Hip-Hop Marketing: An Interview with Nah Right’s Eskay

I don’t do a ton of interviews, in fact I’ve only done two in this site’s history. One with Craig Newmark of Craigslist and one with Alex Bogusky formerly of CP+B. I only interview folks who I think bring a unique perspective to social media marketing.

Nah Right is considered one of the most influential Hip-Hop blogs on the web. And as a fan of rap, I often learn a ton about marketing from it. So I decided to interview Nah Right’s founder Eskay about his thoughts on marketing in the industry.

DZ: A lot of rap artists are getting involved in Twitter and doing very well with stuff like trending hashtags. Does social media actually sell records?

Eskay: I think social media contributes to the public’s awareness about an artist and that awareness then (hopefully) turns into album or single sales. Social media in the context of any recording artist is a marketing tool, and like any marketing tool can backfire on you and end up hurting you if you don’t put enough thought into it.

DZ: Beyond record and ticket sales what are Hip-Hop marketers measuring? What should they be measuring, what’s the most important metric? Followers, fans, mix tape downloads, etc?

Eskay: I think that online, it’s an artist’s overall digital footprint. How many pageviews does their website get? How many Twitter followers? How many retweets, how many Facebook friends/fans, number of mixtape downloads and Youtube views, all of that stuff can give you a picture of what kind of noise a particular act is making. At the same time though, I think you have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. On the “rap Internet”, numbers are often fabricated by dishonest artists and sites, and even legitimate numbers can fail to give you an accurate picture of how many people somebody might be reaching. I think it’s still really important to get out to the streets and shows and clubs and get a real feel for what people are connecting with.

DZ: There are a ton of examples of famous rappers becoming lifestyle brands with movies, clothing, books, beverages, etc: Diddy, Jay-Z, Dr Dre, 50 Cent, etc. What’s the key to getting this right?

Eskay: Any celebrity can sell any reasonably decent product to fans. Within the Hip-Hop community if you can maintain your integrity and not give the impression that you are selling out in any way, people will allow you to market to them. It’s an entrepreneurial culture and so for the most part I think we try to respect and support each other’s business ventures.

DZ: Jay-Z just started a lifestyle website, LifeAndTimes.com, with surprisingly little fan fare. What are your thoughts on the way he launched it?

Eskay: Personally, I’ve seen scores of artists and personalities pour tons of money and marketing muscle into launches for websites, products and services and 9 times out of 10, whatever they are selling doesn’t live up to the hoopla that preceded it. I think the quiet, guerrilla approach has its benefits. Jay knows that whatever he launches, rap and music blogs are going to cover it in excruciating detail no matter what, so why waste time and energy on a marketing campaign? The audience you’re looking for are blog readers and bloggers and you already have a built in marketing channel with those people. Plus it gives the site that kind of indie, Tumblr-esque, only-the-cool-people-know-about-this vibe that everybody responds to these days.

DZ: What are some of your favorite examples of established rappers marketing new projects?

Eskay: Honestly, nothing comes to mind. I think most of the really cool marketing stuff is happening with the smaller indie artists and labels like Duck Down, Rhymesayers and Stone’s Throw. I can’t think of a specific campaign but I know those labels always try to go a little left field. Most of the major labels are just horrible. There’s very little creativity coming out of those places. It’s like: street single, viral video, actual single, moderately budgeted video, 106th and Park appearance, release date.

DZ: I’ve written a lot about the use of social proof online. What role do you think it plays in Hip-Hop marketing?

Eskay: I’d say it’s enormously important. For all of our individuality, the Hip-Hop culture breeds sheep. In the online space, getting your music posted on the right blogs has become incredibly important to some artists, moreso than even the quality of the music they’re putting out it seems. And it becomes a situation where PR people and label flunkies hound a handful of blogs for coverage, knowing that it will probably turn into more widespread coverage if they can just get so-and-so to pay attention. But from the blogger’s perspective it just adds to the overflow of content being shoved down our throats on a daily basis and can end up being, in my opinion, detrimental to the artists. I’ve been known to ignore artists simply because their PR rep is so mindnumbingly annoying.

Beyond the Internet, I think social proof also plays a huge role in whether or not an artist’s career ever gets off the ground in the first place. Above almost everything else in Hip-Hop, fans want authenticity and without it you’re dead int he water. A lot of people hear the word authenticity in the context of Hip-Hop and equate it with street cred, but that’s not what I mean. You can be an emo skater rapper from some bumfuck town in the midwest but if you’re repping emo skater rappers from the midwest, and you’re repping them in a way that emo skater rap fans from the midwest feel is authentic, then you’re golden.

DZ: Conflict has been identified as a positive boost for certain rappers. Nas and Jay-Z come to mind. Do you think lyrical confrontation is a valid marketing strategy for up-and-coming artists?

Eskay: Yes and no. We’re at a point where fans are very savvy to all of the smoke and mirrors that artists and labels employ to get publicity. It’s to the point now where an artist will be involved in some kind of criminal incident or public dispute and people will immediately flock to Twitter and blogs to denounce it as a publicity stunt, even when it clearly is not. So yes, beef will almost always get you some kind of attention, but it might not be the type of attention you were looking for.

But to answer your question, I think beef is probably a better marketing tool for established rappers rather than new artists trying to make a name. Unless you’re involved in a conflict with a high profile artist, and that person is actually playing along and engaging you, nobody is going to particularly care why you’re mad at that person. My personal opinion? Leave the beef alone and focus on making great music and when you’re established you can ruffle whatever feathers you feel still need ruffling.

DZ: Certain lyrics are referenced over and over again. What do you think is the key to writing contagious lines?

Eskay: I honestly could not tell you. If I knew, I might have a rap career!

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite marketing lessons from Hip-Hop?

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Need to Justify Social Media? Use Real Numbers About Real Money

With so much unicorns and rainbow nonsense floating around the web, it’s easy for your boss to think of social media as little more than wasting time on Facebook. When the thought leaders are saying it’s impossible to measure the ROI of social media, it’s no surprise executives are wary of investing in it.

If your boss asks you to justify the time you’re spending on Twitter, asking him what the ROI of putting your pants on in the morning isn’t going to get you far. Is it?

The antidote to the puffery rampant in social media circles is science. Hard data and facts about social media. Numbers-based measurement of reliable and repeatable campaigns is the only way social media will become a respectable field.

Businesses exist to make money, not friends. It can be easier to get our friends to become paying customers, but it’s the customer part that’s the real goal, not the friendship. Social media must be measured in dollars and cents. And if it can’t be, it doesn’t make sense to keep doing it.

Measuring stuff like “engagement” or “reach” is great, and I recommend advanced social media users do it. But you must understand that those numbers are merely proxy metrics for what really matters: the bottom line.

The amount of actual, hard money your social media marketing efforts are generating is the first and most important thing you should be measuring. Don’t worry about measuring anything else until you can do that.

It’s not really all that hard to measure the ROI of social media either. Worry about accuracy rather than precision. If I step on a scale and it tells me how much I weigh in whole numbers, that’s accurate but not precise. A digital lab scale would tell me how much I weigh in decimal, to the tenth or hundredth place.

Use coupon codes, referrer analytics, tracking tokens, special offers and landing pages. Get a baseline for how much cash social media is bringing in. If you miss a few sales here or there, that’s not a big deal. In fact if your efforts are only producing barely enough sales to be worthwhile, you’re doing something wrong. Obsessively track the up or down movement of that dollar amount.

Don’t let customer service or PR users of social media off the hook either. Customer service on Twitter can be faster than on the phone or via email, so calculate the cost per ticket saved, and the customer loss prevented.

For the PR folks: ask customers how they heard about you. Again, it’s about accuracy not precision here. Your work should be bringing in overwhelming numbers, so a few missed decimal places shouldn’t be the end of the world.

And if you’re not doing that, don’t be surprised when it’s an uphill battle to convince others that what you’re doing is worthwhile.

Print that image at the top of this post and hang it wherever folks need to be reminded.

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[Infographic] 5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Get More Followers

For more mythbusting and social media science, don’t forget to buy my book: Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness.

For marketers the most important use of Twitter is to increase your reach to spread your content. To do this, you need to get more followers. Sure there are customer service uses of Twitter, but for
marketing purposes, follower count is key.

I’ve been doing research for a few years now on how to get more followers, and here are some of the most important points I’ve found. You can find details about each point under the infographic.

1. Show Us Who You Are

When you sign up for Twitter, you’re asked to provide 3 pieces of personal information: a bio, a homepage link and a picture. Many more accounts than you’d expect don’t do these simple things. But accounts that do take the time, have many more follower than those that don’t. So show us who you are.

2. Stop Talking About Yourself

What I found here is pretty clear, accounts that have more followers do not tend to talk about themselves much. Imagine meeting someone at a cocktail party who did nothing but talk about themselves all night long. Would you want to listen to them for very long?
Want more followers? Stop talking about yourself.

3. Don’t Just Converse

When you look at the average reply percentage of folks with over 1,000 followers and compare it to the reply percentage of users with less than 1,000 followers what you find is interesting. Users with lots of followers respond much less frequently. The effect is the same when you compare users with more than 1,000,000 followers with those that have less.

4. Identify Yourself Authoritatively

One of my favorite unicorns-and-rainbows myths to pick on is the dog-eared “don’t call yourself a guru.” I’ve heard said a bunch of different ways, and it’s present anytime someone maligns the term “social media expert” or suggests there is no such thing. It turns out though, that when you pull the rainbow-colored wool from your eyes and look at actual data, Twitter accounts that use the word “guru” tend to have 100 more followers than the average Twitter account.

Now, I don’t think the takeaway here should be to call yourself a guru at every opportunity, but if you look at the rest of the words on the list, you should realize that you need to identify yourself authoritatively

5. Don’t be a Debbie Downer

Negative remarks include things like sadness, aggression, negative emotions and feelings, and morbid comments. Nobody likes to follow a Debbie Downer accounts with lots of followers don’t tend to make many negative remarks. If you want more followers, cheer up!
There is no empirical data to suggest that conversations lead to increased reach on Twitter.

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Write a #UnicornsAndRainbows Rhyme and Win a @MIMOBOT

See that little guy to the left? That’s Dr. Knowledgeus. He’s the mad scientist of the MIMOBOT designer USB drive world.

If you’ve seen me speak or read my site, you know how I feel about Unicorns and Rainbows. Feel good advice based on dangerous and naive assumptions. My goal as the mad social media scientist is to debunk the unicorns and rainbows myths one by one.

In celebration of all other mad scientists out there, I talked to the folks at Mimoco (which is a cool company) and they agreed to partner with me to give away three (3) of their Dr. Knowledgeus 4GB MIMOBOT USB flash drives in the name of social media (mad) science.

All you have to do to enter is write a rhyme about science vs unicorns-and-rainbows (or 30, you can enter as many times as you want) and tweet it with the hashtag #UnicornsAndRainbows. On Friday we’ll pick the best three and send you off your own little mad scientist.

Check out some of the rhymes so far:

Be sure to check out Mimoco on Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter.

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