About 2 weeks ago I took my wife took to a Taylor Swift concert for her birthday in San Diego. The concert was at Petco Park and it was a huge concert with over 45,000 fans in attendance. I, of course, know a number of Taylor Swift songs as they are ubiquitous, but I was amazed at the impact that she has on her fans, and the dedicated “Swifties” that follow her. As I watched 45,000 people sing, sway and waved bracelets that light up in time to the music, I thought there is something to learn here.
Ms. Swift has a remarkable ability to connect with her fans. Every one feels like they are friends with her. Even my wife, who is in no way a “swifty” and does not follow with any commitment believes that Ms. Swift is about to send her a text and invite her back stage. The Swifties in the audience KNOW that she would invite them back, if she just had time….and there were not another 45,000 people waiting in line.
How does someone create a connection so strong with so many people? How can she create a movement that has real power and influence? This is something that the modern business leaders need to do. Whether it is with employees or customers, trying to build a meaningful connection with so many is a significant leadership challenge, but one that Taylor Swift has mastered.
Be ordinary – At the concert, and in everything she does, Ms. Swfit demonstrates that she is ordinary. Between sets at the concert her friends talk about her challenges, what she does well and what she struggles with. There is the obsession with her cats. While she maybe a multi-millionaire, global phenomenon, pop icon – to her fans she is someone that has the same life issues that they have. She not only sings about what makes her life difficult, she talks, tweets, instagrams about it. The swifties believe she is like them.
Talk about things that matter – Throughout the concert, in her songs and in all her messaging, Ms. Swift talks about things that resonate with her fans. Whether it is heartache, family issues, the journey of self-discovery she talks about these things and challenges her fans to be strong, take life’s lessons and grow. It is a such a strong empowering message that it is tough not to get caught up in it.
Communicate openly – It was obvious at the start of the concert that Ms. Swift was struggling with her singing. It was an amazing concert with great dancers and back-up singers, but you could tell that the main attraction was not at her best. She could have gotten through the concert without saying anything, but instead she told the audience that she had a cold and singing was a struggle for her. Then she got one of the loudest cheers of the night by asking her fans to help her out by singing with her. This is an example of how Ms. Swift communicates with her fans, she is open and honest and in return she gets understanding and devotion.
Demonstrate that you care – The first time I became aware that Taylor Swift was different was when my wife showed me a youtube video compilation of Swifties opening Christmas presents sent to them by Taylor Swift (it was called Swiftmas). Their online social media was studied, their likes and activity and she had responded by send them what she thought they would like, packed the gifts themselves, wrote the cards and even delivered one by hand. Ms. Swift also goes to pages like GoFundMe.com and just donates the total amount needed. These well publicized demonstrations of Ms. Swift caring about her fans is one of the key ways that she becomes close to her fans. Every fan that sees those videos, sees people like them and Ms. Swift caring for them. There is not much a leader can do that is as powerful as demonstrating caring.
Be genuine – While the Taylor Swift phenomenon could be a fully corporate approach to building a pop brand, the sense you get is that Ms. Swift is genuine. Actually appearing genuine is more important than being genuine, but in this case she has too much fun, is in the moment too much for it to be forced and there are too many off-the-cuff moments for her to be faking. She is who she is, and she allows everyone to see that.
The final piece to make this work is that you need to be good at what you do. Taylor Swift is a great song writer and wonderful performer. If she did all the steps above, but was just average it would not work. It is how she leverages her talent that has turned her from a very talented to a global phenomenon.
When I look at this list I have seen CEOs and leaders break each of these “Swift Rules” for leadership, and when they do it usually disconnects them with their audience. If you want to be a leader of a large organization with employees that follow you then Be Ordinary, Talk about Things that Matter, Communicate Openly, Demonstrate you care and Be Genuine are good starting points and you have a global phenomenon to show you that it works.