4 Lessons PR Pros Can Glean from Justin Timberlake’s Media Mash-Up

Social media has transformed communication and marginalized previous media intermediaries. Pop superstar Justin Timberlake is a prime example of how celebrities and people in the public eye use social media to build and grow their audiences. 

His new album The 20/20 Experience sold 980,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan—63% more copies than RCA, Timberlake’s record label, expected, according to Bloomberg Businessweek

To reach those numbers, Timberlake took publicity steps that, ten years ago would have been handled by his label, such as plugging the album on radio, TV and press tours. Not that these tactics are no longer valid, but they've been supplemented by digital and social media-based efforts.

In that vein here are four ways Timberlake stoked the publicity for his new album.  

1) Set Instagram presence: Timberlake joined Instagram the day of the 2013 Grammy Awards, which was also his first live performance of a song from his new album. Right out of the gate he used the hashtag #JTGrammys in order to curate everything pertaining to him for the night, and subsequently racked up hundreds of thousands of followers within no time. He's taken a different path than most on the photo-sharing app, strictly using black and white photos (rather over-saturated color tones), a theme which continues on his website. This helps cement his brand and creates a consistent experience. 

The PR lesson: Be present and create a consistent feel to your brand's Instagram presence.

2) Tap an Influential (SXSW) crowd: There's a reason PR professionals descend on Austin, Texas, every year in March. It's the site for latest news and trends in technology, media and music, and Timberlake chose this gathering of early adopters/digital media influencers as an audience.

Timberlake took the stage at the last of the festival's Myspace Secret Shows. Though it was termed a "secret show," whispers about his performance leaked beforehand (no doubt by design). However, it was "just the right kind of odd and non-official yet authoritative sourcing that you want for a secret show," according to Music Mix.

The PR lesson: Tapping influencers is nothing new for PR pros, but delivering them your news of product or service—especially in a way that makes it feel exclusive to them—can propel your messages to a much greater audience from trusted sources. 

3) Use Video Teases: On January 10th, Timberlake used a minute-long video uploaded to YouTube to deliver a monologue about why he’s coming back. The video ended with a countdown clock, which expired on January 13th at midnight. After it expired, he broke the news about his upcoming new album (which was released March 19th).

The PR lesson: To tease an album, Timberlake used short, sharable Web videos to generate excitement. Teasing your announcements with a video may not be the right fit, but it's a great way to incorporate video and multimedia content (if nothing else, for SEO purposes). 

4) Twitter Tactics: On Twitter, Timberlake highlighted his upcoming album, provided previews and engaged fans after the album was released, asking what their favorite song was. He also mixed in other tweets that showed he's, well, a regular guy, and not just using Twitter to promote his new album.

The PR lesson: While having influencers and earned media to spread your message is still paramount for many PR pros, brands now need to be able to bring their own messages directly to their audiences via social media. It also helps to personify those behind the brand, and engage with the masses. 

Do these types of social efforts resonate with your PR department or your clients? Let us know.

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg