How I Learned About Social Media Influence from Bruce Springsteen in 1975

(For maximum appreciation, play the instrumental beginning of The E Street Shuffle (live) and picture Bruce Springsteen in his raspy voice narrating telling the story. Go ahead; show some imagination, you can do it.)

You know it was right about 1975, I think so, on a day, a day just like this. Me and my buds were just hanging out doin’ nothing, but having the time of our lives. This cat Paul’s older brother was emphatic about this new and upcoming rocker, Bruce Springsteen. Somehow my friends, the Hoven Road Gang (not a real gang, just some of us wild and innocent kids doing the shuffle), got the message before the rest of the world caught on to this phenomenon. The influence of a cool, older brother – this had its merits.

A few months later the world would learn of the magic, the alluring simple charisma of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. On Oct 27, 1975 Bruce made the cover of Time and Newsweek. (See a good story – “The Hype Hits The Fan: Springsteen on Time and Newsweek 10/27/75”) Time and Newsweek, not bad for generating some attention in music circles and way beyond.

If there was soundtrack of my childhood it would have to be Bruce and the ESB. When I hear Bruce do old time classics, I still get emotional for the nostalgic influence he had on my life “Growin’ Up.” But it is not this influence that I want to address here. What does this have to do with social media … one hell of a lot…

Let’s go back to the older brother – that is “word of mouth” marketing at its best. Paul’s brother was an influencer. He had the power to move a crowd in a direction. This is exactly what brands would love … having an advocate as their spokesperson doing promotion for them in a grass roots play. But there is a key element you must not forget – value. There is no doubt the brand (Bruce Springsteen) delivers value to his existing and potential audience. Bruce released unprecedented value – both his recorded musical genius and engaging presence live doing 4 hour plus shows back then.

While word of mouth is one form of influence, clearly nailing the front page of Time and Newsweek was a paramount. Just think of the awareness this generated to an untapped audience. This was a pole vault launch for Bruce. No, he did not set out to have something go mega-viral. He was just doing what he knew best and perfected his “product” with maximum value. You should not set out to make something viral. Most people that start with this objective fail. You deliver the best and maybe it goes viral.

Influence is an old marketing concept, but as applicable today as ever. In today’s social media world you can increase awareness by having a strategy that accomplishes exactly what I learned in 1975. Both the grass roots effort and the mega-ness of what Bruce accomplished by being on the cover of Time and Newsweek. As an example, I look at what Tony Hsieh (Zappos’ CEO) is doing with his soon to be released book, “Delivering Happiness.” He is giving away a free copy of the book to those that agree to write about the book in their blog. I applied and received 2 copies of the book in the email. I am reading the book now (love it) and I will blog about it shortly. This is a social media grass roots effort.

In those days, Time and Newsweek were much more influential then current times. Today, social media has a number of powerful crowd sourcing channels. What kind of exposure do you think you get when your piece hits the front page of Digg? What do you think is the outcome of getting a mention in a Mashable article? In a social context things like these along with YouTube and other channels are the equivalent to Time and Newsweek in their hey-day. And the Internet makes these channels potentially more powerful because of viral possibilities.

Comments and reviews appear everywhere. What do you think the ramifications and positive or negatives on yelp are.

So here are my suggestions:

1) Build or deliver something great – you must start there.
2) Do NOT look to have a viral strategy, BUT
3) Do look at the social outlets where your target audience is at.
4) Plan valued content, not selling collateral.
5) Deliver relevant, helpful content at the social outlets where your target audience exists.
6) Plan incentives to make advocates do the marketing for you. (Does not always need to be a give-away. Sometimes simple recognition works.)
7) Look at social media as a way to connect with your potential audience and build relationships with them. (DON’T SELL.)

In wrapping up, I guess there is just one thing left to do … In the words of the impresario and rock concert promoter, Bill Graham, “Thank you very much for coming. Would you welcome please, the chairman of the board, the great one, Bruce Springsteen:”

Social Steve



Filed under brand communication, brand marketing, brands, marketing, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve, Uncategorized

10 responses to “How I Learned About Social Media Influence from Bruce Springsteen in 1975

  1. And I learned my big lessons from the Grateful Dead. They were the one band at the time (and even now) that understood what community really means. They figured out that if they were to survive the end of the 60’s and the ball room scene, they would have to be different and capitalize on it. They understood that every performance was different and that fans, real fans wanted to be a part of it all. So what did they do? The gave it away. Where every other band (and promoter) enforced a “no taping of the show, its our music” rule they Dead turned it on its ear. The music is yours… you can share the experience and listen with your friends. And don’t forget to buy a ticket to a show when we come to town so you can get the firsthand experience and tape it yourself to enjoy… and then share that with your friends too. Brilliant! Give to get, incentive to go viral, feed the community, and mechanism to monetize all rolled into one. To this day only a handful of bands ever got this… Imagine what they would have done with social networks!

  2. Right on… One of the things I have noticed on the “journey” is that in a fundamental way it comes down to control. In marketing, in business as we knew it, we had this need it seems, to control. Control message… persuade and otherwise influence (control???) audiences. Real relationships don’t work that way. These folks understood this and we their fans responded. Perhaps it has and is always thus?

  3. Good job, Steve. Well stated and absolutely insightful. It’s amazing how quickly word spread in those days solely via word of mouth. By the time those magazines picked up on Bruce, I had already been listening to him for 2 years and owned his first 2 albums. People communicate differently these days, but the word-of-mouth phenomenon remains the same.

    Nice touch to include the video clip at the end as a ‘reward’ for folks that read your whole article.

    One thing that didn’t feel authentic to the period is your use of the word ‘cat’ to describe your friend. We would have used the word ‘dude’ in those days.

    • Hey Ray,


      wrt my use of the word “cat”, I think I recall one of Bruce’s story about Clarence referring to him as a cat. Think it was a story about it raining and pouring and this “cat” following him on the boardwalk. Ends up to be Clarence and and Big Man just sticks out his hand to shake Bruce’s hand. When they touch its “Sparks flying on E Street.” I’d also reference the lyrics from Lost in the Flood – “this CAT from the bronx starts letting loose and gets blown right off his feet …” But hey – maybe you are right … not sure if the “cat” in lost in the flood was a friend like a real dude (“all duded up for Saturday night” – Spirits in the Night).

      I am sure we can talk Bruce for a long time.

      Anyway …

      Social Steve

  4. Steve,
    A similar (and older) story is the one of Ghandi. He leveraged the street through wom and made the headlines to get broad recognition (kind of “a brand recognition in a way”)
    At the most basic level, you get people to do something because either you have some kind of control over them, or some kind of influence. In a way, the marketers who bombard my inbox have some kind of control which means they can fill it up with offers that leverage the basic reward/punishment system of my brain (if i don’t buy today…the 50% will be gone…arggg). Control works but requires permanent always leave some kind of negative perception on the side of the person who is being controlled.It’s a push system.
    The beauty of influence is that it works only if the person, conscious or unconsciously wants to be influenced. It’s more like a pull system.
    In your 7 steps process, I think 7 is the core one. Committing oneself to become part of the community where your audience hangs out isn’t something you can skip.

    • Laurent,

      Thanks for your comments. While this is very difficult for many brands to do, they must have a mindset of giving up control and concentrate on influence. In the long run, this is what will produce your brand advocates.

      Social Steve

      • I’m 200% on board with that. If companies could shift the mighty $ spent on random interruption marketing and empower their employees to become valuable citizen of relevant communities, all of us would feel better.
        This is what I preach…

  5. Steve,

    As a Jersey boy (Bennie), Bruce was the light and his music the soundtrack for my life during HS and beyond.

    In social media, I’d add that another key to the success fitting in with your allegory is the executive sponsor. While most know the story of Mike Appel (Bruce’s first manager), the true believer in Bruce was John Hammond. His belief and connections made the Time/Newsweek covers possible. He also made the initial record deal possible… all successful social media efforts from companies require a passionate executive sponsor or they usually don’t deliver the expected results. Without John Hammond, would the Boss have been as famous? Probably, but the trajectory would have been slower.


  6. Hi Steve,

    I love this article… love it. I love how you juxtaposed Newsweek & Time and their influence into today’s social media world… brilliant and dead on.

    Your list of Do’s and Don’ts are spot on as well… very well written and clear/concise…

    Now, as for Bruce being the Chairman of the Board… I always thought that revered titled was reserved for Francis Albert, no? LOL…

    Awesome post Steve!

    Steve O

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