Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, provide leaders with remarkable new tools to engage with followers, but must be used wisely for maximum impact.
To learn how to develop your own social media strategy look to THE role model for building and sustaining a loyal followership base – Lady Gaga !
Followership & Social Media: It’s all about mass intimacy
In the past if the leader wanted to engage with a mass of followers, whether they be employees in a large multinational company or fans in a music hall, the degree of intimacy which could be achieved was very limited. Social media has blown apart this millennia long tradeoff between intimacy and reaching a mass audience, enabling what I term “mass intimacy”.
Social Media allows the leader to provide rich information about their lives (Just from Me) directly to their followers (Just for You) in an immediate way (Just in Time). But despite the “mass intimacy” that social media platforms enable, the basic principles of followership still apply.
Lady Gaga provides a stunning example of the power of “mass intimacy”. Not only has she used social media as a key component of establishing herself as a ‘leader’ in the music industry, she has built a followership base of tens of millions of fans, and earned hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. She has implemented a remarkably consistent approach to delivering what I see as the three pillars of a social media followership campaign, each of which will be described below.
The Personal Narrative – Who am I
The best leaders excel in their followers’ eyes by being themselves and by revealing things about what made them who they are: they are able to communicate “Who am I.” Lady Gaga has been extremely skillful at communicating her personal narrative, and she often talks about how she learned to play piano from the age of four, went on to write her first piano ballad at thirteen and began performing at the age of fourteen.
Despite the affluence of the Upper West Side of New York where she grew up, Gaga has stressed that she did not come from a wealthy background, stating that her parents “both came from lower-class families, so we’ve worked for everything.” Lady Gaga speaks often about her childhood and teenage years, describing herself as a freak and a misfit. In her own words: “I was and I am a freak, a maverick, a lost soul looking for peers.”
Gaga always refers to herself as a contemporary artist rather than a musician, and after high school studied New York University’s Tisch Art School. Even early on, before she achieved international acclaim, Lady Gaga was unabashed about her potential: “Some people are just born stars. You either have it or you haven’t, and I was definitely born one.”
For Gaga, her dress is an embodiment of who she is – a work of art – but she says that “She was born this way” loving to dress-up since she was a little girl. Her fans will never see her in track pants. “I owe them more than that” she says. In a recent interview with the US current affairs program 60 Minutes she spoke about her ultimate purpose in life: “I don’t want to make money…I want to make a difference”.
Lady Gaga has helped her followers to understand something of who she is and where she has come from because she understands that followers demand authenticity. She has understood that what is new is the way in which social media platforms allows her to demonstrate this authenticity directly via social media on a daily basis. Gaga is very consistent in communicating her core values; acceptance for all, equality, creativity and honesty.
The Collective Narrative – Who are We?
Beyond demanding the individual narrative of “Who am I” followers will give their hearts and souls to figures who make them feel a part of something and say, “You really matter,” no matter how small the followers’ contributions may be. Lady Gaga has proven herself immensely capable of building this sense of community and significance among her followers.
Gaga draws upon being the weird girl in class and gives the message that the fans are okay the way they are, a message that resonates strongly with teenagers, but also with gay and lesbian fans. In almost every interview and performance she thanks her fans for supporting her, and attributes her success as much to them as to her own creativity and hard work.
Gaga’s use of social media is a key enabler of facilitating this community. She communicates via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that her every success and breakthrough is also theirs, and typically announces her new singles and albums directly to her fans – even before the media is informed.
The Future Narrative – Where are we going?
The final pillar of leveraging social media to build and sustain a followership base is what I call the future narrative, or “Where are we going.” Lady Gaga communicates continuously to her fans via social media that together they can make the world a better place.
Gaga is involved in a number of social causes that resonate with her fans, and is passionate about how they can together make a difference. Since the beginning of her career she has been an outspoken activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, and has also become involved with anti-bullying initiatives. She has spoken about her own battle with bulimia, initiating a wider discussion about eating disorders amongst her followers.
Gaga has founded the “Born This Way Foundation (BTWF)”, a non-profit organization that focuses on the empowerment of young people and issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring, and career development. Her overwhelmingly positive message about how she wants the world to become a better place seems to resonate strongly with her millions of followers.
Lessons for all
Lady Gaga has emerged as a music industry phenomenon and astute adherent to the principles of followership. She has not only understood how to leverage social media to connect with her millions of fans in an intimate way, she has also demonstrated the impact of how this intimacy can deliver commercial results. Perhaps we should not be talking about the new economics of the Internet, but the Gaganomics of online followership.
If you liked this blog post, you might also like my TED Talk about the art of Followership.