Monday, 27 February 2012

A classical lesson about the importance of a relevant community...

I saw a picture on Facebook today that was shared by Lynn Harris, a friend in real life as well as on Facebook; the picture was accompanied by a story that I found intriguing and fascinating for a number of reasons.

The picture is a screen grab from a video of what appears to be a busker playing the violin at the entrance to L'Enfant Plaza Station in Washington. The comment on the Facebook photo goes on to explain that the violinist was in fact one of the greatest living violinist, Joshua Bell who was playing six classical pieces - among them was a piece by Bach which is widely considered among the most demanding violin works to play. During the 43 minute performance, nobody really stopped to listen for any length of time and he collected just $32 - usually you will pay in excess of $100 per seat to see him perform.

On reading this I was compelled to explore the story further so I went to YouTube where there are several versions of the video with almost 5,000,000 views, I also found a link to the story in the Washington Post - they were behind the experiment. It is worth reading some of the many subsequent comments gathered from commuters that day.

There are several reasons I find this story so interesting and I think, in the context of social media, there are many things we can learn from it:

The importance of building a relevant community
Just before the experiment in January 2007, Joshua had performed for a hushed audience at a sell-out concert in Boston yet in the DC Metro entrance 1100 people walked straight past him on their way to work. People did not know him or, that he was performing an extremely complex piece on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars! Within the classical music community, he is adored and appreciated but in a busy station playing in front of a wide variety of people, he was anonymous.

The audience in the station that morning were intent on getting to where they had to go by a certain time whilst, the audience in Boston were there because they were fans of classical music or Joshua Bell, or both.  The potential station audience was unlimited and it was free for anybody to enjoy but, the concert audience was only available to $100+ ticket holders.

This indicates to me you can have the best and most interesting content in the World and make it available on the most public platforms but, if it's not getting in front of the right people you may as well not bother.

It's not a new story
This is the first time I have seen this story but, the experiment was actually carried out at 7:51 on 12th January 2007 - over 5 years ago. For me, this highlights the legacy benefits of creating good online content. Some of you may have seen this piece before but I noticed it today because someone in my online community shared it on Facebook. The person who shared this particular thread did so on the 16th February this year and it's had 161,231 likes and 144,565 shares in the past 9 days! Therefore, an old story is getting lots of attention because people who find it interesting now have shared it.

At fatBuzz, we are constantly amazed when we see the number of downloads every month of past episodes of our Social Media Podcast - this month we have had over a dozen downloads of a podcast that was recorded 18 months ago!

So, the next time you're creating content, don't just assume you're creating something for people to consume and share that day, week or month; instead, think about your new content as an addition to your online assets. Content will be found and shared by people when they find it interesting and relevant, not just when you find it interesting and relevant.

Was it the right time?
This experiment took place on a weekday during rush hour; I wonder how many more people might have found time to listen a bit longer if it had taken place at a different time?

Not wishing to contradict my earlier comments about legacy but think about when you release new content to get the maximum initial impact, if your community is busy during working hours, think about releasing your content early evening or maybe even over the weekend when they have more time to consume it. Experiment with the release times and monitor the reach you achieve at different times on different days.

Getting the ear of your target audience
Many of the 1100 commuters didn't hear Joshua because they were listening to their own choice of content through their headphones; I wonder if any were actually listening to a Joshua Bell recording as they walked passed him!

Choosing the right platform, or a range of platforms, is important; what's the point of producing everything on video if your community wants to listen to a podcast while they're in the gym. Alternatively, should your content be limited to Twitter messages with links to articles if your community wants to have something to read during a flight? You can't possibly please everybody but repurposing your blog post as a podcast or, producing a blog post about your latest video will help to ensure you get your content out to more people in the fashion they want to receive it.

Extending your community
The Washington Post article offers remarkable feedback from commuters who had earlier walked straight past Joshua but, I wonder what the impact was after they found out who he was? How many went and searched for him online? How many bought one of his recordings? How many shared the story with their friends?

This experiment may, or may not, have unearthed some new classical music enthusiasts or, some new Joshua Bell fans; these may be people that had never considered classical music in the past but, the "experiment" was the catalyst for their new found interest. Is there a promotion, campaign, or event that may help you extend your community?

A final thought...
Imagine, you gather all 1100 commuters in a concert hall and tell them a bit about Joshua and the piece he is about to perform, how many will become converts, fans or ambassadors? How many will be listening to him through their headphones the next time they walk through L'Enfant Plaza Station on their way to work?

If you have found this post interesting please share it with your online community using either the Twitter, Facebook and Share buttons below. Thank You.


  1. It's also an illustration of the power of "free". 5 million views would cost a fair bit.

  2. Enjoyed the post Gordon.

    Great points around relevance of who you're talking to, when you talk to them and why it's not only about building any old community or indeed any old group of followers (which you see many people do on Twitter / LinkedIn / Facebook / Google+ etc.)

    Would make a good New Media Breakfast event?


  3. Thanks for the comment Kevin, yes it may well make a good case study for a breakfast, I'll give it some thought.


  4. Great post. Makes sense particularly in reference to our discussion about linkedin.

  5. Thanks for the comment Kenneth and, yes it does fit nicely with what we talked about earlier.


  6. Great article so true! Thanks fatBuzz. We're trying to do exactly that for a number of clients as well as for our own business.

  7. Thanks for the comment Jackie, best wishes for Flex4Success.