Business Strategy | Technology & Social Media

The community rules. OK Go’s videos are proof

OKGo Still think you can bend social media to your will? That you can control the community you've built through your social efforts?

Think again.

For proof to the contrary, I give you OK Go.

For the uninitiated, OK Go is a Chicago-based rock band that has built an enthusiastic following largely through the magic of viral videos.

It all started a few years back with a quirky, low-tech video for the band's song "Here It Goes Again" (known simply as "the treadmill video"). Millions of people watched the video on YouTube, and bloggers from coast to coast shared it with their readers by embedding the video in their blogs. Even without huge CD sales, the band was a hit thanks to that video.

The video's viral success apparently got the wheels turning among the suits at OK Go's record label, EMI, and when the band released its latest CD, "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky," EMI was ready.

The video for the CD's first single, "This Too Shall Pass," featured an incredibly elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque contraption that had "viral" written all over it. But instead of embracing the community, EMI decided to try to control it by refusing to allow bloggers to embed it in their blogs. If you wanted to watch the video, you had to go to the official, ad-supported YouTube video.

The result, according to Fast Company's Dan Nosowitz: A 90 percent drop in the number of views after the embedding restriction was put in place.

So OK Go fought back by dropping EMI and forming its own record label, Paracadute Recordings. Its first order of business: Allowing others to embed the "This Too Shall Pass" video.

The result this time?

"Since the videos have become embeddable, digital album sales have tripled and digital tracks sales have jumped more than sevenfold," Nosowitz writes.

The lesson? You can't control the community. The community wants to be social. It wants to share things. If you try to keep them from doing that, you'll pay the price. If you allow them to do it, they'll spread the word for you.

It's your choice: Fight the community and lose, or embrace it and win.

For their part, OK Go insists its parting with EMI was amicable.

"The metric of success that the label uses is record sales and, specifically, physical record sales," singer, songwriter and guitarist Damian Kulash told NPR. "A lot of what we make has nothing to do with record sales. So we sort of are headed off in the direction that makes more sense for our band, and I think the label is, frankly, happy to watch us go and be successful doing our thing."

Did EMI fumble the viral-video ball on this one? Thanks to OK Go's decision, we're embedding the video below and letting you decide for yourself.


Bill Sheridan