Social media lesson from classic club records

Way before I was a PR person I DJ’ed. I started DJ’ing before house music was called house music in the mid-1980s whilst I was still at school. My two passions were records and casual sportswear (nothing has really changed much). One of the things that used to happen in those days was that artists would do reply records to famous club cuts of the time. I was reminded of this my some early tracks in this mix by the Druffalo Hit Squad.

The one that really sticks in my mind was a pair of records by Gwen Guthrie and Wally Jump Jr & The Criminal Element (aka Arthur Baker and Will Downing).

Guthrie was a famous session singer and worked with legends like Larry Levan (who is one of the founders of modern dance music). She went on to write and record Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ on But the Rent which is now steady fodder on easy-listening stations and got heavily sampled by hip-hop acts.

Producer Arthur Baker and vocalist Will Downing made an answer to the record called Ain’t Gonna Pay You One Red Cent to reply to Guthrie’s record which was widely seen as a ‘gold-digger’s anthem. The two records ran at a similar speed and in the same key so it didn’t take too much effort to cut them up into a ‘conversation’ between competitors where the verse of one record was answered by the other record’s chorus and vice-versa.

(The train-spotters amongst you will also notice the vocal riffs that Downing and Baker put in referencing Imagination and First Choice’s Dr Love).

I thought that these reply records are a good analog for an aspect of social campaigns which are usually missing: conversations with competitors.

When I came down to London to work in agency PR I was told that you never mention the competitor unless you are the underdog, it was less about being unsporting and more starving them of the oxygen of publicity.

When I moved to Yahoo!, both us and our rivals at Google and Ask used have links to each others blogs in our blog roll: though this still was more of an acknowledgement that they existed rather than a true conversation. Back in the world of agency life and I found that many of my clients didn’t want to mention their competitor. Like the client who thought that a heterogeneous environment was one that only included different versions of their product range.

At my present employer Ruder Finn, we have been thinking about how competitor conversations can be used to:

  • Spike competitor campaigns
  • Develop a healthy dialogue around different areas
  • Promote common interests
  • Highlight the real points of differentiation between the competitors

Just because you are involved in a conversation with your competitor doesn’t mean however that you shouldn’t abandon the principles of being nice, being human and being useful (to the audience eavesdropping on the conversation). There you go, a social media lesson from post-disco dance music. I have also posted this at my work blog.

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