By Amy A. Ross
Before he had even graduated from college, Northwestern University alum, Zack Johnson, was already cracking the social-media code. Applying network science to the creative industries, Johnson was helping upcoming music pop and hip-hop artists like Mike Posner and Big Sean rapidly grow their fan bases. How?
By getting the most out of college social networks online.According to Johnson, American universities, particularly top tier institutions, tend to have lots of redundancy and overlap within their social networks. “This means that in a relatively small group of people you can make something feel very big,” Johnson said. Instead of targeting everybody with traditional marketing strategies like advertising, college networks provide a more efficient alternative: “find people at the same time, incentivize them to share and we can make music spread very, very quickly,” said Johnson. And that is exactly what he and his team did. The Northwestern alum spoke last week at NUvention: Arts, an interdisciplinary course offered by professor Gregg Latterman at Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
During his talk, Johnson told students about his experience with successful music campaigns before launching his own company, Syndio, in 2009. According to Johnson, the reason entertainment properties are so hard to scale is because the X factor is so hard to duplicate. The goal of any good campaign is to bring everybody as close to the center of the “bulls-eye” as possible. “Those Kanye West’s and Pharrell Williams’ who can knock it out of the park again and again, those are the masters of the bulls-eye model,” said Johnson. “One really cool thing about social media marketing is that you have a new tool to bring people down the funnel and make them feel exceptionally close to the middle.” Tools like Snapchat and Instagram allow enormous fan bases to feel like they have an intimate relationship with the celebrities they admire and follow. And, as Johnson pointed out, “the closer people are to the center, the more you can ask more of them.”
Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of Syndio, a social-network analysis company that helps organizations improve management and innovation. In a nutshell, Syndio uses people analytics to measure aspects like trust, information sharing and collaboration among employees. By analyzing data from electronic communications like email and chat, in addition to surveys, Syndio has helped improve efficiency in both non-profit entities and commercial enterprises. As the company website puts it, they “help large organizations be more like start-ups; nimble, responsive, and ready to tackle anything thrown at them.”
According to Johnson, even in hierarchical organizations, sometimes the people with the big titles aren’t the ones that “get things done.” “About 20% of the people have 80% of the relationships. What we can do is systematically analyze the data to identify who those people are,” Johnson said. “I can tell you which people need to be engaged from day one.” Johnson graduated from Northwestern in 2010 and has kept close ties with his alma mater, where he regularly guest teaches. In April of 2014, Johnson took part in Northwestern University’s Tedx event with a talk on Relationship Analytics and Business. Last October, Johnson represented Syndio during the Chicago Ideas Week. There, the company won first place in the Piranha Tank pitch contest, an event hosted by Silicon Valley Bank and Microsoft.