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Kanye West – social comms savant

Kanye West is the new Alistair Campbell. He’s evolving the model for the role social comms plays in building reputation and image, in the way Campbell did with nineties media and New Labour/Blair. Seriously.

Quick catch up for those who’ve been under a rock: Kanye West had dominated Twitter trends, digital column inches and broadcast minutes for the last couple of months. Why? He’s promoted a new album, his sneaker range with Adidas, and various public pronouncements of varying degrees of controversial content.

So far, so celebrity normal. But the extent to which he has dominated the available pop-culture conversation, and the cut-through achieved, is not. What’s he done which is for different in terms of strategy & tactics?

First, his narrative is clear and repeated ad nauseam. It can be summarised as ‘rebel with a purpose’. Key messages:

  1. I’m an artist

  2. I’m an entrepreneur

  3. I embody a new black American consciousness and power

Secondly, he is laser-focussed on his channel of choice – Twitter. Time isn’t diluted across either other digital platforms, or traditional media. As a result he has acquired a huge captive audience (19m and growing). Even if one allows for organic reach of 7-10% on his tweets, he directly reaches a minimum of 1-2m people actively interested enough to follow. What’s more the inbuilt ‘social actions’ – retweeting especially – are often running at 5-10% of that group reached, which conservatively adds a further 1-2m reach per message. That’s an equivalent of a primetime news audience, with the added benefit of it being more engaged. These are, actually, his fans, and to a lesser extent his ‘watchers’.

This focussed channel strategy has an unexpected benefit – it allows him to maximise his reach into traditional media, which amplifies the same messages straight back into Twitter (and beyond). Try this Google search chart for proof: People searching for “Kanye West twitter” have spiked so far this year. Clearly no-one actively using Twitter is going to Google that, so it is extending awareness and driving action outside of the network itself. General web search for him has likewise risen, showing it is driving active interest – important when one wants to shift shoes and albums…  The style of communication is just as considered. So considered it deliberately gives the appearance of spontaneity. The flurries of messages at unpredictable intervals to give the appearance of stream of consciousness, the seemingly natural absence of appropriate punctuation/spelling all adds to the effect of it being unfiltered, authentic, direct Kanye. That’s what the audience want – consumers and media alike. But there are tell-tale signs of the amount of preparation applied, including the deleting of tweets, showing a structured approach to driving engagement.

He’s a master of timing. For example, just ahead of his new season sneaker launch, he happens to pick a Twitter fight with Puma, which also leverages the “Jenner effect” to access a more fashion-focussed crowd than usual, by utilising his family-in-law through the Puma connection. This understanding of the segmentation of social and traditional media into networks, and his need to bridge into that network to drive awareness of his fashion line is sophisticated and well-executed.

His message and issue ‘framing’ is likewise sophisticated, and understands the cultural references of his audience implicitly. For example, his framing of Adidas (his partner) as “good” (support of his artistic endeavour) in the face of “bad” (Nike – commercial and unsupportive). It utilises a fundamental paradigm everyone in western culture is introduced to from birth, and also one of the most a/b alignments of consumer products – that of being a Nike or Adidas person (recalling Apple/Windows in its i/o simplicity). This provides an immediate framework within which to use his comments as the basis of a conversation with peers – the digital equivalent of a pub narrative for Brits.

Likewise his focus on driving ‘action’ through the illusion of scarcity: a standard marketing tactic which is hard to achieve, through a) only releasing his album on Tidal, the little-used subscription service, b) by yanking the album to ‘improve’ it, leading to the need to “listen now” for fear it could vanish or change. That immediacy and scarcity message is powerful to drive people to discuss whether they’ve heard it, by eschewing the traditional radio and TV promotional routes. It also funnels the conversation back to “digital” channels, which has a disproportionate amplifying effect.

His understanding of content formats is likewise nuanced and high level – visuals are used sparingly, but are unrelentingly high quality when they are deployed. He understands therefore the value of these images, but also the need for alignment with the “artist” message, which requires an attention to detail on this score.

This degree of a) social first distribution, and b) deployment of classic marketing principles and tactics in a new context mark him out as notable for more than just being the self-proclaimed “greatest of two generations”. He may well be the greatest current exponent of social comms we have – the person CEOs ought be reflecting on. No joke, just major light-beams of positivity.

Here are a few of our favourites…


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