Chances are, you've never heard of Amanda Palmer. But she has 7 million views of her TED talk. She may not be on your musical radar but she has hundreds of thousands anticipating every new, uniquely AFP, release. You may be following business icons while you never noticed her record setting crowd-funding initiative - where she became the first musician to raise more one million dollars on Kickstarter. Her book, The Art of Asking, leapt onto the New York Times bestselling list with a limited promotion and marketing muscle. Who is this person and what can we learn from her on the topic of customer engagement?
Recently, sporting a baby bump, performing to a sold-out crowd at The Granada Theater, Amanda Palmer played a couple songs then asked to bring the house lights up. "What do you want to hear? But I won't pick you if you yell it out. Please let me ask you directly for your request" Enthusiastic hands flew up in the air. The raucous crowd turned politely silent and let her choose her contributor. She wrote down "Vegemite (The Black Death), Ukulele Anthem, I Want You, But I Don't Need You." Then she sang about Vegemite, Ukeleles, relationships and insecurity. 1,000 fans in the sold out crowd sang every word.
If you read Palmer's book, you learn she started her performing life as a statuesque figure of a white bride. On the unforgiving streets of New York, she would hold a handful of flowers. Should a passerby pull out a bill and put it in her bucket, she would break her frozen stance, make eye contact, and add to the connection with the gift of a flower. She would suffer people yelling out, "Get a job." But these echoes would vanish with the next poignant connection. Amanda learned a unique art form of asking and connecting with those she touched.
In music she became a zealot for building an AFP community. No opportunity was missed when an email address and a Twitter fan was in her crosshairs. She will tweet an invitation for am impromptu pre-gig concert. Haters accuse her of using musicians and not paying them. The optics of her asking for others to join looked like using. But all the while she just wanted to build a community.
Her community grows with each release, whether it is The Dresden Dolls, Evelyn Evelyn or her solo work. Her community expands when her TED talk hits a viral nerve. Her book amplifies the question, "What is it about Amanda F... Palmer?"
Here's what we can learn from her lead.
1. She is Fearless. Fearlessness is a marketable, appealing, engaging, romantic, enticing and magnetic quality. Examples? Comedians like Will Ferrell or Eddie Izzard (heck most any successful comedian). How about Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Lady Gaga, MIss Piggy, Muhammad Ali, Elvis, that dude standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Fearlessness means you have, at least partially, tamed the raw, caustic power of ego. Being fearless means you have a passion that supersedes insecurity. You are fearless.
2. She is Empathetic. What appears to be performance or self serving forays are actually her way of reaching into another person's heart and holding on to that connection. Empathy is a well spring of connectivity. Making your talent about others. Being of service. Chasing answers for the better good of others. You are empathetic.
3. She is Vulnerable. There is a photo in her book. It is difficult to comprehend. She is naked with her fans who are signing her body. Those with limited information would call it a publicity stunt. Those who can take anecdotal information and turn it into a universal fact would call her audacious, irreverent, lacking a moral compass. Look deeper and you see someone obsessed about new frontiers of transparency. You are vulnerable.
Fearlessness, empathy and vulnerability - not exactly the tag line for a celebrated force of commerce in our midst but she is making it work because her community comes first. The money will follow - or not - but the community is still paramount.
Build your community. Fearlessly, empathetically, vulnerably keep asking for what THEY want. Follow your passion. How? Stay engaged with those who raise their hands.