As one of the key members of Pioneer’s original development and marketing team behind the industry standard Pioneer CDJs, Karl Detken is a legend in the industry. During his nearly 20 years at Pioneer, he helped create more than 50 products, including the CDJ-2000 and the DJM-900 mixer. He’s also a leading expert on social media, with over 500,000 followers on Twitter.
How did you get so deeply into social media?
Karl: Basically, when I came out of Pioneer, I needed to keep myself busy. There was a lot of buzz about social media, so I decided to invest some time and study the dynamics of how social media works. I started with Twitter and I had about 14,000 followers from my years at Pioneer. I tweeted about the technology I knew about, and the life of professional DJs.
What I learned from social media is that it works as “inbound” marketing. People may not know the difference. Email blasts, websites and other “outbound” marketing methods are becoming less and less effective at being able to grow and keep a fanbase. Social media focuses on attracting and earning people’s interest. You attract new fans that you may not have found otherwise by becoming a valuable source of information. Marketing used to be a one-way conversation, but social media is now a two-way conversation.
You have one of the biggest followings among DJs. Your recent Twitter follower count is over 500,000. That’s a huge increase compared with your days at Pioneer. How did this happen?
Karl: It took about 3 months for me to understand the dynamics here. I guess the catalyst for my growth was in figuring out how social media was meant to be used. I studied how some of my favorite Twitter members interacted with their audience. One thing that I learned is that I needed to find out what my audience is interested in. I consider social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube as magazines. I would constantly look for relevant news and information. Content is king. The better your content is, the more it will be shared by your followers, and that’s where the viral effect comes into play.
Your goal is to get retweeted by your followers. The more retweets, the bigger your message will get, and the more you will grow. That’s the secret I learned really early on. And to give you an example of how crazy it can get, in December 2010, I received 42,000 retweets in one month. When you can do that, you’re getting in front of more people. If you have something of value, they will follow you.
Does a higher follow count help the momentum?
Karl: The first two thousand followers are relatively easy. Everything after that becomes a lot harder. When your audience sees that you grabbed 10,000 followers, it gives you more legitimacy. I found a couple of great Twitter power people, and basically what I do is study them and evaluate them. I would share their content and give them credit. Sometimes they would notice me, and I could ask them questions. Eventually, they started retweeting me. For a DJ, initially, it’s a good idea to find a couple of people to study and see how they are growing their audience, and how they choose what content to post. Find an expert who you respect.
As I said before, content is king. A great way to connect with your audience is to give away music. If you think about it, music is a really intimate thing. The artist puts their soul into every composition, and it makes them vulnerable. If you give away these kinds of gifts, you actually start building an audience. It’s the same with giving away passes to a show. It’s important to create that engagement and be accessible to your audience. It’s nice to see someone who’s down to earth, who’s cool, and who has something of value to give to his audience.
The idea is to create something special for the artist. Kaskade Music Monday is an example where he posts a new track every week. It’s the same idea that Morgan Page is doing with his Twitter account. I asked Morgan, “What are you an expert at?” He came to the conclusion that he might have some ideas about production that were worth sharing. I told him, “Do it! Your audience will love it and will find it useful.” So he came up with #MPTips (Morgan Page Tips). He would share production tips, gear ideas, touring and performance ideas–I thought it was brilliant. I remember he talked about drinking a bottle of water during the end of his set, so you wouldn’t be dehydrated, and your performance could be better. He got exactly what social media is about.
Do these ideas still apply to Twitter, Facebook and all other social networks?
Karl: Absolutely. The reason you want to be on all the platforms is because your entire audience may not be on Twitter or YouTube, and you want to have as much coverage as possible. You don’t have to spend a lot of time in each one. You can set up your accounts to cross-post from one account to the others. The key is to be relevant to your audience and to be a source of useful information.
So let’s say you’re a DJ who’s new to the business, and you don’t know where to start. What I always encourage DJs to do other than becoming relevant and sharing things, is trying to understand who your audience is. When I started off, I was just talking to DJs and giving them Pioneer ideas and Pioneer stories. What I started to realize is that it’s a narrow niche. In order to grow beyond that, you need to find people who have regular lives. When I expanded what I was talking about, I started growing a lot faster. I became interesting to more people. I figured out how often I should post new information. This is something you have to test out. If you post too much, you’ll annoy your audience and they may leave. The sweet spot for me is to tweet every four hours. Some tweets are technology-based, and some are lifestyle-based.
You post a lot of inspirational quotes and positive content, and you come across as a nice guy. It doesn’t seem like you’d ever say something like, “Oh man, I’m waiting in line at the DMV again.” Should the message be positive most of the time?
Karl: Absolutely it should be positive, because A) you might offend someone if it’s not, and B) you should look at yourself as a magazine. You just won’t see complaints like that in a real magazine; one magazine wouldn’t complain about another. A lot of touring DJs make the mistake of talking about themselves too much. Nobody really cares that you’re having a ham sandwich; you want to talk about other things. It’s also never a good idea to say negative things about other DJs or other styles of music, because you run the risk of alienating your fans.
What gave famous DJs such a huge boost on social media? They have massive followings now–what led to that?
Karl: Any of the big DJs will naturally have a large following. I think these are guys who really “get” social media. Some set themselves apart because they share their heart and soul with their fans; they aren’t just sharing their itinerary and schedule. Fans want to know that their idol is a regular guy.
I’ve noticed that BT posts a lot of photos on social media. It has been statistically proven that posting photos on Facebook has a more profound effect than any piece of text you could normally post. Multimedia will be more viral than any kind of text you can put out. Kaskade brought a guy with him on tour to film the shows, and those videos went viral because people wanted to get the behind-the-scenes vibe. It’s good to share the normalcy of being this superstar DJ.
For young DJs who have a small following now and want to get deeper into social media, what’s the BEST piece of advice you can give them?
Karl: The core thing for me is something that I call the Power of the Five E’s: