Radiohead’s Unscripted Social Media Success

Musician and amateur video editor, Ohadi Amram (AKA Ohadi22), recently created a video for the Radiohead song, Paranoid Android, using only clips from videos uploaded by 35 YouTube users from around the world. These people (as well as Radiohead) had no idea they were going to be a part of the project. The 35 users were ordinary people who recorded themselves performing their version of the song, and then did what everyone else does today: shared it with the world on YouTube.

The end result is brilliant. Ohadi22 masterfully mixed and edited all 35 videos together to create a cohesive rendition (seriously, he did an amazing job). But even more important (at least to this blog post), the project is a reminder of the impact social media and collaboration has on Gen Y marketing today. And, nobody does a better job of utilizing these resources than the band Radiohead.

A little music history
If you’re not familiar with Radiohead, they are considered by many as one of the world’s most acclaimed bands. Not only are they innovators in the studio and on the stage, but they’ve also done their part to upend the conventional music business model. Case in point: they’ve been without a record label for years, successfully releasing music on their own. This included a downloadable album that fans could “pay what they want” or pay nothing at all (don’t worry, they made plenty of money).

Here’s Ohadi22‘s Paranoid Android video:


So how does this relate to social media, collaboration, marketing and Gen Y?

1. The Facebook factor. The video, which was created without the band’s consent, eventually caught the attention of Radiohead themselves, who in turn posted it to their 6.5 million Facebook fans. That’s how it crossed my path. The band uses Facebook as a platform for instant communication with fans simply because that’s where most of them can be found. Now keep in mind, most companies will never be as cool as Radiohead, so to truly engage a youth audience, you’ll need to know what type of currency your audience is expecting to receive. The preferred currency for Radiohead fans is band information and music. For many companies, the currency will be actual money (contests, discounts, free stuff, etc.).
2. The power of user-created content. Radiohead didn’t have to lift a finger to create this video, yet they were able to disseminate it and  benefit from its promotion. The amount of time the 35 artists (and Ohadi 22) spent arranging, recording and editing their versions easily took hundreds of hours … and they did it all for free. It worked because Radiohead didn’t fight back with a cease and desist. They respected and honored the effort by helping the video go viral.
3. And speaking of viral … Radiohead, Ohadi22 and the 35 artists all took part in the purest form of viral marketing. Do a Google search on “Radiohead + Ohadi22” and you’ll see pages and pages of results from blogs and sites talking about the video. This wasn’t calculated, planned or developed in a boardroom. It just happened. In cases where a company wants to “create” a viral campaign, at some point the spark needs to ignite organically, or else it just seems forced and contrived. And it usually never works.
4. The collaborative nature of consumers. Whether it’s the love of a band, a sports team, or even an event, it’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded people anywhere in the world. The 35 artists were all willing to share their interpretation of Paranoid Android with each other on YouTube—and engage the world in the form of comments and critiques. Companies need to give consumers an easy way to collaborate and communicate with each other (i.e. comments and reviews), instead of building walls between them.
5. Ease of entry for filming/editing video. It wasn’t too long ago when the only way a band (or company) could create a commercially viable video was to spend a whole lot of money. Today, nearly everyone has access to a video recorder and editing software. Just as ubiquitous photography has been on brochures over the past few decades, video is quickly becoming an expected norm as a way to consume content.
6. Gen Y’s passion for music. Despite the fact that music industry sales have suffered it’s greatest decline under Gen Y’s watch, music is more popular than ever. This isn’t too surprising seeing that this is the first generation raised by MTV parents (when MTV still played music). They can’t get enough of it—just take a look at the  success of Glee, American Idol, and The Voice for a clue. And it’s not enough to be a passive fan anymore. YouTube is filled with videos of people turning a video camera on themselves and uploading the results for everyone to see, which leads us to the final point …
7. The emergence of the “Me” generation. Gen Y is a generation that went from being the most coddled children in American history (Baby on Board, anyone?) to updating the world of their every move through Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare. Everyone is important. While YouTube is a fantastic vehicle for discovering and viewing videos, it’s also a unique platform for self-promotion and expression. This explains why there are so many videos of cover songs by (probably) hundreds of thousands of fans, amateur musicians and simply bored Gen Yers.
OK, so there’s nothing ground-breaking about this list. As a matter of fact, everything mentioned above has been talked about ad naseum by social media mavens, Gen Y experts and marketing folk for the past few years. However, it was the organic nature of the video and the real-world viral success Radiohead enjoys that is a reminder that we truly are living in a different world. This video wasn’t grown in a corporate petri dish. It’s just happened because it could.

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