When Lady Gaga tweets, almost 32 million followers take notice. And they respond, creating additional content of their own -- bragging that they're going to see her perform at the Olimpiski Arena in Moscow or reviewing her recent show at Madison Square Garden in New York. They show off their new Born This Way Ball T-shirts and announce their work for her charitable foundation -- not just to friends but to the world.
The fans generate this new content just about every hour of every day with little -- if any -- prompting. That's partly because Lady Gaga is the tweeter behind her tweets: She's (frequently) talking to her fans and, they hope, listening as well. Lady Gaga has been a faithful user of social media -- and so have her fans, using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Foursquare and other consumer-facing social networking sites. Together, they add up to massive commercial possibilities, which eventually motivated her record company to rethink its content management strategy.
The problem for Interscope Records of Santa Monica, Calif. was it had no way to consolidate and manage all of that content for the artists it represents, which include Lady Gaga as well as other well-known names such as Eminem, Van Halen and Nelly Furtado.
The record label, which is part of Interscope Geffen A&M, wanted a content management system (CMS) that would enable it to move from providing fans with a relatively static Web presence to a "real-time" website where they could congregate, share interests and stories and, ultimately, make purchases from whichever social networking site or technology they choose.
"We don't think content is just tweets and posts," said Lee Hammond, director of digital for Interscope Records. "It's music and T-shirts and concert tickets, and we need to pull that all together. And I couldn't find that capability in a traditional CMS." He said most of the Web content management (WCM) systems his team looked at didn't have the social application programming interfaces (APIs) they needed to make it happen.
Hammond said his team looked at CMS vendors that understand enterprise social and content management. In their estimation, that included Drupal, WordPress, Sitecore and EPiServer, but none offered the type of "feed-driven" capability for creating content that they had in mind, Hammond said.
A real-time database
In 2010, however, Interscope started working with Echo of San Francisco. Echo was developing an application programming interface to give organizations -- especially media companies -- the ability to aggregate and manage content from websites, social media and Web-based applications with a real-time database. The Web-based API gives users the ability to create dynamic real-time Web pages populated with social content.
"I got the content management and the user engagement tool in one step," Hammond said. It's not just about artist-created content, he said, but also " the fan reaction to it. … If I incorporate the Twitter reactions and the Facebook reactions, it becomes a very rich environment."
Interscope revamped their strategy for content management and started building new websites for Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber a little more than a year and a half ago using the beta version of Echo's cloud-based platform StreamServer and spent at least 12 months examining how things worked. It eventually settled on a "pinboard" visualization format, which displays images, video, tweets and news items in a way that makes it difficult to tell where the social content ends and the traditional content begins.
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As Echo prepared for an early-2011 launch of the final version of StreamServer, Interscope Records also started using one of the first apps based on the Echo product Arktan SocialStreams. Arktan SocialStreams is a Software as a Service live-blogging application that captures social content, enriches it with digital assets and moves it into StreamServer for publishing online.
"I could install Drupal and hire people to write plug-ins, but [I] wanted something out of the box," Hammond said, explaining that the Echo demo worked so well that Interscope launched a new corporate website for the Interscope Geffen A&M records universe on Oct. 15. In the first month, visitors were on the site eight times longer than before the redesign, and pages-per-visit grew by 238%. As a result, the Interscope Geffen conglomerate is slowly rolling out the online real-time Echo Web content management architecture across all 400 of its artist sites.
While this is good news for the record company's efforts to beef up sales of recordings, concert tickets and other merchandise, it also pays off for some artists' charitable work, from Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation to the various projects sponsored by Irish rockers U2.
"You have to make some noise on your own; we help amplify it," Hammond said of the artists signed to Interscope Geffen. "They are producing content the way they want to produce it."
According to Chris Saad, Echo co-founder and chief strategy officer, the real-time aggregation aspect of the Echo platform changes workflows and helps publishing and media organizations as they rethink their content management strategy and find they need new kinds of Web services for increasingly social, real-time and local applications.
Another of Echo's customers, World Wrestling Entertainment of Stamford, Conn., also recently relaunched its website with the platform and doubled its page views. "This is not really magic," Saad said. "It's very straightforward: The internet has changed and massive numbers [of people] expect the world to look like Twitter." And that, he said, requires a "fundamental rethinking of your strategy" wherein editorial, social and community are the same thing.
Saad points out that StreamServer can work on top of any CMS. It enables visitors to browse sites as a guest before logging on with any social application or set of applications the site administrator chooses.
Once a customer starts spending time on a website where "content and conversations are mixed together," going back to a traditional website would be "like looking at black-and-white TV after watching color TV," Saad said.