Bruce Springsteen is following me on Twitter.
That sounds impressive until you realize that he's not really following me, but actually following a Twitter version of himself that I created.
The idea behind SpringsteenSays was simple: It was a way pay tribute to one of my heroes while learning more about how and why content spreads online. So I set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and started posting a Bruce lyric a day, give or take.
Some 18 months and 13,600 followers later, here's what I learned:
Old-school outreach has its place
All new Twitter feeds start off broadcasting into a vacuum, and this one was no different. After a few days of single-digit follower totals, a few heads-up posts on various Springsteen-obsessed internet message boards brought in a small handful of diehards who followed the feed and began pushing posts out to friends. This was a social-media experiment, but it was old-fashioned outreach that provided the early makings of an audience.
Relevant celebrity works
Irrelevant celebrity payola defines marketing activity on Twitter to an almost comic degree, but a relevant celebrity with an engaged following is a very powerful means of attracting the right kinds of followers.
Case in point: A month into SpringsteenSays, as the feed was twittering away with barely 100 followers, a single post tripled its audience in two hours. The post featured Bruce's lines from his "Sea of Heartbreak" duet with Rosanne Cash in the form of an @message to the country-singing legend, who regularly engages with her Twitter following. Ms. Cash shared the post with her followers and within two hours, SpringsteenSays had nearly 200 new followers, all highly engaged music fans of the sort who talk about music constantly. Things took off from there.
Timing is everything
As the feed grew steadily, certain patterns became evident. They weren't all that shocking. People retweeted more often on weekends, and famous songs got retweeted more than obscure ones. Therefore, lines from "Born to Run" posted on a Saturday morning would give the feed a nice pop relative to whatever B-side I had stuck in my head at that moment.
But the real surges in both follower acquisition and user activity were driven by timing and relevance. If an occurrence in the real world reminded me of a Springsteen song, I'd post the line, and when followers caught the reference, they tended to share the message at far greater rates. This started off with references to holidays such as Father's Day and Veterans Day, and quickly spread to sports, politics and current events. Hashtags were rarely necessary.
The biggest bump came when Bruce himself was in the news after his longtime sideman Clarence Clemons suffered an ultimately fatal stroke. SpringsteenSays' posts inspired by Clarence's condition were retweeted thousands of times all over the world, by media personalities, famous athletes, other musicians and legions of fans, who seemed to regard sharing the posts as a way to participate in a larger tribute to a fallen icon.
Before long, the feed was the most-followed Springsteen-related Twitter account aside from Bruce's own. And while that status and $2.25 is worth little more than a subway ride, it's been a great lesson in the importance of relevance and timeliness in social-media messaging, as well as a lot of fun.
Plus , I now have a means of direct messaging the Boss, which should be a useful means of begging for setlist requests the next time he comes to Chicago.
If he plays "Incident on 57th Street ," it worked.