10 Social Media Lessons From Freestyle Rap

Over the years I’ve dabbled in the dark arts of improvisational lyricism. Indeed, I’ve made a habit of ”Getting Googley” at marketing industry events the world over. I even did a live rap battle on stage at the MediaPost Search Insider Summit.

Now, please allow me to drop some knowledge from my years of dropping rhymes. Here are 10 key tenets of freestyle rap that can apply to your social media practice:

1. Anticipate. Any self-respecting rapper -- no, that’s not an oxymoron -- knows better than to get on stage without preparing, even if it’s for a freestyle battle. While you don’t have to go as far as planning out every line -- to the contrary, that would backfire, DL Smooth -- you do need to have working knowledge of the situation and the people around you.

The same goes for social media. Do your research. Know what people are saying about you and what they’re likely to say in the future. Be ready with some good comebacks.

But don’t carefully craft every tweet. It will come off as contrived. The goal is to be authentic, not polished. Be real, not rehearsed.

2. Be original. There’s nothing worse than a repeat rhyme. Check that, the only thing worse than a repeat rhyme is repeating your own rhyme.

When it comes to social media, don’t share the same stuff over and over. Repurposing content is one thing. Repurposing your exact same post is quite another.

3. Don’t be afraid to sample. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with sampling a dope beat from another artist. Many of the best tracks are samples, and many of the best artists are samplers. The key is bringing something new to the table on top of what we’ve heard before.

In the social media world, the equivalent of a sample is a retweet, repin, or repost. Here too, the imperative is to add your own spin on things. Whether that’s a quote retweet or a repost with new caption, find a way to build on what’s already been done and add fresh context for your audience, even if it’s an old meme.

4. Think on your feet. Freestyle rap, by its very nature, requires being nimble and responding to the environment around you: what others are saying and how folks are responding. You can’t come in with a script. It won’t work, and you’ll lose all your cred.

You’ve probably heard a lot about agile marketing. Indeed, this is how brands need to operate in a real-time, multichannel world. You can have a playbook, but you also need the tools and training to know when it’s time to throw the playbook away and take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. In social, the Oreo Super Bowl tweet serves as the perfect example of a mic-drop moment.

5. Connect with your audience. Whether you’re in a heated battle or on stage solo, the key to success is winning the crowd over. Ask for suggested topics to work into your flow. Do a little call and response. Get the people in the place to throw their hands up.

Social media’s no different. If a tweet falls in the forest…. you get my point. Find ways to engage your fans and followers. Ask questions, conduct polls, call out key influencers, etc.

6. Stand up for yourself. Rappers get attacked. It comes with the territory. Usually it’s just a verbal assault -- sticks and stones, y’all. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Whether you’re fighting with words or weapons, you have to stand up for yourself. In the rap game, vulnerability is perceived as weakness.

In the social media game, it’s also wise not to show too much vulnerability. Sure, haters gonna hate, and people love to hide behind their social media profiles when calling out companies for product issues or poor service. If you’re indeed at fault, then admit it, but try and get quickly back to crafting an ironclad persona and playing to your strengths.

7. Make fun of yourself. Showing a little swagger can go a long way, but showing some self-awareness while being self-deprecating can be equally effective. In "8 Mile," the penultimate homage to freestyle, Eminem, aka B-Rabbit, takes the wind out of his opponent’s sails by saying everything Papa Doc was going to use against him as part of an opening self-rip riff.

Now I’m not suggesting you go spouting off all your shortcomings on social media. But you can and should offer a lighter side of your brand. Show that you can have some fun and roll with the punches. This will take the edge off when real zingers are thrown your way.

8. Act like you’ve been there before. It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it. Even if you vomited up mom’s spaghetti before taking the stage, you still have to show poise and exude confidence at every turn. When you’re freestyling, vocal intonation is just as important as lyrical prowess.

In social media, we’re always testing new platforms. But you don’t want to come across as a noob. Avoid all the pomp and ceremony about your first pin or snap. Just get on with the content and show you can add value.

9. Have a fallback. All good rappers have a signature line that is used as their calling card and/or when their mind goes blank. For example, Jay-Z uses his moniker Hova in various incantations: spelling out H-O-V-A or H to the Izzo. And Snoop puts izzle at the end of everything, which also has the added benefit of making every word rhyme. You do know why Snoop carries an umbrella, right?

Social marketers need a fallback, too. When things heat up and you have a angry customer or some other crisis on your hands, you need to have some canned preapproved messages that you can quickly fire back.

10. Don’t stop, even if you mess up. In rap and social, there’s only one sure thing: You will screw up at some point. You can only hope it’s a minor gaffe -- and as long as you keep calm and flow on, you’ll be fine. After all, when you’re operating without a net, a slipknot is bound to trip you up but there’s always help on the way…. into Franklin’s Tower. The music never stopped. And neither should you. Just keep truckin’ on through the mixed metaphors, and you’ll find your groove, man.

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