The Killers released their fourth album, Battle Born, in mid-September, coming four years after their previous album, Day & Age. Back in 2008, the band had no digital presence beyond their official site meaning that for this album Jazmine Valencia, director of digital marketing at Island Def Jam Music Group, had to start from scratch and build their social media profiles in advance in order to launch the album campaign digitally. She talks us through the different components and how she persuaded a non-digital act to embrace online. 

Gap from last album?

The last album was four years ago. They had no web presence at all back then – apart from their website. I told them to get on Facebook and Twitter and, as I know they are not very digitally savvy, it was going to take some handholding. I sat down with them and they said, “OK, but this is not our thing. Paul McCartney doesn’t tweet. Bob Dylan doesn’t tweet. Why should we do it?” It’s been a process, but now they do it themselves. For the last album they told me to do it [run the online activity] and let them know what they needed to do. They said, “We are fine if we need to do it but we’re not going to raise our hands and volunteer.” When I would ask them to tweet a picture they would do it – but I would have to ask them to.

Between 2008 and 2012, three band members did their own solo projects and that is how we kept them active. Through the solo projects we were able to engage the fans online. For example, for [lead singer] Brandon Flowers’ solo album we created a new Facebook page and Twitter account as well as a new website and email list. It was about keeping the fans engaged as we knew there was going to be a band album eventually after they had done all the solo projects – so we wanted to ensure the fans were engaged in the meantime. We started Facebook with zero and Twitter with zero but their fans naturally found out and so started joining. All these groups of fans from all over the world talk to each other and it was word of mouth from them. The Killers Facebook page has 8m fans and they have 2m followers on Twitter. That is not including their individual properties. The bands’ social media following is primarily in the US and Europe.

Campaign element #1: unlock the album cover (Facebook app)

This was the first bit of digital activity for the campaign. Fans knew they were in the studio but it was all chatter and there was no official posting from the band about it. The first piece that ran was a Rolling Stone story, which talked about them being in the studio – but the band themselves didn’t talk about it. The first official posting was to say there was a new album coming and they were going to reveal the artwork for it. We had alerted Amazon to not post anything about the artwork [i.e. show the artwork for pre-orders of the album] until we told them.

We wanted the fans to be involved and we came up with the idea to unlock the album cover. It has different elements like the horse, the car and the mountains. So we gave the fans four different actions to unlock it: they had to ‘Like’ the page, tweet about it, share it on Facebook and listen to the single which we put up on a private YouTube link which they could only access via the Facebook page. So only people who had the link could hear it. It was embedded on Facebook and the only way to get to it was to go through those other actions. We did that for two days where it was private and, because we know their fans find everything, they would get to it. Then we opened it up to everyone else.

Impact of digital on international marketing

We work closely with our partner labels around the world. We can look at the data and see in what countries have what percentage of fans. So we had to think of what we could do uniquely for these fans to ensure they are being rewarded for being fans. The UK is an important market for them as that’s where they got popular first – so we premiered the single first in the UK and then in the US. It was only a few minutes difference but the UK got it first. With Facebook, because you can geo-target the messaging, we were able to do unique messages for each market and even change the language where necessary so fans feel it is a little more personalised.

The only market we thought was interesting was Jakarta on Facebook. But when I investigated I noticed that Jakarta was high for a number of other artists I work with. Facebook gave me a run-around answer but I think there was some issue with the reporting on that specific country. Out of the rest, everything else was pretty normal and what we already knew based on sales.

Campaign element #2: listening app

This launched on release day. We wanted fans to have the experience of when you are 16 and first got an album and got into your car and drove around just to listen to it. We recreated that on the band’s website. There was a dashboard that we built based on the car on the album cover. It has a radio on the dashboard and fans joined the ride and they could invite friends along for the ride, which takes them through the desert to Battle Born, which is another name for Las Vegas where they are from.

The first highway sign you see is pulled from the hometown that you have used to sign up to your Facebook account with. Along the way it pulls up Facebook photos so you can see pictures of your friends as you listen to the album. While fans and their friends are listening, there is a chatroom where they can talk to each other. They can type a short message and have it show up as a billboard as they are driving. You can also pause and forward the radio as you would on a normal car radio. Before this there were no other properties for fans to talk to each other so this is the only chatroom experience they have had. The app has delivered over 300k streams in the first couple of weeks.

Campaign element #3: Twitter interview

This was the first time they’d ever done anything that interacts with fans. They had not done web interviews before. They had only done interviews with reporters and TV shows. They didn’t know what to expect. I walked them through it and explained how it worked. We partnered with Twitter and they supported what we were doing and they were retweeting everything we were doing. I went to their hotel and we sat around a table and they took turns to answer questions. They were supposed to do 30 minutes but it ended up being 50 minutes answering questions. We were the number one and two trending topics when it happened.

It happened at 3pm Eastern Time, which is not ideal for fans in the UK. But it’s impossible to make it a time that works for everybody. That was the best time slot we could get. They enjoyed it and were answering questions sincerely. They liked it and want to do it again the next time they are in New York, which is in December. They answered about 60 questions in total. I wanted to filter the questions out but we just didn’t have enough time to do it beforehand so they were reading them as they came in and choosing what ones to answer. At one point Ronnie [Vannucci Jr, drummer] took one of the laptops and was answering questions himself. We had all of them initial replies to show who had answered each question. The #asktheKillers hashtag was used 15k times during the Q&A.

Campaign element #4: live stream

It took place the day the album came out. We partnered with American Express to do their YouTube Unstaged show that they had done before with acts like Usher and Coldplay. American Express had paid for it. They had filmed five different trailers so we rolled them out one a week prior to the show. The second component was to ask fans to submit photos of themselves holding signs saying where they were from. We had those photos on stage with the band as they were performing.

The only live stream they had done previously was the iTunes Festival [in London] the week before. The camera crew was with them right before they went on stage – which usually they are alone. It was all live. We walked them through it all before so they knew what was happening. The footage was put on loop for five days after the show. We also cut up the tracks so each individual song is up on YouTube. -As of 10th October the concert has drawn 742,223 streams.

Future plans

The next thing I want to do is for the next single to make an animated video. I’m trying to make it interactive with fans but because we don’t have the video treatment yet we haven’t figured out quite yet how to do it. Depending on the treatment it may have fans submit things to have in the video.

I am also looking at augmented reality. It will be a mobile app and have some sort of presence at the venues on the tour where fans use their phones to take a picture or scan something to get something in return – but we haven’t quite figured that out yet.

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