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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Deep Thoughts on Celtic Thunder's SocialToaster Adventure

A short while ago, Celtic Thunder rolled out a new social media marketing toy that on the surface seemed like a really cool idea. Actually, I still think it could be really cool, but after playing with it for a few days and seeing the reactions of the other Thunderheads to this new site, my original concerns are weighing heavily against this tool as it is being managed now. Of course, Celtic Thunder is somewhat between gigs at the moment, with all the lads and the band off until this week on a well-deserved mini-holiday before their March promo tour in the US. So, while this socialtoaster thing is frustrating a lot of fans, and not accomplishing much to show for it, perhaps this tool was simply rolled out too early and will work more smoothly once the band and its marketing department are in full swing again. If there's one thing I can always find to gripe about with this band, it is the occasional but very visible PR issues that seem to crop up every few months, possibly whittling away a few more loyal Thunderheads from the fanbase with each PR crisis. Hopefully this socialtoaster experiment doesn't become the next PR 'crisis'.

Social Toaster is a company which facilitates marketing through fans. From their own website: "SocialToaster is a hosted software platform that helps brands maximize their reach through the social networks. Our platform is designed to make it easy for organizations to identify and enlist their loyal supporter as Super Fans; vocal enthusiasts that are proud to share the brand’s regular content to their personal friend networks. SocialToaster allows your organization’s Super Fans to drive traffic to your web site by granting your organization permission to automatically post links to their profiles on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn. SocialToaster is the only solution of its kind to provide advanced real-time reporting and social analytics that featurers full end-to-end tracking from initial link promotion through to lead-capture and revenue generation." 
Points scheme for
Celtic Thunder's
Social Toaster

In the US, anyway, and for music & entertainment companies, I'm not so sure what benefit LinkedIn would be, and who uses Myspace anymore? I would have wished for a Tumblr and a Pinterest option, given the current patterns of Thunderhead social media use. That aside, this is basically an app that obtains permission from you, the fan, to post things on your behalf concerning the company and its products, only you also get points for sharing these posts on your twitter, facebook, etc. These points are the clever part of this marketing tool. Companies can set up prizes and rewards for their fans, and can base these on the points fans have earned by posting links to recruit new fan participants, posting status updates with certain keywords, and posting content sent to the fans for dissemination. 

So far, so good. Thunderheads love prizes and recognition as much as any fans, and we clearly love promoting our beloved band already, so how hard could it be to set up a system that recognizes these already dedicated fans and gives them cool merchandise? Well, first of all, we've had to address the fact that the prizes are only available to legal residents of the US and Canada. Having just finished a tour in Australia and New Zealand, it should not come as a surprise to this band that the fans from that part of the planet might be very enthusiastic about participating in this activity. Several of the most active Thunderheads in our whole Thunderhead community are from Australia, and these ladies are already clearly 'superfans', whether they can receive prizes through the new Celtic Thunder Social Toaster scheme or not. Sure, bypassing the Aussie fans on the leaderboard might mean I could actually win something (not wanting to completely spam my dear followers and readers means I am only barely participating in some of the link sharing aspects of the social toaster game, thus I rank somewhere near 160th right now, and drop a bit every time new fans start playing). But, I don't really want a Celtic Thunder shot glass and really none of the prizes are worth accepting artificial divisions in our fan community. 

Unfortunately for the success of the current social toaster set-up, we don't need Celtic Thunder to start deciding who is a ThunderHead, and we don't need to join any site or group to be one either. The Thunderheads emerged quite organically as honest fans of an excellent music group that brings its collection of lovely people on tour through our cities every year and fills our PBS stations' schedules with reruns of old Celtic Thunder shows. So long as Celtic Thunder remains a show promoted primarily through PBS, QVC and morning news-channel talk shows, it will retain pretty much the same fans as always. 

I get the impression that posting more about Celtic Thunder is meant to attract new fans, not just bug the heck out of the existing ones. The majority of the crowds at any music show I have been to this past year have no clue who Celtic Thunder is, because these crowds are full of people who listen to NPR and satellite radio, or who use the internet for most of their news and music. These crowds wouldn't be caught dead shopping on QVC, and have not watched PBS willingly since they left middle school, at least. Perhaps through posting more, and more often about Celtic Thunder, we'll draw in these crowds that PBS, QVC and local morning shows fail to reach. The Thunderheads are already promoting Celtic Thunder, however, and will continue to do so- whatever sour taste Social Toaster might have left in the mouths of some of us, we still all consider the Celtic Thunder folks to be sort of an adopted extended family. But, I'm not so sure that spamming our friends is the way to go about successfully promoting this band. At least all this posting will drive up stats online so that Celtic Thunder looks more popular on facebook and twitter, which is one way to play the social media popularity game.

Prizes and rewards would be nice, sure, even if the scheme isn't perfect, and I'm certain that all the fans who have participated in the Social Toaster experiment so far loved the free download they got of Emmet Cahill singing "Spanish Lady". I can certainly see how Celtic Thunder might use Social Toaster in ways that benefit everyone, especially if they actually start generating content for us to share, and if they can figure out some more rewards that, like that free download,d are available to all Thunderheads regardless of country.



The prizes, which only the first 100 or 120 Thunderheads win
(it seems unclear whether the folks who win the shot glass
 also can win the tshirts and the cap, in which case
only the top 120 fans will win anything at all.)
One other concern I'll mention now is with the competitive aspect of the prizes that Celtic Thunder has set up so far. Celtic Thunder fans are very supportive of each other, and tend to bypass a lot of the jockying for position and status that one sees in many fan communities. All of us are quite fond of all the lads who sing for Celtic Thunder, but when particular fans latch onto particular lads as their 'future husband' or similar obsession, this is simply absorbed into the structure of our community. We celebrate with these obsessed/infatuated fans when their beloved singers retweet them or otherwise respond to them, and rarely do we see any sign of intolerance or jealousy when other fans confess to also loving these men. 
(There are only 6 principal singers, and thousands of infatuated fans, so the math would suggest that we'll all have to share anyway or be very unhappy.) Some of us take pictures or draw or make crafts that catch the attention of the Celtic Thunder singers, and here, too, the rest of the Thunderheads are glad to see that these creative fans are recognized. So, with the competition element of the Social Toaster site, I'd wager that most of us can already guess who the top 20 names will be on the leaderboard, and we're cool with that- cool enough to defeat the purpose of the competition perhaps, since the folks at the top now are the because the rest of us are happy to help them gain more points to win those shot glasses, t-shirts and caps, if it makes them happy. 



It is early still in this experiment, so maybe it will turn out alright once Celtic Thunder shows up in North America for their promo tour next month. And, while with my luck the prize cap will be one with that stiff mesh under the front embroidery (those always fit weird on small heads like mine), I do love hats, and a bright red Celtic Thunder hat would be a fun addition to my collection, if I ever could get enough points fast enough. I'm not holding my breath about that hat, really, but I will most likely revisit this topic later, as it is an interesting application of a cool social media marketing tool to promote one of my favorite companies.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Ravenmount, thank you very much for this post and for providing insight into the mindset of Celtic Thunder's fans. This is a brand new program that we've launched with Celtic Thunder, and each program is slightly different based on the fans supporting it. You are correct in that the primary goal of the program is to help enable existing fans to promote Celtic Thunder to a broader audience, and to recognize those fans that are supporting this effort. Your feedback though, about how Celtic Thunder fans are more supportive of each other, as opposed to competitive, is something that we've heard from multiple clients. As such, we're working on building out features that will support more of a community mindset, allowing fans to use out platform as another way to connect with one another. Additionally, since we just launched the program a few days ago, we are actively monitoring how it is performing and are taking in feedback from fans like you to continue to tweak and evolve the program to make it something that the fans will truly appreciate. We are working very hard with Verve and Celtic Thunder to ensure that this is a good experience and positive program for all the fans, and I want to let you know personally that your comments have been heard, and that I will take them back to the team to see how we might make adjustments that can improve the experience. We appreciate you giving the program a try and being patient with us as we tune it to find the right balance that will work for you guys. If you want to connect with me I am on Twitter at @razzaque and I would welcome any other insight you might have on how we can improve.

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