I grew up in a rural Nevada town surrounded by barbed wire fences and farm fields stacked with bales of alfalfa. A sprawling livestock auction yard sat behind the pizza joint where I worked. Its most popular menu item was appropriately dubbed Barn Wedges.
Oh, and you better believe that country music was a staple of my environment. And yet, an organization that thrust the genre into mainstream America and became a crown jewel of country culture, completely skipped my notice until recently. Starting in the 1920s the Grand Ole Opry showcased performers who were broadcast on radio. Through the decades performers have included Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and more recently Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley and Blake Shelton.
With its 90th anniversary on the horizon, Grand Ole Opry is staking a comeback using the digital landscape to touch millennials and generations with a newfound interest in country music.
I first encountered Grand Ole Opry because my 17-year-old sister posted a slew of photos to Instagram holding a CD. I was first shocked to see that she owned a tangible music medium, but her hashtag and the plethora of comments and "likes" prompted me to dig further.
Turns out, by taking a photo with an album with the hashtag #MyRoadBetween she was entering a contest hosted by Grand Ole Opry. Hashtags, brands and contests are commonplace. But a contemporary concept adopted by organization with little to no recognition among the core demographic participating in said contest struck me.
The Pew Research Center has reported that 91 percent of teenagers on Instagram post “selfies.” If this many teens are posting photos of themselves to social media and with Instagram and Twitter near the top of their favorite social networks, according to Piper Jaffrey, Grand Ole Opry struck gold with its strategy. Further inspection revealed that there were scores of submissions, and a separate contest called for Instagram videos, too. (The contest was conducted on multiple platforms and Grand Ole Opry was able to aggregate the content and track it by using software of Offerpop, a client of my firm.)
The key to Grand Ole Opry’s success was not just harnessing a timely trend but tailoring the campaign to appeal to a younger audience. Most marketing experts will advise companies to harness social data and build campaigns appealing to their core audience. But Grand Ole Opry accomplished more than gathering a trunk full of user-generated content and great metrics. The organization embedded its brand into the lives and networks of a generation of fans that can carry them into the future. Talk about "social security."
Creating a unique world within a social network
Survey data collected by GlobalWebIndex in in late 2013 demonstrates Tumblr’s impact on users between the ages of 16 and 24, a demographic that BusinessInsider has pointed out is difficult for brands to reach. Flooded by fashion companies, artists and indie musicians, Tumblr is a breeding ground for youth-oriented content.
A common sentiment among social gurus is that those who want to make social-media networking succeed have to put in the time. Grand Ole Opry took every social network into account for its digital marketing strategy, a bold choice considering the time and content commitments companies take on with each new network engaged with.
Rather than simply paste a Tumblr logo on its web page, Grand Ole Opry created a persona for the microblog labeled #thecircle. It’s packed full of video performances and interviews, making visitors feel apart of a special backstage club with exclusive access to current stars and country icons.
Treating content as a reward.
Signed posters are a great social contest prize. For Grand Ole Opry, using them as leverage garnered a ton of user-generated content and engagement between social media users and the organization. But limiting fan rewards to such prizes places budget and creativity limitations, and while it’s still effective, it’s traditional, the opposite of Grand Ole Opry’s new marketing tactics. After all, there are only so many times that fans will post a photo to score a poster. Grand Ole Opry took an interesting approach to this dilemma via Twitter.
Specific tweets from @opry requested 1,000 retweets by a certain time in order to unlock videos from stars such as Lucy Hale and Carrie Underwood. Fans responded in droves, requesting that their followers also participate to reach the goal.
Rather than offering a typical prize, Grand Ole Opry engaged its fans and rewarded them with in-house content in exchange for engagement. Requesting shares, likes and retweets from fans is fine, but to do so and offer them something in return is full-circle marketing at its best.
Not leaving behind faithful fans.
Grand Ole Opry hasn’t forgot the loyal fans who helped the organization weather 90 years and all the changes in the country music industry. Its Facebook page shares video performances from Dolly Parton and Wynonna Judd and takes the time to honor classic artists and mediums.
An effective social-marketing campaign targets multiple audiences and engages on several levels while collecting additional data, user-generated content and increasing organizations' reach to new fans. This might seem straightforward for contemporary companies, but entities with a long history could find it hard to creatively deliver brand messaging and content to ever-changing social media users.
Grand Ole Opry could have easily bitten the dust or just kept things simple and catered to a stereotypical demographic. Instead it has leaped into the digital future with tactics that other companies can learn from for their own efforts.