“My role is to be of service to artists so they can achieve their goals... Sometimes it’s just about showing them they have the power.”


Twitter’s Tatiana Simonian on Boosting Artists’ Brands—140 Characters at a Time

By Simon Glickman

If you think Twitter’s value for promoting your music brand is limited to hyping releases, linking to tour dates and sending out alerts about tomorrow night’s appearance on Kimmel, the social-media giant’s head of music, Tatiana Simonian, would like a word with you.

“Artists always say they’re all about the fans,” says the Cali native, who’s based in L.A. (Twitter has offices in Santa Monica and is headquartered in San Francisco.) “But if you’re really all about the fans you’ll be a concierge to them. Every fan wants to feel closer to an artist, and Twitter offers a unique opportunity for artists to develop that relationship creatively.”

Because of their strict 140-character limit, tweets enforce a certain economy not found on Facebook or blogs, where participants often post long, rambling tributes. So artists can read and respond to a far greater volume of fan messages on Twitter, streamlining interaction. “If bands dedicate one hour a day to their Twitter feeds, they can reply to a huge number of fans,” Simonian points out.

Certain artists, she notes, have a particular facility for the format. “If Gavin Rossdale is bored at the airport, he’ll invite fans to ask him questions for 20 minutes,” she reports. Such interactions simply aren’t feasible elsewhere—at least not without twitchy handlers pointing at their Omegas—and they are the gold standard of artist brand-building, because they offer the artist’s devotees what they want most: direct, unmediated access to their idols.

When hardcore fans get a direct reply or a retweet from an artist, the impact is huge—and often trumpeted to the fan’s own followers. “It’s like meeting your idol, but it lasts longer,” Simonian muses. “Pop fans will say ‘@onedirection added me on this date,’ or ‘@SelenaGomez followed me on this date.’”

It’s important that in addition to being active, artists make sure they’re attentive to fans’ thoughts and feelings. “If you show them in an authentic way that you care what they think, they’ll be more loyal to you,” she says. “You’re the loyalty program. And every @ reply or retweet is like cashing in points for that fan.”

She points to pop queen Katy Perry’s use of her account to solicit fan input on potential singles and other decisions—simultaneously amping up excitement in her base and providing laser-targeted market research. “Katy’s Twitter is completely owned by her,” Simonian emphasizes. “Nobody’s telling her what to tweet about. It’s authentic and she has creative control. In order to be effective, it has to be—which is a relief to most artists, because they don’t have to share a piece of it with anyone.”

But perhaps the most compelling examples of Twitter’s impact come from artists who aren’t superstars. Take indie singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer, who’s closing in on 600,000 followers as I write this. “Amanda rules Twitter,” Simonian marvels. “Someone asked her to pick her dream collaborator, if she could collaborate with anyone, and she said, ‘Twitter.’ She’s a genius with it, and has been for years, since she had 30,000 followers—which is part of why she’s been able to raise nearly $1.2 million using [grassroots fundraising tool] Kickstarter.”

A case in point: Palmer was hanging out at home one Friday night in 2009, and on Twitter, as ever, when she peremptorily “called to order” the Losers of Friday Night on Their Computers (slogan: “Don’t stand up for what’s right—stay in for what’s wrong”). Her fans jumped at the opportunity to be part of this club, sending the term to the top of Twitter’s coveted trending topics list. A T-shirt hastily designed that evening was offered for $25 with free shipping anywhere in the world; Palmer hauled in $120,000 in a single day, and $11,000 of that in the first two hours.

“For music it’s the Wild West,” Simonian insists. “There’s so much that has and still can be done.” Blur, for example, unveiled two songs through a live performance streamed on their account; Jennifer Lopez premiered a video that could only be unlocked by following a chain of tweets from Good Morning America and other TV shows; others have set a certain number of specific tweets as a threshold for unlocking content.

For those who need a little inspiration, Simonian has created “Twitter for Musicians and Artists,” a document filled with general guidance (“your tweets should reflect what you’re passionate about”), specific tips (use hashtags) and tweets originally posted by Perry, Gomez, Bruno Mars and other artists. She promises some new initiatives in the near future.

Simonian, who grew up in the sleepy eastside outpost of Whittier, brings a particularly rounded perspective to her job. A seasoned musician herself, she played in bands on L.A.’s fertile Silver Lake scene before becoming a music journalist, writing for the L.A. Weekly, L.A. Times and RollingStone.com, among other organs. It was in her capacity as a self-promoting artist, though, that she honed the skills that would lead her to the forefront of the social-networking world.

“I had a MySpace page and taught myself html,” she recalls. “Pretty soon other bands were asking me to help them trick out their MySpace pages. It wasn’t a long-range career strategy—I was just helping out,” she says. She later worked for rock-heavy clothing brand Hot Topic, which tasked her with the creation of its social-media strategy; she performed the same duties for Smashing Pumpkins.

Next came gigs at a selection of web startups, but, she admits, “The further from music it got, the less happy I was.” So she jumped at the chance to work on social media for Disney Music Group, including Hollywood Records and the Mouse House’s various soundtracks. Twitter recruited her from her perch there.

Simonian’s post enables her to be the concierge of concierges. “I’m not selling anything,” she declares. “My role is to be of service to artists so they can achieve their goals—whether it’s an unsigned artist who wants to be the next Amanda Palmer, or the major-label artist who wants to establish a space that’s all her own. Sometimes it’s just about showing them that they have the power.”

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