I’ve always been fascinated by the music industry’s take on social media as a tool to advertise not just the music, but a brand persona as a product. It’s never been clearer who the social elite are than when you look to Twitter, where eight of the top ten profiles in the world are musicians.

There are endless examples in this sector of social media done right (as well as wrong), and while many brands are pushing to become more “human” and grow consumer affinity through social, I wanted to take a look at some of the things we can learn from the industry whose products ARE people.

Artists recognise that social is vital to sales, regardless of whether sales are coming in directly through the channel

It’s hard to pinpoint a linear path to purchase that comes from community building and brand awareness, but it should (in theory) be hard to deny the correlation with sales. Strangely, many brands believe if you can’t show it in an excel document, it doesn’t exist. Not the music industry, though. In an article in Medium, Grammy nominated producer Wolfgang Gartner writes, “People are reading, looking, typing, and seeing a barrage of text and images; but when it comes to smartphones and social media, they aren’t doing much listening. Sure, some avid music fans hook up headphones and actually click the link to the song in their Facebook feed. But most don’t. The switch from computers to mobile as a way of using social media helped shift the focus even more from audio to visual.”

Sure, as we find more sophisticated ways of measuring social, we need to be held responsible for direct sales. However, when measuring only the sales coming through in that brief moment of interaction we neglect to paint the true value of social. Do people watch an ad and go straight to purchase the product? Sometimes; but not often. Yet companies spend millions on traditional TVC’s without blinking, all for audience reach and circulation figures. Measuring the effect of social across short campaigns or linear purchases is limiting the scope of its full potential.

“Your image, personality, online presence, and overall profile – is just as much of a product being sold as the music that artist makes”

Most brands see the potential in social media as a platform to generate leads and sell products, but they’re not as interested in the long term value of establishing a persona and presence for any other reason than click through. Many won’t budge if there is a chance to establish a true connection with their audience at the detriment to company KPIs or key messaging.

Artists are under pressure in a similar way to brands to be transparent, as they know social media can make or break their business. They know they need to show more of themselves, be accountable and available and give insight into the story behind the creation of their product. They understand the importance of authenticity and the value in content that is timely, relevant and insightful – whether it’s polished or not. Despite not necessarily being traceable, the value in simply being present, having something to say, being heard and establishing a community is arguably just as important in the long-term as clicks or leads.

Artists have a smart understanding of partnerships

As a result of the way contracts are structured in the music industry, many artists don’t see a lot of value from a straight fee for their collaborations and are seeking something of more value in relationships. What you end up with is an emphasis on an exchange in not only cash, but social equity.

Influencers and brands have been seeking to find genuine relationships together for a while now, however I don’t feel they’ve truly nailed it. Rupert Vereker, chief executive and founder of Sonic Media Group, best described successful music partnerships when he advocated for “collaborations that go beyond putting a brand logo on a music performance; or even vice-versa, a big band posing for a brand. [Developing] brand and music alliances that work for the fans, that launch new releases, nurture new talent; and for brands, provide the Holy Grail to marketing making themselves part of the music discovery process, creating original programming.”

For the most part, there is no difference between this assessment and traditional brand partnerships with celebrities and influencers. If brands are hoping to tap into an influencer’s audience, they need to be less self serving to reach them with a message they actually give a damn about. Influencers, on the other hand, need to be more collaborative and proactive to find a middle ground that works for both parties.

Musicians and artists have adapted to social media out of a necessity to survive in a world where the audio and visual industries have moved almost completely to digital platforms; and as a result there’s a lot we can learn from them. Take a step away from the brand bubble and consider common sense, be human, associate the brand with the right people for better reasons than cash; and above all, look beyond the sales and clicks coming in directly through the page.