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Social Media Wisdom from the Grateful Dead: Be Yourself

Social Media Wisdom from the Grateful Dead: Be Yourself

In this excerpt from their new book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan analyze the social media marketing wisdom of the iconoclastic rock band. 

By: David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan

In an era when many bands were known for their outrageous costumes and slick onstage personas, the Grateful Dead stood out. Shunning the glitter suits and makeup of glam rockers and the polished Mod look of the British bands, Grateful Dead members were simply themselves -- dope-smoking, music-loving, San Francisco hippies.

Band members appeared on stage looking a lot like their fans: donning long hair, scruffy beards and Birkenstocks, their look didn’t change much over the years. By the time Phil Lesh was in his forties, he looked less like an aging rocker and more like someone’s mild-mannered next-door neighbor as he played bass guitar in his jeans and T-shirt. In fact, he looked a lot like many of the aging Deadheads in the audience.

Unlike most live concerts, which were highly orchestrated, repeatable events, the Grateful Dead’s concerts were completely unscripted, which meant that band members often made mistakes. Sometimes they’d start a song, weren’t able to get into it and would just stop playing it. When they made mistakes musically, they simply shrugged it off and moved on. Their fans understood and accepted this as part of the Grateful Dead experience. After all, they were human, too.

The Grateful Dead’s authenticity endeared them to their fans.
While the Grateful Dead did have PR people and managers, the band still managed to keep a certain intimacy between themselves and their fans. Instead of buying ads to create interest in their music or issuing “corporate speak” mailings, the Grateful Dead sent out newsletters that described their “journey,” such as this introspective paragraph from a Spring 1972 issue:

You probably have been wondering what it’s all about . . . just as much as we have at times. We originally had hopes of establishing some sort of communication system between all of you out there. However, our own lack of money has prevented us from doing what we originally intended.

Businesses today can learn from the Grateful Dead about being authentic. Customers, partners, and employees appreciate authentic transparency more than ever as a younger generation grows up, become consumers and enters the workforce with different ideas around these topics.

The marketplace is incredibly forgiving of mistakes -- especially if a company owns up to a mistake immediately, explains how or why the mistake happened and how the company is fixing it. People are far less forgiving when mistakes are covered up -- as we saw when Toyota attempted to cover up its sticking accelerator problem. Lack of transparency is especially problematic for younger generations who have grown up posting their life events on Facebook. For these people, “privacy” and “transparency” have much different meanings than they do for someone who didn’t grow up in the digital age.

The Grateful Dead teaches us that mistakes are quickly forgiven if you’re transparent.
Rather than blocking employees from blogging and using social media tools, encourage them to use these tools. Set loose guidelines for what they can post about and then let them go for it. Your trust in them will be rewarded in spades as these employees will build their own followings, who will eventually buy your products. If they or you make a mistake, it’s okay. Own up to it rather than hiding it -- or worse yet, ignoring it. The benefits of the upside far outweigh the potential downside.

Stop hiding your personality behind carefully scripted announcements, press releases and events. Be yourself, and encourage your CEO and employees to be themselves. If you’ve got a quirky company culture and company brand, your marketplace might prefer that to the corporate façade you’re putting on. Eliminate the “corporate-ese” language from press releases and your web site and show more of who you are and what your company stands for.

The lesson: Set your employees free.
So much in the modern marketing world is consistent with what our parents taught us as kids. Our parents taught us to be ourselves, to be honest, to apologize for our mistakes, and to earn people’s trust.

ACTION: Encourage employees to contribute to your company blog and to start tweeting about your company. Let them know you trust them to do the right thing -- this trust will be rewarded. To help everyone take advantage of your new policy regarding social media, announce a Lunch-and-Learn about blogging best practices, using Twitter effectively, proper use of Facebook and so forth. If you don’t have the expertise, go online and search for webinars on the topic and show these at your Lunch-and-Learns.

Speak like a human in your releases, not like a press release robot. Your marketplace’s mother tongue is human -- it speaks press release robot as a second language.

If you make a mistake, own up to it -- don’t try to hide it.


Excerpted with permission from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, from Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan.Copyright © 2010 by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan.