By now it’s old news that Beyoncé released a surprise album via social media in December 2013—that album sold 1 million digital copies in six days from the strength of her followers alone. While it may be obvious that every musician needs a social media presence to promote album releases and tours, most of us aren’t (yet) Beyoncé. So what’s the best approach for the rest of us?

To answer this question, we here at Tellagence HQ used Tellagence Community and Discover to look at data from Twitter surrounding major album releases. What are people talking about surrounding an album release, and who is talking? How does that conversation change over time? More important, what does this mean for bands wanting to make a real connection with their current fans and expand their audience to boost album sales? We’re firm believers that what matters on Twitter is real interaction based on genuine relationships, not simply self-promotion or attracting the greatest number of followers possible. So what’s a struggling artist to do?

First, let’s look at two major album releases from last year: Turn Blue by The Black Keys (May 2014) and Lazaretto by Jack White (June 2014). Yes, we know that these aren’t exactly unknown artists, but they’re great examples. We followed conversations surrounding “Jack White” and “Black Keys” for nine weeks surrounding their album releases--one week before, the week of the release, and seven weeks after.

We chose these artists due to their similarity of musical style, proximity of album release dates, and equivalency of their notability/size of fan base. Both Turn Blue and Lazaretto debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 charts in the US and sold roughly equivalent copies in their first week.

By the numbers, the volume of tweets in each conversation was similar: 226,000 tweets about The Black Keys and 220,000 tweets about Jack White. Both conversations showed a spike in volume around the release date (week 2 of our sample) and slowly tapered off as time passed. This fact may seem obvious, but it’s important to note that this phenomenon is confirmed by data—meaning that it’s crucial to both prepare your audience well and then seize the moment. People move on quickly in the digital age.

To visualize how the two communities change over time, click on these images below to show the progression of influencer networks surrounding The Black Keys and Jack White over the nine weeks we followed:

The Black Keys:

Black Keys
Black Keys

Jack White:

Jack White
Jack White

As you can see, the networks look slightly different despite the similarity in volume of tweets. To explore why this might be, let’s look at the top 50 influencers for each artist. (See here for background on how Tellagence has a deeper meaning behind influencer—we don’t care about your number of followers!)  For The Black Keys, 66% of the conversation was driven by consumers; in contrast, Jack White’s album had more even distribution, with consumers as 36%, media as 30% and music industry as 24% of top influencers. Despite their similarities in other realms, the two artists surprisingly didn’t share many top influencers--only 4, in fact. Overlap was where you might expect, with accounts like Billboard and Consequence of Sound (@coslive, a music publication).

One reason behind the difference in network dynamics and appearance is due to the difference among the primary infuencers for each band.  The Black Keys are active on Twitter via their account @theblackkeys and successfully engaged their consumer audience around the time of their album release. Their account is part of the dense network of nodes visible in the center of the gif images from the first few weeks. Jack White, on the other hand, is known for remaining aloof from the press somewhat, and does not tweet directly, although his record label does via @thirdmanrecords. Hence third parties in media and industry drove Lazaretto promotion, and their influencer network is visibly concentrated into more distinct pockets, like cross-connected hubs and spokes rather than the centrally focused network of Turn Blue. The Turn Blue conversation was driven by word of mouth whereas Lazaretto primarily relied on broadcasting information.

When people talked about Turn Blue and Lazaretto, what did they say? Despite the difference between the influence communities surrounding the two albums, we found that people were often saying the same thing in each conversation. They were excited about the new albums, and they loved the music. Most notable themes for both bands were words like: love, awesome, life, people, amazing, and happy. (Like influencers, Tellagence Discover analyzes much more than volume to determine top themes).

In fact, 62% of the top 50 themes for both artists overlapped, showing that the conversations were indeed similar. Differences were often band specific--for example, elephant and monkeys were both top 50 themes in the Turn Blue conversation. Why? It doesn’t have anything to do with zoos. The Black Keys toured with both the Arctic Monkeys and Cage the Elephant, and people talked about the bands they were buying tickets to see.

Despite the fact that Jack White and The Black Keys are musically similar, their influence communities are not, even if ultimately people are making similar comments about the album releases. As a band, how you best leverage social media depends on your audience and end goal, and Tellagence helps you understand how to do this based on real data, rather than guessing or relying on marketing generalizations.

Now that we’ve explored influence communities and themes surrounding album releases a little bit, in our next installment we’ll look at genre-based conversations and explore a current album release by a similar artist to see how they use insights from Tellagence to inform their Twitter campaign. Stay tuned for more!