How Taylor Swift Used Social Media to Rule the World

Jessica Yoo
October 8, 2015

2015 was the year of many significant culture changes, including the introduction of Caitlyn Jenner , the phenomenon of Empire and the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

And then there’s that little unknown singer Taylor Swift who continues to dominate airwaves and newsfeeds alike. Fact is you can’t go about your day without hearing something about her. And if this past year has taught us anything, it likely won’t stop unless she says so.

Tons of articles and interviews have delved into Taylor’s origin story, her rise to pop star supernova status and the various controversies she’s associated with. But probably the most powerful medium that Taylor uses to market herself and her music is one where she controls the message coming out of it: social media.

From Tumblr to Twitter to Instagram, Taylor lives on her social media. Whether it’s to market her music or connect with fans, she leverages the platforms to highlight her openness, which is a key component of her brand.

But then again, countless celebrities are active on social media, too. So what makes TayTay different? She used social media to change the narrative of her image and continues to maintain that momentum to build influence.

From “Boy-Crazy” to #GirlSquad Captain

Think about it: Prior to the release of her album 1989, Taylor was mostly known for three things: saccharine love songs, her string of famous ex-boyfriends and her infamous encounter with Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs).

And then came 2014, when she came back to the music scene. She didn’t just come back and she didn’t just crossover to pop music. She shifted all topics about herself by painting a different image on her social media feeds: one who was best friends with supermodels, fellow pop stars and actresses; one who was a feminist; one who spent her nights with her adorable cats.

You have to give her credit for her shrewdness: an Instagram of Swift hanging out with her “squad” now has just as much intrigue as a picture of her with a new beau. Because by turning up the level of fame with each familiar face, there’s already an inherent level of interest. The same idea easily applies to the various cameo appearances throughout her tour: from her Bad Blood castmates to Kobe Byrant, Taylor ups the stakes with every show while increasing her brand’s visibility. 

Taylor Swift #FTW                                                                               

Another way she used social media to her advantage? Her winning the coveted Video of the Year Award at the 2015 MTV VMAs in August. For most, this was no surprise considering the number of famous faces and special effects. However, the award is voter-based during specific periods. And who out of the nominees posted behind-the-scenes clips on Instagram with the gentle reminder to not forget to vote? Queen Taylor, of course

And then there’s that small thing that happened with Apple Music where Taylor wrote a letter about compensating artists during the three-month trial period. Her mode of communication? Tumblr. Not a magazine interview or anything so formal, but a medium that has a personal touch with enough room to lay all her cards on the table. And not to mention easily shareable — with her fans, peers and the media.

When Apple decided to reverse their policy later that same day, she was labeled as a “savior of the music industry,” with Time even saying she saved Apple Music with the free publicity and helping to convince others uncertain about the streaming service. Of course, there’ve been some dissenters who claim the exact opposite: that the change won’t make much of a difference.

It makes you wonder whether Apple could’ve gotten away with saying “no.” Most people have argued they didn’t really have much of a choice considering Swift’s star power. Apple claims that they were thinking of changing their policy even before the letter. And then there’s the fact that Taylor chose a very public way to air her grievances and how quickly her post made headlines — a testament to the power of social media. With the added pressure and the world watching, the stakes were evidently raised.

However, there’s probably still a decent chance Apple could’ve gotten away with it. Like Taylor, Apple has an incredible amount of brand influence (you can’t sell 13 million iPhones in just three days without it) and if they had responded with the right tone, I’m sure a fair number of Apple devotees would have changed sides.

But then again, the Apple executives probably realized they had more to gain by changing their minds. Because when you make nice with Taylor Swift, you have a lot to gain with one of the most powerful people on social media.

What’s your favorite T-Swift social media moment? Let us know in the comments!