8 Lessons that Technologists & Social Media Marketers Can Learn from Taylor Swift

…which have nothing to do with her music


I happen to love music though I cannot honestly admit to being a Taylor Swift music devotee. This could be related to my age, my generation, individual taste or simply put, the lyrics don’t resonate with me. I truly apologize for this, Ms. Swift. However when it comes to the persona and public identity of Taylor Swift, I have become a #1 fan and admirer.

Since I have no inside knowledge of how Ms. Swift actually runs her social media — though I assume it is a few people on staff who do that for her, (and they are beyond excellent at their jobs) — for the purpose of this article I will attribute all to Taylor Swift directly. The reader should bear in mind that it refers to the entire Taylor Swift social media and marketing group. Another more salient point is that I do not know Taylor Swift, have never been to a concert of hers, (though I do like Red!) and cannot by any means speak of her true personality. Yet this fact, surprisingly enough, has no real bearing on the article.

Over the past few months while being involved in a myriad of technology projects, I must admit to a certain growing fascination in following stories about Taylor Swift. It began when I observed on the sidelines how deftly she and her social media machine slowly built up the hype over the release of her new album, 1989. I watched in growing respect at the professionalism with which it was accomplished, and in admiration as to the continuous positive vibes it created. Negativity or any sort of climbing on the shoulders of others was simply not present. In a method bordering on brilliant and with a social media plan which spoke of near genius, Taylor Swift manipulated the marketing and public relations surrounding that release. Watching the growing excitement was a testament to the art form which she has brought to marketing and the marriage of it technology in our age.

What left me in awe was that none of this stopped with the release of the album. Taylor Swift did not vanish from the public eye for a well-deserved rest. She continued to appear in the press in various seemingly non-related music endeavors, all which brought her name, respectability and professionalism to higher levels. I began to realize I was watching technology and marketing reach a highly sophisticated realm — and it was done in actual good taste, positive reinforcement and by applying the most important rules of marketing and technology to the Taylor Swift “brand.” She may be all of 25, (I have children older than she is), but Taylor Swift is an example par-excellence of how the correct marriage of modern social networking, technology and marketing can bring success to a brand.

Those involved in technology, SEO, customer retention, marketing, public relations, and even big data analysis should take heed of the Taylor Swift Social Media Machine. It is truly a work of art. Here are eight lessons I have learned from it in the past few months.

1. Taylor Swift Pays Attention to Her Fans

According to available internet stats, Taylor Swift has over 60 million followers on Twitter and 38 million followers on Instagram. Between Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, Swift has more than 140 million followers or subscribers. Let us assume that 50% of these are Bots (automated, non-existent people). That still leaves an enormous number of fans in the Social Network scene. Yet, as I jokingly said to a colleague one day, “Taylor Swift must be running some top secret NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology on the comments and tweets her fans leave her, as she seems to know exactly which ones to concentrate on.” It was said in jest, but the truth is Swift does seem to be able to hone in on the most important ones. Whether this data mining is algorithmic or human — it works. Take for example the most recent case. One of her “Swifties”, a fan since 2006 known as India Rose, was verbally abused by an internet troll. Now you would think a woman with tens of millions of followers would neither know of, nor take the time to address such an issue. Not Taylor Swift. She immediately came to the defense of India Rose, and did it with aplomb and a very classy style.

There are many other fan stories, some of which are probably myth, some which are truly to be believed. The fact remains is that Taylor Swift pays attention to her customer base, i.e. her fans. She shows them that she cares. She shows them that she is involved. A lesson all companies should learn about customer satisfaction.

2. Taylor Swift is a Disruptive Force in the Music Industry in a Positive Manner

Much has been written about Uber being a destructive force within the technology community. Indeed, we are trained to see “destructive forces” in a positive manner, as they usually bring new ideas and ways of doing things to the table. Yet even Uber takes a back seat to Taylor Swift. Uber is the “bully on the block.” Taylor Swift on the other hand knows how to apply the rules of being a disruptive force and yet do it in such a manner where no one feels hurt and vilified. Take for example her recent stand against Apple. (I recently wrote about this in LinkedIn & Medium under the title of “It Ain’t Just About The Music Anymore.”) In short when Apple was about to release its new music streaming business, it promised users three months for free. It also told the musicians it would not be paying them royalties for those three months. Apple being Apple, well that was that, or so it was assumed. Then Taylor Swift in a very carefully worded open letter to Apple posted on Tumblr entitled “To Apple, Love Taylor,” which was incredibly respectful with no hint of threats, had Apple reverse their decision of no royalty payments within 24 hours.

This is what is known as “disruptive.” You take a previously accepted way of doing things and disrupt it in order to change it. By doing so, preconceived notions are destroyed and an entirely new method of doing something appears. Uber did it with transportation and by having enough cash to bully the competition. Taylor Swift managed to do it in one well-written letter. She disrupted a major force in her industry. She managed to break the rules, disrupt the preconceived notion which Apple had dictated, and caused a total turnaround. What makes it so inspiring is that she accomplished all this with class and with respect. She did not enrage whole countries and classes of workers as Uber did. Maybe even Uber could learn a thing or two from the manner in which Swift became a disruptive force.

3. Taylor Swift Works Inside the System, but Thinks Way Outside of the Box

This becomes apparent when we view the entirety of the Taylor Swift social network layout and her uncanny ability to hone in on the true problems of fans. When beginning to publicize her 1989 album, it did not start off as a media blitz. It was carefully staged, little by little. Songs and lyrics were released bit by bit. Interviews were given on how Swift writes lyrics and songs; what the album was about and why it was about a certain subject. She worked the system, but kept on thinking outside of the box when she kept up a constant dialogue with fans. She followed what they wrote to her. She responded when she felt she needed to respond. She kept the momentum going by speaking to her fans, not down at them. She constantly moves along lines which no one would expect from a musician of her fame. She gives the impression that she is accessible to everyone. She is constantly finding different, unique and surprising ways, which have no direct connection to her music per se, to relate to her fans and have them relate to her. She accepts the limelight of fame yet seems to be shy of it and knows when to steer clear.

This “outside of the box” thinking and activity is exactly what technologists and marketers need to understand and incorporate into their work. The system is there, but the true value can only be realized when one applies solutions and ideas which are not generally used nor even thought about. Do not concentrate on one path, but at every juncture realize there are many paths to pursue and pursue all of them. Remain accessible, even if it requires a larger staff. Never distance yourself from customers, even irate ones. Listen to them. Think out of the box and don’t work according to a pre-conceived script.

4. Taylor Swift Sells Music, Yet Makes Sure Her Personality is Intertwined With Her Product

Taylor Swift sells music. This is what she does. She sells it by singing, giving concerts, interacting with fans and running a huge social media engine. She sells it with photos, selfies and shout-outs. Her commodity is music. She understands this and understands her consumers. Yet Swift has never shied away from intertwining her personality with her product. She not only claims her songs are personal ventures, but she combines her personality with what she is selling. This does not only apply to music. When she writes a public letter to Apple, or forces GoFundMe to raise their donation limit, she does it by force of her personality and fame. She does not apply threats or public tantrums to get what she wants. She does it using her intelligence and personality. She sells her music that way. She gains fans that way. She becomes a force to be dealt with by using her personality in such a way.

When Ms. Swift answered the internet troll, (mentioned above), and when she published her open letter to Apple, one can see a very subtle mechanism at work. She is actually showing her young fans how to communicate feelings. I don’t think the importance of this can be over-emphasized in a world full of ADD and communication in photos. Taylor Swift actually is teaching her fans that communication with words and sentences is a good thing. She is also showing that one does not have to be degrading and insolent to make a point and be heard. Imagine a whole generation of very young fans who may just learn that real communication is not yet dead. Words do mean something and using them in a correct manner can accomplish wonders. Millennials take notice!

It is not only what we are trying to sell, and whom we reach through our data mining and analysis, but it is also how we sell it. Many times it is just price. Many times it is name branding. Yet our ideal is to reach a point where what we sell is intertwined with the reputation of the company or person selling it. Fierce loyalty is created in that manner. Words and expression with or without photos, emojis and Gifs are still critical.

5. Taylor Swift Picks and Chooses Her Battles Using A Moral Compass Which Few Can Find Fault With

GoFundMe is a place to go to give donations to charitable causes. Taylor Swift is no stranger to this forum. She has donated in the past to worthy causes. Each one carefully vetted and picked and certainly close to her heart. She maintains no distance from those that she donates her money to. The cynic among us can say this is just a way of garnering more attention and publicity. Yet again, Ms. Swift does not seem to overplay these events. Her moral compass seems to have remained true despite her fame and fortune. Any cursory look on Google will turn up quite a few including to a firefighter who saved his own family. More recently though, Ms. Swift showed once again how she can apply her brand and disruptive force for the sake of doing a good thing. GoFundMe had a $15,000 limit on donations. However, Taylor Swift knew about a fan of hers who had cancer. She insisted on donating $50,000 to the fan to help battle her cancer. I am sure she could have done this in private and directly. However, Swift chose the public venue to make a point. In one act, she forced GoFundMe to raise their limit on donations. Even the most cynical among us has to admit this was not done out of any need to gain more attention as a direct donation to the family could have accomplished the same goal in terms of public relations. Ms. Swift simply decided that limitations in certain areas should not exist. And she is correct. She once again used what we call a disruptive force, in a very subtle manner to accomplish her goal.

This too is a lesson for all marketers. It is not all about the sales or real time data analytics. Sometimes it is about forcing others to bend the rules. Customer retention is creating loyalty. Loyalty is given when respect is earned.

6. Taylor Swift Drills Down and Mines Her Data With a Perfection that All Big Data Analysts Should Be Jealous of

This is actually the point where I stand in true awe of Taylor Swift and her social media machine. Taylor Swift seems to have this uncanny almost unnatural ability to find what I have called is previous articles, the “Genesis Seed.” In short, when discussing the “Butterfly Effect” in Chaos Theory, I have suggested that there is a specific point which begins the chaotic system called the “Genesis Seed” (see: “The Genesis Seed — The Holy Grail Of Viral Networking”). By being able to find this point and exploit it, one can induce viral posts, viral networking and viral sales. In order to find this Genesis Seed among the millions of posts and tweets and photos directed at the Taylor Swift Social Network Machine on a daily basis, one would indeed need a sophisticated set of algorithms operating on a data warehouse with data analytics and certainly an NLP worthy of its name. I tend to doubt Ms. Swift has any of these technologically advanced capabilities in her arsenal. Yet time and again she is able to pinpoint the Genesis Seed. She finds the correct causes to donate to. She is able to discover the fans who suffer trolling and harassment. She is able to post at exactly the right time and place photos and tweets of her with childhood friends, which then leads to even more viral information being spread. In short, somehow Taylor Swift has not only found the magic of the Genesis Seed in many of her endeavors, but she has been able to cause the butterfly to flap its wings at exactly the right moment and watch as the effect causes repercussions around the globe.

Of course it can be argued, that due to her fame and fortune, anything Ms. Swift does will immediately go viral. It truly makes no difference as to the nature of the act nor its significance — all that matters is Taylor Swift did it. This does guarantee viral spread, and there is no need to apply Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect or the Genesis Seed into such a formula. However, while viral spread is guaranteed, the nature of what Ms. Swift chooses to champion is not. It is that choice of acts and decisions which define her. Here, she has exhibited an uncanny ability to consistently find the right Genesis Seed. Viral spread is inevitable once she makes a statement, but reaction to that viral spread is not predictable.

Anyone dealing in Big Data Analysis or Marketing should study this closely. While working on well-known brands we are often lulled into complacency, knowing that anything done will be viral in one way or another. What the Taylor Swift Social Media Machine teaches us is that in all cases, whether dealing with a known brand name or not, the Genesis Seed which begins the entire process must be chosen with care. Big Data must be mined and analyzed constantly seeking a point which can be fully optimized in order to produce the desired results. One mistake, one misjudgment, can create a nightmare viral spread of all the wrong information with all the wrong impressions. We have seen this happen all too often in modern technology. Look no further than at the current Reddit nightmare as a perfect example.

7. Taylor Swift is Not Afraid to Express Her Opinions, But Does So With a Clear Purpose

Maturity is something we have learned not to take for granted when it comes to the rich and famous. However as Taylor Swift’s fame grew, she seems to have become ever yet more responsible and keenly aware that she is an idol to millions of children who are of the age where impressions are critical to what they will do and say. Swift will distance herself immediately from anyone trying to use her image for their own use. She does not put up with fake people and seems to shy away from activities other celebrities use to get attention. Her focus remains on her fans and she uses her words to say what she feels and thinks. At a recent concert she said to the crowd:

“If I had my way, everything would be simple for all of you. I wish nobody would ever mess with your mind. I wish nobody would wait two days to text you back, when you know they had their phone with them the whole time!”

She shows she understands her fans and expresses herself in positive ways. She seems to know their language and how to speak to their minds and hearts. As she said:

“We all have different insecurities, different fears, different scars. There are many different types of people here tonight. But we have one thing in common: When we feel great amounts of joy or great amounts of pain, we turn to music, and that’s why we’re here tonight.”

Marketing is about understanding your customers. Marketing is about knowing what they want and how to offer it to them. Taylor Swift understands her music is a medium. She is keenly aware that she must sell that music and it is the music that capitulated her to fame. She is also aware that her fans are purchasing a part of Taylor Swift as well. She makes music the center of the universe, yet while speaking to twenty thousand fans at once she makes each one feel as if she is talking privately to them. This is the magic of turning a public message into something which is personal for the millions of people who hear it.

8. Taylor Swift has Turned the Focus from Her to Her Fans. She Gives the Impression of Being Totally Accessible

This is also a critical point. Swift seems to be able to keep the focus on her fans and not herself. Of course her fans are obsessed with what she wears, how she walks and even the number of cats she has. Every single little thing she does is recorded, analyzed and commented about. This is the nature of fame in our day and age. Yet somehow Taylor Swift manages with ease to turn it around and have her fans focus on, well, her fans. From the donations to charity, to the open letter to Apple, to her constant tweets to fans by name, she makes it about them — not her. She has created the image of being accessible to all. Though it is clear a majority of her fan base are in their pre-teens and teenage years, this accessibility and positive reinforcement has led her to be able to cross all age barriers. Take for instance the following recent event where Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did a public reading of her lyrics and asked to join the “Taylor Swift Squad.” Patrick Stewart — who is 75 — did a dramatic reading of the lyrics to “Blank Space.” Ian McKellen — who is 76 — did a reading of “Bad Blood.” They both are fifty years older than Taylor Swift. They are actors which have incredible reputations in serious ventures. The very fact that they read Taylor Swift lyrics was enough. Yet it went further.

It is clear Stewart is not someone to ignore, but then again, neither is Taylor Swift. And in all probability the Swift entourage was warned there would be a tweet in their direction. Yet still, Taylor Swift reacted immediately (see the time stamps), showing that uncanny ability to be able to mark the critical and important things. Take a close look at her wording as well. She first thanks them. Then she turns it around and says “You’ve made my day.” She makes it about the fans, be they young or old. She reacts. She is accessible. She keeps it short yet lets her fans know how important they are to her. Ultimate marketing. Ultimate data mining. Ultimate real time analytics and response.

Loyalty and respect go a long way in marketing. Which is what every marketing strategy should strive for. Taylor Swift can teach us technologists and marketing professionals a thing or two about how to really create a “brand” and retain customer loyalty. Maybe it is time for companies — from the huge conglomerates to the corner stores — to learn a few lessons from the Taylor Swift playbook. Taylor Swift has shown us how to market, endear a product to consumers, brand her name in the most positive of ways, and listen carefully to her fans. Read: customers.

I am sure not everything is pristine and pure in the world of Taylor Swift. I am not anywhere near idolizing her, nor do I believe that everything in her life and personality is perfect. Yet she has managed to create a persona to be emulated. The biggest compliment I can give anyone goes to Taylor Swift. I have grown to respect her. I am a devoted fan.

Actually, Taylor Swift, may be the real thing. And that is rare in our world. Very rare, indeed.

— — —

About the Author: Ted Gross is an author of literary fiction, children’s books and various non-fiction articles. His short story collection, “Ancient Tales, Modern Legends” has received excellent reviews. He also served as a CTO for many years with an expertise in database technology, PHP and OOP. Ted can be reached via email: tedwgross@gmail.com; Twitter; LinkedIn & just about any other communication platform you desire :)


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