Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Students’ social strategy helps grow Def Jam artists’ business, brands


When Robbie Fitzwater looked for an experiential learning opportunity for his social media marketing students, he went no further than the music recording industry to find one.

The Clemson University lecturer in the Department of Marketing and digital marketing consultant tapped a Clemson alumnus and his artists at Def Jam Recordings to teach social media business strategy and how personal brands can be enhanced through social channels.

“We partnered with J.D.Tuminski of Def Jam Recordings, a label under the Universal Music Group,  to create a real-world project that would allow students to use the insights they gain in class and apply them directly to understanding an artist’s business objectives, then building strategies to help the artists grow their brand,” Fitzwater said. “Today’s students know the nuts and bolts of building audiences through social media channels, but what MKT 3220 did was give them insights on how to apply business strategy on social media channels.”

Communications Studies ’07 graduate, Tuminski, vice president of Commerce and Digital Marketing at Def Jam, provided Fitzwater’s students with six recording artists for the semester-long project, which involved an analysis of the artists’ current social media presence and recommendations on how to grow their brand and their business. Tuminski then introduced each artist and gave context to the business outcomes each was looking to achieve.

J.D. Tuminski of Def Jam Recording collaborated with Clemson on a social media strategy case study.

He joined the class weekly via Zoom to participate in discussions and give context to concepts and their application in the music industry.  “I had the idea, reached out to J.D. and being the rock star that he is, made the project and the class something truly remarkable through his involvement,” Fitzwater said.

“Learning social media strategy through music and Def Jam makes sense because it’s really an innovative and vertical industry. Most of the insights we gain from this case study will translate to virtually any other industry,” Fitzwater added. “The project addressed these recording artists’ personal brands, which is directly applicable to students, who also learned how to grow their personal brands through this exercise.”

Eleven teams of students worked on projects for six major label entertainers – including Grammy winner Alessia Cara and Atlanta legend 2 Chainz — affiliated with the New York-based record label in enhancing their social media presence. The students owned the exercise and became experts on their artists by thoroughly researching clients’ backgrounds, current presence on social channels and how they connect with a broader marketing strategy.

Team members all had different roles, including as project coordinators, strategists and writers. Following research and audit of the artists’ current strategy and channels, students devised recommendations and presented videos on them. Their leg work provided the artist’s recommendations on how to drive their business goals by leveraging social channels.

One of the artists, John Lindahl, joined students on a Zoom call to discuss his approach to promoting a personal brand on social media channels. A singer, songwriter, dancer and actor, Lindahl admitted he sometimes struggled with social media and worked hard to be creative in reaching his audience despite the roadblocks caused by the pandemic. Lindahl provided students context on his approach to social and answered questions from the class.

Fitzwater said Lindahl’s team of Clemson students came up with several recommendations for Lindahl to consider in enhancing his brand through social channels.

“One part of John’s persona is fashion and students recommended that he piggyback off his apparel company’s audiences. They also suggested he communicate more consistently in a blog format and through question and answer live streams,” Fitzwater added.

The case study required students to know their artists intimately by taking a deep dive into their careers and understanding their business objectives. They identified weaknesses and brought to light opportunities where the artists could grow strategically.

“This was a classic exercise in experiential learning for the students. They received constructive and frank feedback from J.D. on their recommendations as well as a semester’s worth of real-world insight from a real marketing innovator,” Fitzwater said. “Students also took with them a lesson in improving their own portfolios and how they can effectively utilize social media as a superpower in advancing their careers”

Fitzwater said social media has disrupted communication channels and marketing in a short period of time to the extent where businesses are having to adopt the medium or be left behind. MKT 3220’s non-textbook approach in exposing students to social media business strategies gave them real-world experience that will benefit their futures beyond Clemson.

“Students came out of this class looking at business and personal communications through a very different lens, and they take with them an arsenal of tools that will help separate them personally and professionally in our rapidly changing world.”


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