Taylor Swift is undoubtedly the ‘it’ girl of the moment, and while her catchy pop tracks can get even the most cynical hipsters toe-tapping, more often than not it’s her fan base that are pushing her cause more than any PR team.

Case in point – the social media uproar that is #Tay4Hottest100. For those unfamiliar with this hashtag (it started in Australia after all), the campaign is an attempt to get people to vote for Taylor’s popular song ‘Shake it Off’ to make it number one on the triple j Hottest 100 – the world’s largest music democracy that surmounts to a hugely popular Australia Day (26 January) countdown of the previous year’s 100 most popular songs.

My work here is done #Tay4Hottest100 pic.twitter.com/iAsygO6WXZ

— Tim Dunlop (@tim_dunlop) January 16, 2015

So, what’s the problem? The song was hugely popular? Well, the radio station in question – triple j – has a focus on recognising music that is generally alternative, Australian, and not necessarily well known to the masses (so definitely not Taylor Swift). However, creative and sneaky Taylor Swift fans found it is possible to add songs to the voting poll instead of being stuck with triple j’s broadcasted list with the help of Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano. Since then, the #Tay4Hottest100 campaign has exploded, but all the work has been done by Taylor’s fans – not her PR team or herself. So, what can the Taylor Swift effect teach us about audience engagement on social media?

Lesson One: Blank Space

It goes without saying that a social media presence is compulsory regardless of who you are and what your business does. If you’re not on social media, you’ll almost certainly be deemed irrelevant. As a business, your social media accounts are as important (if not more so) than your website. But while a presence is great – more needs to be done. Don’t treat your accounts as a blank space or one with generic content. Your posts should create a voice for your brand so that you become relatable and human – not just a robot behind a computer screen.

Lesson Two: Shake it Off

If your strategy is that described above – it’s time to shake it off. Be more engaging! Don’t be afraid to engage on a personal level with people talking to your brand or those having discussions on topics that are relevant to your brand. It’s all very well to push out content aimed at your ‘target audience’, but how do you know your target audience is who’s actually following you? Seek them out, show them that you care and hear what they’re saying, and use the feedback to tailor (pun-intended) your social strategy accordingly. Taylor Swift’s success is entirely in her personal engagement with fans, particularly on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter – and she’s not afraid to be extreme. At Christmas she surprised some of her most dedicated Tumblr fans with personalised Christmas gifts. She learnt about those fans from their social media accounts to decide what to buy them and send to their homes – you can tell by their reactions they won’t be abandoning her any time soon.

I experienced so many moments of true love this year, and all of them were with you. Here’s to more magic in 2015. http://t.co/nASjxS9Cl7

— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) December 31, 2014

Lesson Three: Everything has Changed

When you can start interacting with your audience you’ll see with time that everything has changed. You know them better, you can sharpen your content postings because you KNOW what draws results, and eventually you may find you have your own brand ambassadors (like Taylor’s) who are pushing your cause for you.

That’s not to say it works for everyone – no social media strategy is fool proof, but it’s certainly worth trying and doesn’t go unnoticed. Taylor showed her fans she was listening back in September by bringing a Tumblr post to reality with the “no it’s Becky” t-shirt – naturally, Twitter all but exploded.

Lesson Four: Love Story

In a perfect world, this is your social media love story. It’s a slow-burn brand-building exercise that, with the correct execution, can take a lot of hard work out of your day. It’s certainly easy to see how having supporters or customers of your brand’s endorsements will be more successful than your own – they’re more trustworthy!

I can’t thank you enough for making 1989 the best selling album of 2014. NOW LETS GO CELEBRATE! See you on ABC @OfficialNYRE tonight!

— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) December 31, 2014

Lesson Five: Bad Blood

That said, you can do everything perfectly but the haters are still gonna hate, hate, hate. The key thing with audience engagement is not to hijack issues that will damage your cause. For instance, you may jump on the back of a hashtag with some kind of relevance to your brand to try and boost engagement. This can backfire, as it did for KFC with #Tay4Hottest100, when the fast-food chain (maybe) almost ruined the campaign. That’s a fairly light example though, and these situations can be much worse – as it was recently for The Hoxton Hotel following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Remember to be smart, and know why something it trending before you contribute to it.

As for the #Tay4Hottest100 trend – I’m an Australian who’s on board with it. I love her and the Hottest 100 – so why can’t we have both?


Do you ever strike up a conversation and midway through it, walk away?  I bet you don’t in real life, unless you’re a very rude person. Start as you mean to go on, by following it through.

Looking at the three points in my previous blog post about ‘resisting conversations’, I still have a few more questions.  Are the brands that are not participating in social media having conversations with their audience, or are they just initiating a conversation and then leaving the audience to work the rest out for itself?  Does traditional marketing, advertising and PR not allow the conversation to continue?

Maybe that’s it: if you don’t engage and interact with your audience, are you just an orator telling your audience what you think they want to hear?

Would your strategy be any different from the ancient Romans, like Cicero, who believed that through oration his political thoughts would spread by word of mouth?  Perhaps this is where the problem lies.  Many brands are comfortable starting a conversation – laying the seed for discussion, so to speak – but when it actually comes down to continuing the conversation, they vanish and hide behind their desks.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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