The history of music-focused messaging and social media startups is rocky at best. After amassing millions of users and venture capital dollars over the past several years, the likes of Rithm, PingTune, MSTY and Craaave now have nothing to show but broken domain names and fizzled futures.
Yet, as a handful of startups like Musical.ly and Smule continue to grow — the former was recently acquired by Chinese site Beijing Bytedance Technology Co. for a reported $800 million, while the latter raised a $54 million strategic financing round in May 2017 — many artists and execs in the music industry still point to the nexus of video, social sharing and a fan-driven DIY ethos as the new secret sauce behind successful marketing campaigns.
Maroon 5 is one of several A-list bands to incorporate fan-generated video into its social media strategy, most recently for its Billboard 200 No. 2-charting album Red Pill Blues. This time around, however, the group opted not to partner with Musical.ly, Smule or other singular, enclosed app environments. Instead, they enlisted Vivoom, a Boston-based startup that has provided white-label video services for the likes of Citibank, Microsoft and L’Oréal, to craft a platform-agnostic solution that made fans feel more directly involved in the creative process.
First launched in February 2017, the campaign invited Maroon 5 fans to insert themselves into the party scene of the music video for the band’s single “Cold,” by recording and uploading up to 15 seconds of footage to a custom website built by Vivoom. The fan videos could be shared on Facebook and Twitter or via email and the two fans with the highest number of views won an autographed guitar and vinyl box set, respectively.
At first glance, the resulting traffic numbers don’t seem that impressive: the campaign generated a total of 250,000 video shares and views, less than 1 percent of the traffic that Maroon 5 regularly attracts to a single music video on YouTube. From an advertising perspective, however, the engagement rates are more compelling: click-through rates on video links were 111 times better than interruptive Facebook ads and 550 times better than interruptive Twitter ads, and view-to-completion rates for the videos were greater than 71 percent.
Katherine Hays, co-founder and CEO of Vivoom, tells Billboard that these engagement rates can be traced back to how her company offers a flexible white-label solution rather than a standalone social platform. “We don’t bring a built-in audience to the table, but rather leverage the audiences that artists and consumers have already built,” says Hays.
In addition, since no paid marketing was involved, the Red Pill Blues video campaign saw zero waste from ad-blocking. “We’re not taking a passive, outsourced approach by which a brand simply buys audience from a third-party media company and then interrupts that audience with its marketing message,” says Hays. “As a result, the content is highly authentic, personal and relevant to fans’ peer groups.”
Maroon 5 has worked with companies like Musical.ly in the past, particularly around a promotional campaign for the band’s single “Don’t Wanna Know,” which topped the Billboard Pop Songs radio airplay chart in January 2017. What ultimately drew the band away from the service, however, was the relative lack of artist control and the potential alienation of certain demographic groups.
“Vivoom has given us more power to control the destiny of the campaign, as opposed to a company like Musical.ly dictating the reach,” Freddie Morris, director of social media & digital marketing for Maroon 5’s management company Career Artist Management, tells Billboard. “I felt like I had to pander a bit more on Musical.ly, in terms of messaging fans. But with Vivoom, the campaign’s success was dependent entirely on us getting the message out, and not on the technology and platform itself.”
In terms of demographics, Musical.ly’s target audience comprises mostly of 14- to 23-year-olds — which naturally excludes certain bands like Maroon 5 who have been active in the industry for longer than plenty of Musical.ly’s users have been alive. “They’re looking for the Charlie Puths of the world, and not necessarily for a 38-year-old artist like Adam Levine,” admits Morris.
“When brands need to handpick certain social platforms, there’s often the question of who they are going to leave out of the picture,” adds Hays. “With us, there’s no demographic that’s left on the sidelines because we enable consumers to share to whatever platform they’re already using.”
Vivoom can give artists a wide range of data around their video campaigns: breakdown of social destinations, views to completion (including views to 75 percent and 50 percent through, in addition to 100 percent), and rankings of the most influential fans by number of views and shares. Fans are also required to submit their email addresses in order to upload and share videos, creating a direct line of contact and outreach for the band.
In partnering with Vivoom, Maroon 5 joins the likes of Taylor Swift in building its own social ecosystems separate from Facebook, Twitter and other dominant social media platforms, in an effort to reclaim ownership over both the artist-fan relationship and the engagement data that results.