Hear that, Santa? Beyonce gave her fans a surprise early Christmas present and showed the world that understanding your target social community is the key to a good Content Marketing strategy.

About 10 days ago, Beyoncé turned the music business on  its ear by releasing a full self-titled album on iTunes with no fanfare, no warning and no traditional PR plan.  This surprise album lit up social media like Christmas lights, with word spreading so furiously via Twitter that iTunes actually crashed from the download volume.

I did a little social listening to see how much chatter Beyoncé was garnering on social media, and as a benchmark I decided to compare her to December’s usual social media hero: Santa Claus.  Here’s the comparison over the past 10 days:

No, Beyoncé didn’t actually eclipse Santa’s mentions, but coming anywhere near his popularity during the Christmas season is astounding.


There have been a lot of articles written about the album’s success, and for good reason: it was the fastest-selling album ever on iTunes, with over 800,000 copies downloaded over the weekend.  It pissed off Target and Amazon so much that they’re refusing to stock it at all.  (Take note, Target and Amazon: Santa is still watching, and having a tantrum over an artist giving her fans something to be excited about isn’t the best way to impress the Big Guy.)  It raises the question as to whether an artist with Beyoncé’s popularity actually needs a record label or multiple distribution channels at all these days – things that Ani diFranco decided to forego, successfully, long ago.

For my purposes, it also illustrates that Beyoncé has a really firm grasp of Content Marketing.

Content Marketing is the new buzzword in marketing circles.  It’s my job title, and it’s one that I started to see in marketing about 18 months ago.  What Content Marketing is, at it’s core: putting structure and strategy around the content that we produce across our distribution channels, including social media and blogs.  Content Marketing is tied inexorably to social media marketing, as social marketing is really just a constant stream of content.  And social marketing is of course inexorably tied to community marketing, because the primary goal of a social marketing program – a dialogue marketing model – is earning word-of-mouth shares by exciting a social community with your content.  (For more on this, check out our social listening guide.)

Beyoncé chucked the traditional monologue marketing model (read: one-way announcement, static message) and, smartly, counted on her target social community (her fans) to start and continue the conversation for her.  And the way to do this is actually very simple:

Give the people what they want.

Good content marketing starts with understanding your target social community, and then engaging them with something that they’re going to find useful, entertaining or helpful in some way.  And what sort of content do Beyoncé’s fans want?  Well, hers.  And by counting on her fans to do her promotion,  Beyoncé let her fan community be a part of the actual album release – and that’s a really great way to spark engagement.  In general, people love good surprises, and they love exclusivity, and they love spreading good news, and this album hit all those notes.

The other thing Beyoncé’s fans want is a piece of Beyoncé, and she followed up her album release with a release party at Dave ‘n Busters, posting shots from it to her Instagram feed.  In this way she was able to keep her fans feeling engaged and important, and gave them a reason to continue talking about her and her album.

So, while Target and Amazon are digging in their heels and trying to create a financial backlash for Beyoncé by punishing her for taking it to the streets with an epic content marketing win, I think that Santa Claus is probably sitting back on his sleigh and adding a few extra trinkets for her stocking.  Nobody understands how to reward community better than Santa, and in this case it would seem that he has a pretty great student in Beyoncé.