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An Interview With Author Jackie Huba

An Interview With Author Jackie Huba

We enlist brand loyalty expert Jackie Huba, author of the Lady Gaga centered book Little Monsters, for a socially-networked chat. Like it!

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]From her long stretch at IBM to social-media maverick, author and customer loyalty expert Jackie Huba knows a thing or two about social-media, having penned several books on the subject and as co-author of the Church of the Customer blog, read by thousands interested in the business of biz. Which makes her the ideal candidate to document the stunning rise of pop superstar and icon Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, in her new book Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanatics.

Huba argues it wasn’t talent along that helped make Gaga one of the world’s most popular stars, but by “engendering immense loyalty from her fans” – the Little Monsters. We had a chance to chat with Jackie about her latest book and the icon herself, which makes a compelling read not just for Gaga fans, but anyone hoping to break into – and remain relevant – in an ever-changing world of social-media gone wild.

And don’t forget to check out our review of Jackie’s Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanatics right HERE!

Out of all the celebrities you could have taken cues from for this book, why Gaga? Are you a big fan?

Jackie: I’ve been intrigued with Lady Gaga as an artist since she burst on to the music scene in 2009. Initially the addictive dance beats of her first album, The Fame, sucked me in. As someone who studies customer loyalty, I began to see that Lady Gaga was doing something casual observers and many business professionals may not really comprehend. While creating a buzz with her wild outfits and crazy performance art, she is methodically building a grassroots base of passionate fans for the long term. The more I observed during the past four years, the more I began to realize that there is a lot she could teach the business world about how to generate customer loyalty.

Were you able to get any direct input from Gaga and her team for the book or did you base all your information on readily-available stats and examples?

Jackie: Gaga was on tour around the world as I was writing so it was impossible to talk with her at that time. However, she and her manager have been very open in interviews over the years as to their approach to fan loyalty and the music business. I also spent countless hours watching how Gaga interacted with fans online and observing how the super-fans connected with each other around on the fan sites. This primary research directly informed the lessons that are outlined in the book.

Which tactics introduced in the book do you feel are the most vital for anyone starting out fresh in the social media landscape?

Jackie: Gaga’s business of show business may be very different from the “average” business, but her focus on growing through devoted customer loyalty is a universal business objective. Research has long shown that it’s five times cheaper to keep a customer than to get new ones. Gaga gets the math. It’s her overarching philosophy to focus on her core advocates, the superfans, the Little Monsters. These advocates will ultimately be evangelists who bring in new customers on their own. This customer philosophy is one that businesses would do well to learn from Gaga.

Do you think the tactics Gaga employs have staying power that will end up helping her sustain her career now that she’s nowhere near as popular as she once was?

Jackie: Absolutely. Gaga has stated that she wants to be around for the next 25 years of pop music. She is investing her time today growing the fan base that she hopes to sustain her for years to come. Gaga may be one of the most followed people on Twitter (37 million followers) and Facebook (57 million Likes), but she really concentrates on just one percent of her fan base. I call these super-fans, the One Percenters. The idea of the One Percenters is based on research that my co-author Ben McConnell and I did for our 2007 book, Citizen Marketers. In the early days of online community and social media, we looked at online communities and tracked what percentage of members in those communities created content. In other words, who was most engaged. We found it amounted to just 1 percent of the total community members. This was surprising. The amount of super-engaged community members did not follow the usual 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto principle) which states that 80 percent of value comes from 20 percent of participants. Our research was showing the volume of content creators was much smaller, at just 1 percent.

One percent is a very small part of the community, and yet this disproportionate number was creating most of the value for the entire community. Our thesis is that these One Percenters are businesses’ most die-hard customers who love the company, buy new products as soon as they released, give them as gifts, and evangelize the company to everyone they know. Gaga has created a special social network for her One Percenters, called LittleMonsters.com, and she is where she interacts almost exclusively with her fans. She is generating long-term fan loyalty by cultivating this group of super fans.

Are you using your findings in your own personal endeavors?

Yes. When I was planning my book tour, I asked my own One Percenters first where I should go. Many of them stepped up and organized book tour events for me in their cities. Some of these supporters have been with me since my first book came out in 2003. That’s ten years!

Picture Credit © Michael Mallard

What’s the most surprising lesson you learned while penning this book?

Jackie: That one person really can change the world. Lady Gaga’s business sense impresses me, but her passion for changing the world for the better through any means possible is what truly inspired me to study her. She is influencing an entire generation of young people to stand up for each other, to be more tolerant of differences, and to be brave in the face of difficulty. I have spent hours and hours reading fan comments about how she has changed lives for the better. I have cried watching YouTube videos of kids saying they thought about hurting themselves or ending their lives, but that her belief in them, a woman they don’t even know, kept them from doing it. They listen to her music, especially “Born This Way,” and they feel better about themselves. Part of why I wanted to write the book is that I am compelled to share all of the things she is doing, not just her business acumen. I believe that if there was ever a candidate to continue Oprah’s legacy of inspiring people to live their best lives, it’s this five-foot-one, twenty-six-year- old in a studded bikini.

Giving fans a branding-name is an interesting concept, but one that may not always be as appropriate as “monsters.” What’s an acceptable substitute when this may not work?

Jackie: You need to find a name that makes sense for your brand. One of the best examples of a brand naming their fans is Maker’s Mark, the premium bourbon company out of Loretto, Kentucky. In 2000, Bill Samuels, Jr., son of the founder, was looking for a way to better connect with the brand’s fanatical customers and created the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program. Ambassadors are those brand evangelists who volunteered to tell others about the product and also encouraged bars that didn’t carry the brand at the time to do so. Today, there are hundreds of thousand of Makers Mark Ambassadors who receive custom business cards from the brand, fun holiday gifts and gather for events at the history distillery in Loretto each year.

Are there any other unique practices other celebrities employ that you think may rival Gaga’s approach?

I don’t see any artists out there today that are doing what Gaga is doing and at the scale she is doing it. However, it is interesting to watch less established artists such as Amanda Palmer and Hi Fashion connect with fans to crowd-fund their albums and tours using online tools like Kickstarter.

What kinds of projects are you working on next?

Jackie: I’ve started doing seminars and workshops based on Gaga’s fan loyalty strategy to help businesses apply these lessons with their own customer base. More information on these is available at jackiehuba.com.


About the Author: Brittany Vincent