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Friday, March 1, 2013

More Deep Thoughts: Celtic Thunder & Social Toaster

It has been a few days now since the dedicated core of the online Thunderheads discovered the new promotional program Celtic Thunder launched this week with Social Toaster. Within hours of this group realizing it was not a hoax, the Thunderheads mobilized their efforts to ensure that no Thunderheads who wished to 'win' a shotglass, hat or t-shirt through this program would be left out. Even before the Thunderheads from outside North America were re-included in the program these Thunderheads, too, were included in the collective efforts to help everyone gain the points necessary to win prizes. (For a brief time there was a clause in the official rules limiting eligibility for prizes to just those who legally reside in the US or Canada, though to the credit of Celtic Thunder and Social Toaster, it did not take long for this clause to be removed once Thunderheads made it clear they were very unhappy with such restrictions.) I, as a music blogger and someone very interested in music marketing and promotions, am very interested in how this program works out, whether I win anything or not in the course of my participation. (I had pretty much decided I was not playing with the intention of winning anything, but in the course of helping my fellow Thunderheads, I might just wind enough with enough points after all to win something.)

So, how is the program going so far, from the Thunderheads' end of the game? Well, from what I have seen, the initial momentum of the first few days is now starting to die off. The website that is supposed to tally points seems to get bogged down by the enthusiasm of the Thunderheads currently participating. Whether this is true, or whether we as a group are not quite interpreting the points portion of the program correctly (perhaps we really haven't earned more points than we see, and simply expect more points because we understood the roles wrong), it is very frustrating for those who have not yet reached 4000 points (the lowest prize level) to see their points totals barely change from one day to the next despite everyone helping everyone else out just about equally.

There may also be some free-ridership built into our end of this game, of course- it may occur to some Thunderheads to say they are helping everyone else without actually doing so, in order to gain points relative to everyone else. We have no way of really monitoring free-rider behavior, but in the spirit of the game as most Thunderheads seem to see it, if a few of these free-riding folks also get shot glasses, they are after all still part of the community. I'm not sure anyone is really all that stoked about getting a shot glass anyway; the experience of winning something is probably the bigger motivator in all this, even if most of us will also enjoy whatever prizes come our way.
Most of us who use our twitter accounts professionally or to keep in touch with lots of non-Thunderhead people have simply not taken advantage of the twitter portion of the program as much, rather than scare away valuable contacts with Celtic Thunder spam. Even so, for a brief while there were lots of Celtic Thunder related tweets streaming through my twitterfeed, a lot more than usual, though most were not messages I would wish to retweet. After an initial flurry of posting, which gradually led to fewer and fewer points showing up on their social toaster accounts, many Thunderheads seem to have drifted away and the volume of Celtic Thunder tweets in my twitterfeed has dropped back despite my following more Thunderheads now. (Just as happens when training pigeons to peck levers, if you stop rewarding fans reliably when they post messages with key words on their social media accounts they eventually stop posting.) I had thought maybe if handled right that the act of rewarding fans for tweeting might cause Celtic Thunder or Mythology to trend in some places, but I am not so sure now that I've seen how this program actually is working.

Another source of points in this program besides posting and interacting with posts on facebook and twitter is of course recruiting. Get a friend to join the program and you get points, a pretty simple idea most of us have seen before in other programs. But, as I have seen for myself while watching the hit-counts for my posts on Ryan Kelly's accident last year, the Thunderheads who are actually online regularly on social media are but a small subset of the total population of Thunderheads. Most of the folks who are actively involved in the social toaster program now are also fans who were online and decidedly aware of the fact that Ryan Kelly had that terrible accident he survived last summer. The hundreds of hits I've seen every month on the posts I wrote about that event are from all those other fans who go online to find out more about something they already encountered in 'real life'. (Every time Ryan talked about his accident at a Celtic Thunder concert this past tour, another few fans would wind up on my blog reading those posts after the show.) These are a huge portion of the Thunderhead fan community, of course, but they are not yet online to see all the posts currently being generated by Celtic Thunder's Social Toaster Guinea Pig Thunderheads. Most of the Celtic Thunder fans who are online have already seen and followed links to join the program by now, so while the Thunderheads are actively recruiting still, they are getting far fewer points from recruiting than they were earning earlier this week.

Has the program led to any positive results so far? Within the online Thunderheads' portion of our fan community, the biggest effect this program has had is with respect to our internal cohesiveness. In order to 'like' and comment on each other's facebook posts we have to be facebook friends. All of a sudden we all have a lot more Thunderhead facebook friends, and are following each other on twitter as well. This is actually a huge benefit for Celtic Thunder, and one that had not developed without the recently added influence of Social Toaster. And, through the course of our activities as the Thunderheads continue helping each other towards more points and those prize shot glasses (&hats & t-shirts) there are suddenly lots of conversations taking place among all these fans, creating a truly social community rather than just a bunch of fans all obsessed about the same Irish (and Scottish) men. Will it last? We'll just have to see. There are of course ways Celtic Thunder could use social toaster to encourage a continuation of this sort of community development, and I'm sure they have better ideas than what I could suggest. [I do think that electronic rewards, like sound downloads, photos (maybe even digital photos that have been personally signed, a much cheaper option that mailing photographs), or tweets from the musicians would work just as well as the current prizes offered.]

The one part of the points system we have yet to try out, for the most part (I don't know if some fans are getting content sent to them so far) is the bit about earning points for sharing content. We've seen the week's Celtic Thunder video of the week post now, and it has begun filtering its way onto every Thunderhead's facebook wall (KeithHarkin & the rest of Celtic Thunder performing "Now We Are Free", a cover of Lisa Gerrard's gorgeous song, which many people know from the Gladiator soundtrack, embedded below).


We have also all seen the blog post Sharon Browne put up yesterday, though I did not see any mention of it from Celtic Thunder on facebook, twitter or my email. All of the Thunderheads who are teamed up to win the social toaster prizes together also all know what cities Celtic Thunder will be in for their fall 2013 Mythology tour, and have started planning out which ones they will be attending and how they might make it to a few more shows. I would have expected that this sort of information would be on the queue of materials fans were supposed to share to earn points, so I was a bit surprised that we have the schedule without yet having any emails to share information from, but as I said earlier, Thunderheads share stuff like this anyway. We also have been sharing Keith Harkin's tour schedule, which I am not so sure would have been on an information sharing queue for Celtic Thunder. How our behavior changes once we start receiving material via email through Social Toaster remains to be seen. Points, prizes and recognition would indeed be nice, and may be long overdue to some of the most dedicated Thunderheads, but it seems to me that the value to Celtic Thunder in using Social Toaster so far is in the group cohesion we have been developing all week that makes information sharing faster and easier, rather than the actual sharing of Celtic Thunder news which would have happened anyway.

The fact that the 2013 tour schedule is spreading itself through our community may be one of the better demonstrations of the potential for Social Toaster to benefit Celtic Thunder, actually, so long as Celtic Thunder is prepared for us Thunderheads. Back in June and July of last year, when Ryan was still in the hospital and Colm had been brought in all of a sudden to fill in for Ryan in his absence in Atlantic City, the Thunderheads online were united around supporting Ryan and his friends and family. While overall being extremely respectful of Ryan's privacy and the feelings of the Celtic Thunder musicians and management, the Thunderheads also were very decidedly not willing to be left out. Had Sharon Browne not responded publicly to all the fans when she did, I am sure noting any of us could have done would have stopped the nasty rumors and anti-Celtic Thunder sentiments that would have started finding their way online. I'd imagine that this sort of fan community might seem a bit more like a trained lion, powerful if treated well, but also potentially very dangerous, and I really hope going forward that Celtic Thunder remains as dedicated as always, if not more so, to their devoted Thunderheads.

[I should add here that first of all, this is my own personal perspective, though I have tried to gain as broad a perspective as I could through communications with other Thunderheads. Second, while this is my own personal perspective, and my own blog, the other active Thunderheads do read these posts, and I hope will add their own perspectives in the comments, especially if their own perspective is not well represented by what I have written here. We are all aware that this program through Social Toaster is new and that we are guinea pigs helping to road test the system, so for all our gripes, I suspect most of us are more focused on the growing community we are involved in, rather than on the seemingly lagging point totals and occasional confusion about what all earns points in the first place.]


  1. Great job you semm to have covered alot of the way I feel...and I can't seem to think of any thing new to add at this point...I would like to as how wre you able to get this viedo

    1. Thanks Terri! I always love getting positive feedback :) As for the video, vimeo videos often have an embed code, just as youtube videos do, that allows you to share the video without stealing it. For vimeo videos if you right-click on the video and click on the option to copy the embed code, that will copy the html so you can paste it into whatever html document you are working on. This option is not always available, but when it is, it certainly looks a lot better than just a link (really any site looks better with a sexy fellow like Keith Harkin displayed on it somewhere, as is the case with this week's Celtic Thunder featured video ;)

  2. Awesome! Finding you through #ThunderHeads is like winning a prize. I always wondered about that embeded code. Thank you for explaining so many things on #ThunderHeads too, you've been so helpful to many of us! Love this site.