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This week, Lady Gaga became the first person to exceed 20m followers on Twitter.

These are huge numbers, but volume rarely means anything on its own. The interesting point here is that this community really are her 'followers' - in namesake and in the way they respond to her.

They are more loyal than a brand could ever dream of, but there are some lessons that we can all take on board and implement when trying to build a community either online or off.

1. Look at existing behaviour and run with it

One of the biggest mistakes brands make when entering into the world of social media is a lack of response. Whether we’re talking about social customer service, or just engaging with people who love your brand, it’s very hard to do either well without there being some kind of interaction.

One of the things Gaga’s fans do regularly is to send her artwork, which she took note of, and responded by encouraging them to do so – with regular messages continuing this effort – and herself highlighting the best work.

All this leads to a stronger, more loyal relationship with her fans, since their efforts aren’t falling on deaf ears.

2. Invest and incentivise

Gaga is a pop icon, sure, and her work has undeniable viral appeal. But her team isn’t taking any chances. Not only has she personally invested in Backplane, a technology-based community platform, but she also uses Fancorps – another platform from which she leverages a street team of over 25,000.

Backplane’s first community site, LittleMonsters.com, is reminiscent of Pinterest, with Reddit-style up and down voting, a link to events and profiles.

Fancorps incentivises people to share the word of Gaga both online and offline, people are rewarded with points to be used against tracks or albums, tickets, collateral, virtual gifts and more.

3. Show your flaws

Gaga’s style is to stand out from the crowd. Maybe your brand is the same, maybe it isn’t. But the result of this tremendous media interest means that she’s constantly living in the limelight.

Instead of taking this popularity, and shying away from it, keeping things behind closed doors – she’s embraced it and flung open the doors. There are messages from her bedroom, videos shot backstage, interviews where she’ll open up about being scared about performing. The whole shebang. 

This is obviously the extreme of such an approach. She’s a person after all, and as such doesn’t have the same restrictions or legislation as many businesses – but the lesson is still valid. Just this month Trendwatching revealed it’s March briefing as the notion of ‘Flawsome’ – that brands who show their flaws will be loved anyway, and often, even more for doing so. 

4. She's true to her brand

It might be ever-changing, chameleon style, but Gaga’s brand knows itself like no other. It know its stance on equality, sexuality, friendship and more. These might not be issues that every brand needs to consider, but working out what your social voice is. 

Look at the language used by your community, use the same tone. Find out how they reference you, and respond. The ‘Mother Monster’/’Little Monsters’ reference was born from the ferociousness of her fans at a gig during the Monster Ball Tour. She listened, she responded, and the name stuck.

5. Change

Keeping people engaged for longer periods of time means exciting them. Sadly, attention spans are much shorter than they used to be, and so there’s a need to create a richer content plan now more than ever. 

But this can’t just be about what YOU think is interesting, you have to listen. Ask your community, conduct a poll, take a bunch of highly active users out to dinner, ask your staff what they get asked about the most (and incentivise THEM to help you).

Gaga is constantly giving her fans what they want, whether that’s the order of single releases, to the timing of launches and extended gig schedules. 


6. Authenticity

There are no holds barred with Gaga. What you see is what you get, she’s the one doing the talking.  You can tell this by the candid images and videos, to the way she talks online. She’s the one running the show.

Though it’s unlikely that a CEO could ever be the one to actually be the community manager for a company, there’s a way around this. A community manager can take the day-to-day role, with regular interaction with the CEO that’s managed by that person. For larger brands, this might be a team (see Blackberry’s Twitter feed as an exampple of this).

Gaga still has a team behind the scenes that keep all of her social presences ticking over, she just dips in and out when she has the time. 

7. Targeting like-minded people

To properly build a community, a scattergun approach will not work. There are too many forums, networks, games and apps for people to get involved with, and suck up their time.

For years, the benefits of mass-niche communities have been shouted from the rooftops, but now, this is tipped to be the 'future' of networked society.

Obviously, the love of Gaga means that naturally, her community is made up of likeminded people, but several other aspects of this post overlap here.

Being consistent in who your are as a brand means that you’ll attract those who relate to that. Don’t try and be everything to everyone, pick your audience, and stick to it. You can always evolve this over time though, it’s not written in stone. But clarity is important.

8. Gratitude

Without a doubt, the power of Gaga is her fans. Her crazy, loyal, would-do-anything-to-support-her fans. She knows that, and she tells them regularly. It’s the most simple aspect of her community management, it’s free and it takes no time at all.

Sometimes it’s a dedication, as found within Gaga’s Born This Way album, other times it’s a look behind the scenes or a speech when she picks up an award.

There are things you can do as a business to do the same; extending good news about growth, services or other things to shout about to customers and fans, giving them props and discounts in the process. Maybe you create a superfans group and give them some love on a regular basis to say thank you for helping extend your community management team.


9. Collaboration

Co-creation and collaboration is the name of the game at the moment. Well, it has been for a while really, but it’s matured enough to be of real use to a brand. Nokia’s just announced that it will centre a large of its international marketing strategy around this, just to show you how it’s evolved as a concept.

While Gaga uses this to create video montages and image galleries, businesses can do the same. Where Gaga asks her friends to raise awareness of issues, and send well wishes to friends, brands can use its fans to build better products, choose upcoming colours or flavours, and decided which charities to support.

But, I beg you, put yourself in the shoes of your community before you come with a new idea. Again, listen to what’s being said, and be flexible enough to respond. It’s imperative, or any investment will be utterly worthless. 

Vikki Chowney

Published 9 March, 2012 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

249 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Rebecca Nixon, Brand Executive at The IT Job Board

10: Be weird. Really, really weird.

over 4 years ago


Patricia Garcia

Dont be CONSERVATIVE and close-minded, like the above comment!

over 4 years ago


Jennifer Sites

Love it. This article is absolutely right. Gaga does everything you're supposed to do when it comes to engaging her little monsters, but she doesn't necessarily focus on the marketing aspect of it, it just comes naturally to her.

over 4 years ago


Luke W

‘The scattergun approach wont work’ applies not only to audience but also to location. The ‘mass-niche’ idea is still very important, and with the constant bubbling up of new places your brand ‘needs’ to be (puhpuhpuh pinter-what?) it’s important to remember on occasion that there should always be one place you can call ‘base’ for your community.

over 4 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

'Puhpuhpuh pinter-what?' - LOVE this.

over 4 years ago


Prabhat Shah

Like the idea abt targeting right kind of people. It does help to build a strong community.

over 4 years ago


Burnes Saint Patrick Hollyman

This why we love Lady Gaga... because she is the most brilliant and cynically-focused artist with the most amazing business sense we have ever seen since Warhol... (Madonna never worked it this well) check out Point #3 "Show Your Flaws" in the piece below ...she acts out this crying "low esteem confessional" sequence knowing it will go viral for her fans ... seems your writer was even fooled... and she tweets a bit...

over 4 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

Less 'fooled', more 'took the cue'...

over 4 years ago

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