English indie pop band The xx released their debut album ‘xx’ back in August 2009. For the release of their second album, the band decided to use social media to create word-of-mouth buzz surrounding the release date.
The band’s first album created “a real word-of-mouth phenomenon we had never seen before,” said Adam Farrell, vice-president of marketing at Beggars Group. The second album, Coexist, was just released worldwide on the Young Turks label, as a joint venture with XL Recordings (part of the Beggars Group.) To promote Coexist, the label wanted to encourage that same type of viral sharing.
Days before the album was scheduled to be released in the US, the xx shared their new album stream with a single ‘superfan’ just outside London. This fan was chosen based on the individual’s “frequent posting” to xx-related social media.
The plan: to track the album going viral through a visualization map on the Coexist stream’s host site. The visualization – created by Microsoft – prompts “a burst of lines as the album is distributed across the globe, cascading from its origin to the opposite ends of oceans, where it then radiates to another point on the map.” (The Guardian)
So – how did this ”risky marketing move” play out? Within 24 hours of sharing the album stream with the chosen ‘superfan’, the Coexist site crashed from the millions of streams, with the average user spending over 2 hours on the site. Adam Farrell, vice-president of marketing at Beggars Group, says “From a statistical perspective, it’s one of the most significant album premieres we’ve ever done.”
For the first hour after release, the fan was “hogging it for a bit” (according to Farrell), but then the stream quickly spread among the band’s online community – even before the media caught wind of it the following day.
One day before the album’s official release in the US, the viral stream even made it to Reddit’s homepage. Fans on the site initiated a campaign to get the album spread into each country of the globe.
The goal was to draw attention to the physical release date for the Coexist album. The superfan strategy was definitely successful, and fueled by the visualization tool. But Farrell said he doesn’t plan to replicate this strategy for other bands – that it was “especially suited to the sensibilities of the xx.”
While this strategy may not work for other bands, it is an impressive example of the power of social media to create a viral reaction. It also illustrates how quickly an influencer – or ‘superfan’ – can draw attention to a brand.