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The Viral Power of Fan Communication: A Case Study On Fleet Foxes

It’s always exhilarating finding cases like this that validate the lessons we so often, teach, learn, and debate here on MTT. This story in particular, highlights the power of conscientious direct-to-fan (D2F) communication on the part of Fleet Foxes’ front man, Robin Pecknold.  

If Grammy awards were given to artists DIY’ing it each year, Pecknold would win the award for “Outstanding Performance In D2F Communication”. Pecknold’s proclivity for treating fans like friends recently went viral when a fan of his enthusiastically wrote the following post on reddit:

 Within 24 hours, over 350 comments, 8000 votes, 30,000 pageviews, and 360,000 image views on Imgur brought Pecknold’s appreciative fan’s post to the famous front-page of reddit.  The same front-page that has spawned rallies and movements, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sent memes to the peaks of viral success, was now shining the spotlight on a concept that too many artists fail to grasp: the importance of treating and talking to your fans like they’re good friends.

For some artists the conscientious communication and befriending process is easier said than done, but for Pecknold it’s second nature. Check out the YouTube comment that started it all to get an idea of the ease and attention to detail that Pecknold exhibits when speaking to his fans.


Aside from the video’s views skyrocketing from 864 views to over 12,000 in 24 hours, we witnessed an outpouring of thumbs-ups and positive reactions to Pecknold’s comment.


To boot, here’s a handful of tweets (click to enlarge) that Pecknold and the same fan have exchanged over the past few months:

You’ll even notice that Pecknold is replying to some of these tweets via the Twitter app on his iPhone, and communicating with fans via AIM.  This demonstrates that even while Pecknold is out on the raod, no doubt busy and bombarded with distractions, he manages to stay connected to his fans at all times.

So the takeaway lesson from all of this is simple, and it’s something you should remind yourself everyday as an artist or manager:

Actively establishing fan communication channels + Responding and engaging conscientiously = Healthy, trusting, profitable fan relationships + Viral growth

In the end, this means a long and successful career doing what you love with the support of your faithful tribe.


Alex Hoffman is the Director of Artist Services at Grooveshark.  He is currently focused on launching a robust artist platform within Grooveshark and developing new products and partnerhsips that drive value for artists, labels, and management. 

Reader Comments (8)

Super informative. It's really nice to see it all laid out like this. Analytics make a world of a difference!!!

March 22 | Unregistered CommenterDifferentDave

Great stuff.

March 24 | Unregistered CommenterReader

This is a cool story, but in your rush to embrace the power of going viral I fear you miss the obvious point that this isn't about any old musician treating his or her fans like friends, it's about a musician who already has achieved significant stature in the industry doing this. I think that's a pretty big difference.

This story would not have existed without Pecknold's pre-existing stature. The fan probably wouldn't have been covering his song, and the reddit world would not have been nearly so interested if Pecknold were merely some anonymous local musician trying to make good. The whole thing that tickled the internet crowd was the idea of someone as notable as Pecknold bothering to watch a fan's cover version of his song and comment on it.

Jeremy S: Bingo. These sorts of stories are nothing new. I remember an old tale spun about Bono picking up two random fans in his Lamborghini. Here in NYC, there's an urban hipster legend I call "The Bill Murray Story" which is told in a number of ways but always ends with Murray saying, "No one will ever believe you," after a chance encounter in a random place. In both these cases, it's not about 'a musician' or 'an actor' being one of the people, but about a *celebrity* fraternizing with fans. Pecknold, having won numerous awards and garnered shining accolades in the buzziest blogs and magazines definitely qualifies for celebrity status among young music fans.

It should be noted that determining any sort of financial benefit from such interactions is going to be almost impossible to measure, so while it's a nice thing to be personable, it's certainly not something you'd want to rely on for any part of your living. You can't, for instance, know how many fans you're *turning off* by your online behavior. Communicate with fans because *you* enjoy it, and if you don't enjoy it, then don't do it. Plenty of musicians, *most* of the successful ones, are not hanging out on Youtube watching videos. Food for thought.

The kid in the video has a chance to capitalize on some of this, though. It's certainly somewhat buzzy for him, but even if attempting to get endorsements from bigger artists is part of your strategy there are probably better ways to do that than posting covers to Youtube and crossing your fingers.

Of course, if you're an employee of Grooveshark with the audacity to post 'advice' for musicians I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that you have a less than firm grasp on ideas like 'profit' and 'successful business strategies' and 'not being sued into oblivion.'

Seriously, this is sick. The author's company makes its money by infringing on the rights of musicians, is currently being sued by *every major label* for failing to pay royalties, and now has the gall to come here and give advice to the very people they're ripping off?! I feel this whole thing is too absurd to be real. Is this a late April Fool's joke?

For God's sake! Fleet Fox's label, Sub Pop, is a subsidiary of Warner, who at this moment is suing this guy's company!

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterP

P, it's clear you speak for the labels and not for the artists. How many artists do you think Warner and other majors care about profitting? This is far different from Bono picking up fans in a Lamborghini, it's a mid-size artist engaging with his fans on Youtube and the reddit community picking up on it...not one of the most famous rockstars and public figures of all time picking up his fans in a sportscar and the major media outlets and tabloids covering it— that's not innovative, just ostentatious. Regardless of your ad hominem attack on the author, he makes a good point about how important it is for artists of all sizes to engage with their fans - which is a positive and constructive lesson for artists of all sizes.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterScott

@Jeremy S and @Ron

While I fundamentally agree with you both that Fleet Foxes and by extension Robin Pecknold have been the beneficiaries of a pre-existing fame, you also have to take into account how they got there. I would wager to say that it's mostly because they've put out two incredible albums and are on the receiving end of a substantial marketing machine (at least on the second album). However, the band, and Pecknold especially were especially communicative on social media and other outlets before they "broke" and even moreso once the inevitable backlash after the first album hit. Even in the midst of all of their success, Pecknold was interacting with fans in a way that was wholly different from other bands achieving that level of rapid ascension. Totally agree with you that it would be next to impossible for an emerging band to imitate this track, but this could still be an excellent guide post for young bands attempting to change their online persona once they've achieved a modicum of success.

A few examples I would give to illustrate the point.
1. A rather lengthy stereogum article that extolled the virtues of the band and then devolved into the usual flame-war comment section bashing that site is known for. Pecknold responds numerous times to detractors in a self-effacing way, at one point even acknowledging that the band's debut record wasn't as good as it could be and even going so far as to promise to do better.
2. Posting unfinished demos of the 2nd record everywhere.
3. Covering songs in his room and then posting them immediately to keep fans engaged during the lengthy hiatus between first and second albums.

I agree that it's not so much your willingness to interact with fans that makes a difference. Tons of bands can do that and it makes very little difference. However, the voice you use to break down the wall between artist and fan is far more important. The intimacy of his interaction is what makes this case study effective, not the mere fact that he's interacting.

As for the Grooveshark criticism, why hijack a comment section like that? Other than the author's byline, he doesn't mention Grooveshark at all in his post. I agree that the streaming model is imperfect and I can't speak much on Grooveshark, but I found this post fairly informative from a purely analytical perspective. I just can't understand why you'd take your very insightful comment and ruin it with vitriolic diatribe. It made me sad. Like the best Fleet Foxes song, only less pastoral.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterRon

My thoughts are somewhere in between all of you.

1) kudos to the cover-er! Again proving that YouTube cover versions are now a viable way to attract interest for yourself.
2) kudos to Mr Fleet Foxes on being approachable, interactive, helpful and interested in his fans.
3) the commenters who say this is only interesting because a band of some repute has interacted with a fan in a new way are right. But so what? It's not a "tip for unknown musicians on how to use social media to get discovered. ". This is a brand positioning play for fleet foxes. Building vital goodwill towards their band, endearing new fans and old fans alike, and making at least one fan for life all from one simple thoughtful YouTube comment. How long did that take? 6 minutes of his life? That return on his investment is immeasurable but you can be sure it's not a waste of time.
4) social media has its value here in building brand loyalty for fleet foxes, as well as potentially exposing this new artist to a wide new audience. Not in turning a YouTube comment into record sales, but it might have done that too!

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterIan Heath

It's an extreme example, but there is much truth to it. The fact of the matter is that it takes creativity, talent, and BALLS to get on stage. Doing so comes across as charismatic and mysterious, so the general public look up to musicians whether they are famous or not. It's a psychological thing. And we all know what happens when someone we look up to pays us special attention...I'm far more likely to buy a shirt at a show if I had a nice chat with the band - in fact, I don't think I've EVER left a show without buying something in that scenario, come to think of it. Yet I've left shows I absolutely adored without buying merch and without a good reason other than I just didn't feel like yes, communicating with fans as if they are friends is still effective on an indie level and the proof is in the pudding. Investigate the up and coming acts in your area and see how they interact with their fans, you'd be hard pressed to find one that hides behind a veil of mystery.

April 4 | Unregistered CommenterVee

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