This interview was originally published in early 2010. While the FanBridge platform has added many new features since this article first appeared, the issues discussed are still relevant today!
Noah Dinkin is the Co-Founder of FanBridge, a fan list management service that is geared towards musicians. He was kind enough to sit down with me and tell me about his company, how it was founded and offer general advice about email marketing for artists.
Thanks for taking the time Noah, tell me a bit about how and why you started FanBridge.
FanBridge was Co-Founded by myself and my friend Spencer Richardson a few years ago. We were looking for a fun project to work on in our spare time outside of day jobs, and after seeing the music industry going through a lot of chaos, we knew that chaos usually creates opportunity, so we started looking at what we could do in music space. After looking at a bunch of things and talking with various people, we came to focus on the artist-fan relationship. When you think about it, this relationship is the single most important piece of the music business, and for too long it has been paid lip service and overlooked. At the time we couldn’t find anyone really focused on enabling a direct relationship between the artist and their fans, so this looked like a good opportunity for us to jump in and really help out.
Version one was very simple email list management for bands. You could add people, geo-target, and schedule/send your emails…not much else. It was also really ugly. Even with all of that, bands started signing up, and other bands started seeing those bands using it, and the snowball started rolling downhill. A year later we added mobile text messaging (since this was when everyone went “you’re an idiot if you don’t have a mobile fan club”), and we have always continued to update the platform based on feedback (most recently adding social network features/integrations among other things). We are huge believers in always getting feedback and bringing it in to every part of the company, and I think that is one of the reasons that we’ve been so successful without spending the ton of money other people have spent trying to marketing their products. We just focus on what people need (based on feedback), build it really well, and make it easy to use. Today both Spencer and I do FanBridge full-time (24/7/365) alongside an awesome rockstar team of people who are just as passionate about what we’re doing as we are.
What are some of the advantages of using an email marketing service Vs. using outlook or one of the social networks to market to your fan base?
When we originally started, the question we got most often from musicians was “I have 2 million friends on myspace, what do I need an email list for?” While education of musicians has come a long way, we still get asked that question today. While email is one (important) thing we do, I would consider FanBridge more of a “fan relationship manager,” than just an “email marketing service” so I’m going to compare a fan relationship manager to outlook/social networks/etc.
The advantages of using a platform/service to help manage and communicate with your fans are many. First and foremost, a service like us is 100% laser focused on this area. Outlook is a general email client used by anyone and everyone, and serves the mass market, whereas FanBridge is focused on musicians. Every feature we make is with your exact use case in mind. A great example of this is our feature to target by zip code and radius for shows. For example, before FanBridge, most people who were savvy would have their list in outlook (or gmail/hotmail/etc) separated into groups, usually by state. Now that’s okay (not great) for tiny states, but for bigger states like California, Florida, New York, Texas, and so on, it doesn’t really work, because people in Buffalo don’t really care that you are playing Manhattan (even though they are both in the same state). With our geo-targeting feature, you can just put in the zip code of the venue where you are playing, and say “I only want to message fans within 60 miles of the show” and our system will automatically compute who the message should go to (so people in Buffalo aren’t bothered with a message about your show in Manhattan, but it isn’t relevant to them). In addition, from just a technical standpoint, we do a lot of things behind the scenes to make sure your messages to fans arrive (in the inbox) and looking good. Outlook doesn’t do that, and it can actually be really bad for sending to large numbers of people. In addition, when emails bounce, we automatically remove them, whereas in Outlook, you would have to do that by hand (and if you didn’t do that, your deliverability will decrease for future messages you send). These are just a few surface level reasons why using a dedicated platform like FanBridge is much better than a generic service.
Regarding social networks, they are great because there is a lot of activity and users check out all kinds of new things on these sites. We encourage our clients to use social networks to have a presence in these high traffic places on the web, but to make sure to get fans to signup to a dedicated fan list where the artist gets the fan’s real info (things like email, location, etc). Sure, you can build a ton of friends/fans/followers on the social networks, but knowing that ‘babygirl234’ is your friend doesn’t tell you much or give you much value in your marketing efforts.
When you have your own list outside of the social networks, you can use that fan list to build a relationship with the fan. You might actually message the fan both through email and social networks, but they key is to own your own list because it gives you the flexibility to do what you want, as well as do more advanced targeted marketing. Owning your own list also gives you security in case the social network goes out of business, because you can take your own list anywhere you want, whereas you can’t easily port your myspace friends to twitter followers.
Have you seen your clients change the way or the frequency they communicate with their fans based on the feedback and analytics you provide?
We definitely have seen people make adjustments based on the feedback and analytics our platform provides. It is actually very eye opening for a lot of musicians to see how many people are opening or clicking various things in their messages. We try and give clients feedback wherever we can, and one example of this is we tell people who used to cram a ton of info into a monthly newsletter to break it down into 2 (or more) shorter messages with a focus on one or two calls-to-action in each. When you tell fans to do 10+ things, they usually do none. But if you tell them to do one or two, you have a very good chance they will do them. Overall though, there are a lot of bad habits and misconceptions when it comes to communicating with fans, and we are always working to use data to show artists how they can improve to make their messages more effective.
Many of my clients are bewildered about what to write about when keeping in touch with their fanbase other than we have a show coming up. What have you seen work for your clients in terms of subjects to speak about or things to offer their fan base to add value (free mp3s / show tickets / contests etc.)?
This is a huge issue, and touches on some of what I mentioned in the last question. People (musicians especially) often feel like they are bothering fans when they send them a message, and therefore they only want to send a message when they have a new album or tour (which usually ends up being about twice a year). I can’t say this enough, but YOU CAN’T BUILD A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE IF YOU DON’T TALK TO THEM. How many best friends do you have that you talk to only twice a year? Probably none. You need to communicate often with your fans, and twitter is actually a great tool to use daily in conjunction with email (which can be used weekly or bi-weekly). In terms of what to talk about, we really believe it can be anything…what movies you’ve seen recently, what music you’ve been liking (or not liking), what songs you’ve been working on, and so on in addition to news about your music. The people on your list are fans, and they want to consume as much information about you as possible, so why not give it to them?
For things to offer, you should always offer a free mp3 to get people to sign up to your list (we have a feature that does this automatically called Fan Incentive), and if people want to help out even more (in terms of street teams, or pre-ordering tickets, or collecting emails for you at shows), give them something that is unique. Maybe a personalized voicemail message, or a shoutout on your twitter/facebook. The people who want to help are (or are going to become) your super fans, so you want to do anything you can to keep them loving you so they tell all their friends about you.
What are some of the most inventive marketing ideas or campaigns you have seen by your clients to expand their mailing list?
I’ve seen bands offer some very creative incentives to get fans to sign up to their list at shows. Everything from a free ride to the next city on the tour (in the van of course) to a chance to win a living room show in the fan’s house. I would actually say a cool idea is ask your existing fans to come up with ideas for what you can offer fans to join your list. I’m sure they will come up with some good ones!
Any practices you would recommend against using email marketing?
Here are two (that are hopefully obvious): don’t add people to your list if they don’t want to be added (or don’t know they are being added); don’t let your list sit for a while without communicating regularly (you will lose a lot of fans this way).
To learn more about Fanbridge and what it can offer to artists, or to sign up for your own account and a free trial, visit the Fanbridge website.