What PR Pros Can Learn from Millennial Queen Taylor Swift

Many performers utilize high-profile photo shoots and interviews to sell music, but Swift's masterful use of digital media has driven her meteoric rise to the top of the charts.
10/30/2014 06:16 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

To the joy of fans and pain of nonbelievers, Taylor Swift is everywhere. In the weeks leading up to the release of her new album 1989, Swift launched a worldwide campaign to generate anticipation. On newsstands, she gazes out from the covers of Rolling Stone, Vogue UK, People and InStyle. She appeared on Good Morning America and is scheduled to sit down with Robin Roberts, the ladies of The View and Jimmy Kimmel. This traditional publicity is impressive but hardly revolutionary for an international pop star. Many performers utilize high-profile photo shoots and interviews to sell music, but Swift's masterful use of digital media has driven her meteoric rise to the top of the charts.

While trying to stroll leisurely through Central Park with TSwift, a Rolling Stone reporter described the circus that ensued, with swelling crowds and flashing cameras overpowering the pair. Her digital identity is similarly snowballing. @taylorswift13 has nearly 46 million followers and her Instagram account boasts more than 12.5 million, both numbers are now undoubtedly old statistics as her supporters continue to pile on. Her romantic advice may be questionable, but her digital strategy is brilliant. Here are three lessons PR pros can learn from Taylor Swift:

Know and relate to your audience

Swift understands her audience and articulates their struggles. While most have never dated a notorious heartthrob, they all know the pain of being dumped. Few average teenagers have been insulted by Kanye West at an awards show, but most recognize the sting of being bullied. Swift knows what rouses emotion for her demographic and speaks directly to those feelings. "Watching TV with my cat while eating Toy Story fruit snacks. So basically I'm 80 and 5 at the same time," Swift tweeted, knowing that every girl has enjoyed the comfort of a Friday night on the couch. The majority of Swift's Instagram photos are not of glamorous scenes but everyday moments. Snapshots of homemade cookies, her cats and Starbucks cups resonate more than unrealistic airbrushed images, making her far more relatable than any Kardashian.

Have themes carried throughout different platforms

Distinct themes run through Swift's music and are transmitted seamlessly throughout her brand, including social media. Critics can debate her feminism but her ability to communicate messages effectively is undeniable. She has stated 1989 is inspired by the music and spirit of her birth year. Consequently, her profile pictures feature Swift looking like a millennial Debbie Harry in heavy makeup and a porous white top. The songs reference Polaroids, handwritten notes and red lipstick. They are set in forests and bedrooms and on New York City streets. These motifs are reinforced daily online. In the days leading up to the surprise release of "Out of the Woods," Swift posted photos she had taken of wooded landscapes. Themes give brands cohesiveness, in and out of the digital world.

Show appreciation and engage with the audience in a meaningful way

Personally responding to every fan is unrealistic. Swift's posts typically receive thousands of comments. When she does answer, however, Swift is gracious and personal. In September, a 14-year-old girl commented on Instagram that she dreaded starting high school because she was cruelly bullied. Swift responded with a five-paragraph letter about how she too was picked on but was able to overcome the negativity by not giving credence to other people's opinions and being proud to be herself. "Every time someone picks on me, I'll think of you in the hopes that every time someone picks on you, you'll think of me and how we have this thread that connects us," Swift wrote. Composing one thoughtful message is more effective and demonstrates greater gratitude than thousands of superficial ones.

The digital persona Swift created will continue to serve her in the musical and personal chapters ahead. Last week, a glitch in the Canadian version of iTunes caused a 1989 song to be released as eight seconds of static noise. The track immediately climbed to number one on the charts, demonstrating both Swift's marketability and the frenzy surrounding the record. Many have commented on Swift's evolution as a musician, but her digital progression is also noteworthy for those of us in the communications business. Her keen understanding of the millennial generation goes far beyond their doomed romances, giving her a throne in the online world they inhabit.