product. By liking and sharing your content with their networks, your customers can help you reach a much larger audience than you most likely could reach on your own.     

It’s obvious from all of Macklemore’s social media channels that he is passionate about his fans, and in order to reach more of them he had to get passionate about social media.  So what are you waiting for?  

Check out Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance on the Ellen DeGeneres show from October 30th.  Or check out their performance of “Thrift Shop” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from December 12th.

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