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I worked for Beyoncé for a year. She wasn't a diva and wasn't passive it was a master class in digital strategy.

Michelle Mastro   

I worked for Beyoncé for a year. She wasn't a diva and wasn't passive — it was a master class in digital strategy.
  • Marcus Collins shared the major lessons he learned helping Beyoncé bring her fan base online.
  • Collins said Beyoncé's platforms didn't perform as well as expected in the beginning.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Marcus Collins, an author and professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. It has been edited for length and clarity.

For a year I worked with Beyoncé, overseeing her digital ads and social media. I started working with her in 2009, as her director of digital strategy and new media. During that time I shifted my focus toward helping Beyoncé bring her fan base online. This is when I learned my biggest marketing lessons from her.

She's the most gracious and kind person I've ever met. At the same time, she knew what she wanted from her team. She has high standards for those around her because she has high standards for herself.

Here are three big takeaways from working with Beyoncé that have helped shape my career.

1. Don't build community, facilitate it

Part of my job in overseeing Beyoncé's digital strategy was maintaining her Facebook page and Twitter account. The team would put together our recommendations, and we'd present these ideas to her father, Mathew Knowles, who was overseeing Music World Entertainment, which produced her earlier work.

If he liked our ideas, we'd share them with Beyoncé. She'd hear us out, say what she liked or didn't like, and give recommendations. Even when she disagreed, she was always gracious. It was during these in-person meetings that it seemed she wasn't really excited by social media or inclined to post on Facebook or Twitter.

This was back in 2009 or 2010. The internet felt like the Wild Wild West. There were no rules. Beyoncé had just finished the Brazilian leg of her "I Am Sasha Fierce" tour, and it seemed like social media wasn't for her.

In fact, for years she had a Twitter handle she never tweeted on. And yet she had lots of followers waiting for her. So when we became active on these platforms for her, we expected them to light up with activity. But they didn't in proportion to her stardom, which was a quagmire for us. We kept asking ourselves: "What is going on here? Why aren't any of her platforms taking off?"

Then the team noticed there was already a group that found each other online, and they were far more active than anything we were trying to do. And those folks were the Beyhive.

We stopped working on building Beyoncé an online community and instead started engaging with the online community that already existed. We found people who saw the world similarly to Beyoncé, and then we engaged with them based on their shared values and beliefs.

People who come together under the moniker of the Beyhive don't just love Beyoncé's music; they subscribe to her point of view. To me, that was one of the biggest lessons of my marketing experiences working with her: You don't build community, you facilitate it.

2. Dial in and focus on the creative vision

I think Beyoncé's greatest skill as a businesswoman was her ability to be involved in everything we did. It's wild to think that someone as talented and profound to the cultural zeitgeist would be so nice. You'd expect a diva attitude, but she's so far from that. She's extremely gracious, but she isn't a pushover.

As my interactions with her became more frequent, we started making plans to revisit her website, and she wanted to be very much a part of it. She wasn't the passive player.

She's dialed in. She was very aware of her creative vision, and I never had one bad interaction with her. I learned that you have to have a point of view about how you see the world. You have to know what you like and be courageous enough to follow it even if it's not the direction most people are going and folks may not seem to get it right away.

3. Engage authentically

It seems somewhat obvious now, but people who went online to engage with each other about Beyoncé didn't want to be treated like consumers. It felt like when we first engaged with them, they told us: "Don't talk to me as though I were someone with money in their pocket. Talk to me as if I were a human being and engage with me based on your understanding of who I am and how I see the world."

Beyoncé's fans use her music to see the world through a cultural lens. The fans liked her authenticity and responded to it. But bloggers at the time took great license in throwing shade and jabs her way. It was at this point that her community started to take shape. The Beyhive became a battering ram for all those bloggers.

Once we were able to shift from focusing on fans to focusing on the community, we connected with the audience in a more meaningful way

When we saw the targeted audience for who they were, they felt validated. And we learned they were then more inclined to be engaged. The secret was treating this community as a community, not consumers. And then what happens is those people you've engaged with in an authentic way tell other people. Then that community becomes the marketer for you.

After working with Beyoncé, I wanted to go into advertising because I felt like the ad industry was using contemporary technologies better than the music industry was. But I learned a lot from my time working with Beyoncé. My book, "For the Culture," is predicated on these experiences. Chapter one is all about finding who your tribe is, which is what marketers do.

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