The New Art of the Tease
Pop’s biggest stars are giving a masterclass in Instagram marketing.
It’s no secret that Instagram is a massive player when it comes to online brand presence. There are direct ways the platform markets to users: Roughly one in five posts delivered onto any given feed is an ad (test it out the next time you’re scrolling). But there are several indirect ways that Instagram, as a profit-minded advertising tool, and the brands and personalities utilizing it have leveraged the platform in effective ways to tease big news, make major announcements and reward fan loyalty.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the pop music landscape. Some of the now biggest stars are playing into the veil of authenticity associated with Instagram for their benefit, and it’s slowly revolutionizing the way music is marketed. No audience segment is more dedicated or starved for new content than a pop star’s fanbase, or stans, as they’re now known. Beyoncé has the Beyhive, Rihanna has her Navy and Ariana Grande stans call themselves Arianators. Whatever the moniker, these fan collectives hang on their leader’s every word and follow their every move, analyzing each update to their social media, congratulating one another when they get a like or comment back, and developing conspiracy theories whenever an ounce of speculation is granted.
While you may not think there are many parallels between Taylor Swift’s marketing machine and your own, look closely enough and you’ll find some genius marketing tactics that can be employed at any scale.
1. Go “Dark”
One of the most telling signs that a musician is plotting to release new music is when their social media goes “dark” without explanation. This could mean a number of things: they’ve unfollowed everyone, deleted all previous content, replaced profile/header images with blacked-out images or all of the above. Generally, this signals the dawn of a new “era,” as fans call it, wiping the slate clean of all that has come before in preparation for what’s fresh and new. Everyone from Rihanna to Taylor Swift, Beyoncé to Miley Cyrus – and even Radiohead – have used this tactic to send their collective fans into a “frenzy” as they begin to scour the Internet for clues or breadcrumbs that might lead to more information.
Obviously, use of this tactic is not recommended for everyday announcements. If your café is switching to biodegradable plastic cups and you want to make a splash on social media, a heartfelt post about listening to customer feedback and your commitment to reducing your carbon footprint will suffice. If, however, you’re announcing the opening of a new location or rolling out a rebrand, something this dramatic might not be a bad idea.
2. Change It Up
One of the most important things about content marketing is to keep your messaging consistent – until it’s not. One of the best ways to subvert your follower’s expectations and tease big news is to pivot in the form of content. An abrupt, unexplained change to the type of content you’re posting will definitely raise a few questions.
The key here is to have a clear plan and not let things drag on for so long that you end up losing follower interest. Execution is everything.
There is a certain amount of influence and responsibility that comes with being the most followed woman on Instagram (155 million followers and counting). Ariana Grande took this strategy to a whole new level when she began teasing her album Sweetener in 2018. Instead of disrupting her main feed, she created an entirely new account dedicated to the album and slowly rolled out tidbits of information, beginning with the album’s cover (as seen in the video above). The account itself amassed 1.2 million followers and now serves as a place for tour updates, music video teasers and more.
Switching things up – while still aligning with your brand – can be a highly effective way to drum up buzz and curiosity, though it should be mentioned that this method will only work if you have a highly consistent content strategy already in place. If your feed is already scatterbrained, throwing a curveball at your followers will only lead to further confusion. If you keep your strategy tight, the payoff could be huge.
Everyone loves a good countdown: New Year’s Eve, the Twelve Days of Christmas, the ticket line at a deli. Game of Thrones, which recently wrapped its final season, has held the tagline, “Winter is Coming” for nearly 10 years to tease an inevitable confrontation that fans have speculated about (ad nauseam) since it was first uttered on screen. If you’re planning to make a big announcement, an easy way to buy yourself some time while building buzz is to set a cryptic countdown with a tangible end date. It gives your audience something to look forward to and lets the anticipation build over a predetermined period of time.
Keep in mind, if the announcement is tied to something timely or has the potential to miss the anticipated date, maybe avoid a countdown. It’s just like sending a party invite to your friends only to realize you have a conflict that day. Save yourself the double duty and ensure that what you’re counting down to truly does have an end date.
Make sure you’ve dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts before dangling a big announcement with a countdown that may never end. Instagram itself has taken notice and developed its own “countdown” feature within Instagram Stories so you can create one of your very own in no time at all.
4. Be Smart
Obviously you don’t want to run a countdown or wipe your feed every week, but your followers are a captive audience who have followed you because they believe there is value in what you share. Because of that, it can be fun and effective to play with their expectations. Use the features specific to Instagram (i.e. tools provided within the platform and overall user experience) to tease big news, share major updates and reward your biggest fans, or stans.