Lady Gaga has 39 million Twitter followers.
That’s more than you do. Unless your name is Justin Bieber or Katy Perry.
Gaga’s Facebook fan page does even better with 58 million followers. That equals the total population of all but a few sovereign countries.
These sheer numbers fired Jackie Huba’s fascination with the outlandish musical artist. The Austin expert on customer loyalty, who speaks and consults on that subject for a living, had to find out the secret of Gaga’s social success.
Gaga’s main strategy, Huba discovered, is to focus on the 1 percent, those most dedicated fans who signal their intense loyalty by signing up on a private social network, LittleMonsters.com.
“They know that this is where the other diehards are,” Huba reports. “And where they can interact with (Gaga) personally. She chats with them, leaves very personal messages. Her manager has absolutely verified that this is her. They don’t post for her.”
The author of the recently published “Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics” is a hot property on the speaking circuit. After years of using Gaga’s campaign as a case study in her business speeches, Huba had enough material for a book.
“Coca-Cola was bringing her manager, Troy Carter, in to speak to employees about how Gaga connects with her customers,” Huba, 48, says. “Locally, Bazaarvoice did the same.”
Huba admits she was a dance music fan long before the Gaga sensation broke out. Born and raised in Butler, Penn., near Pittsburgh, she studied computer science at Penn State University.
“As soon as I got to IBM, I knew I wasn’t a computer scientist,” she says. “The marketing people looked like they were having more fun.”
So, for 11 years, she worked in IBM’s Raleigh, N.C., marketing office, before joining a Web marketing firm in Dallas, just in time for the dot-com boom. There, she learned a lot about viral marketing and how word of mouth works for even big corporate clients like Campbell’s Soup and Procter & Gamble.
With colleague Ben McConnell, she started her own marketing firm in Chicago called Wabash and Lake, a “Matrix” reference. The writing partners popularized the term “customer evangelist” through a book about making customers into a volunteer sales force.
“It’s all about creating an experience and products worth talking about,” Huba says. “Customers feel part of your company, part of your family, and they want to tell others about you. You don’t want to monetize that. They do it because they believe in you, not to be paid.”
That first business book is still selling today. In 2003 — the dawn of time in the blogosphere — they paired up for “Church of the Customer Blog” which attracted more than 100,000 daily subscribers.
This led to a second book, “Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message.” “Lots of professors started using it in their marketing classes as a primer on social media,” Huba says. In 2007, she and her then-co-author moved to Austin.
“Richard Florida touted it as one of the most creative cities and among the most entrepreneurial,” she says. “And we had to get out of the cold because we were freezing our butts off.”
After a gig with a boutique social business consulting firm, she headed out on her own, working out of her condo on South Lamar Boulevard. In 2009, the whole Gaga thing took on a life of its own.
“It was different from other pop stars,” Huba says. “She had such a close, intimate relationship with fans and used social media in a way we hadn’t seen.”
Huba followed Gaga daily, read everything she wrote, what her manager was saying, what popped up on fan websites and interviews. The author never personally interviewed Gaga, who was on tour the whole time she was writing, but she has been in contact with the Gaga creative team.
Huba also identified another Gaga gambit.
“She leads with her values,” she says. “When she was just starting out in New York, she couldn’t get played on the radio or get booked, but the gay clubs in New York booked her. Then she was featured in the San Francisco gay pride parade. So she adopted the gay community’s fights as her own.”
Indeed, Gaga has been particularly outspoken on marriage equality and gays in the military. Her Born This Way Foundation, run by Gaga’s mother, concentrates on anti-bullying causes.
Along the way, Gaga made an impact. In 2010, Time magazine rated her among the Top 100 most influential people in the world, along with folks like President Bill Clinton. The same year, Forbes ranked Gaga near the top of its list of most powerful celebrities.
“She was to change the world to make it a braver, kinder place,” Huba says. “So she’s not just a younger, fresher version of Madonna.”
After speeches, Huba is asked whether a team has manufactured this public Gaga persona.
Huba’s response: “She is an unbelievably mature 27-year-old who has a vision and who surrounds herself with a team called the Haus of Gaga, who executes her vision.”
Interestingly, the movie “Social Network” gave Gaga the idea for a private social network. Her team surveyed other online platforms and built their own, Backplane, which now does the same for other celebrities.
Huba’s book on Gaga launched May 1 with a party at Oilcan Harry’s — featuring a leading drag queen and a Gaga flash mob — that benefited Equality Texas, a LGBT advocacy group.
“I didn’t want the party to be all about me,” Huba says. “But instead, inspired by Gaga, I wanted to give back.”
Michael Barnes writes about Austin’s people, places, culture and history.