Dialogs. Fabio Zaffagnini.

9 June 2016

The Dialogues allows participants to meet with personalities from the world of business and culture that have achieved excellence in their respective fields. They are an opportunity to learn about their growth path and the challenges they have faced. We have talked to Fabio Zaffagnini, creator and organizer of di Rockin1000. Guest of our Innovation Talks Spring Edition.

Fabio Zaffagnini is the creator and organizer of Rockin1000, one of the most popular Italian events on the web. In April 2014, he managed to convince a rock-band such as Foo Fighters to play in Cesena, diverting them from their world tour to come and play in Romagna. Not something that is done light-heartedly, considering the entities that organise concerts normally don’t accommodate sudden changes of plans. Rockin1000 hit its target with an original and compelling idea: a video was shot featuring one thousand musicians, divided as per guitar players, bass players, drummers and singers interpreting at the unison the song “Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters. As of today, the video has scored 35 million views on YouTube, becoming the most seen Italian video on the social platform in 2015. But behind this apparently playful initiative, lies a refined and multi-faceted communication project, of which Fabio unveils for us a few important ‘behind the scenes’ facts.

When did you realise the true potential of the project?

Since the very beginning it was clear to everyone it was such a crazy idea that it had an enormous communication potential. But then how to transform that communication potential into a real and tangible product was a different kettle of fish. Starting with the initial objective of bringing Foo Fighters to Cesena, we understood almost immediately we had at our disposal a growing community of thousands of people who couldn’t wait to gather in order to play together, to meet, to share a passion or simply take part in an event.

And crowdfunding was one of the main leverages.

Initially, we didn’t intend to invest our own money in this, we wanted to break even, without losing money. But then we decided to go for crowdfunding. As I’d already had some direct experience of it, I knew it was fundamental to have a communication project and this communication mostly goes through the social media. For this reason, we drafted very detailed editorial and communication plans, which we committed to follow as closely as possible. Last year crowdfunding was harder for us, because we hadn’t yet mustered enough credibility and we didn’t have anything in exchange to give, lest the reward of witnessing a crazy idea grow. While this year, crowdfunding could tap into the evolution of the Rockin1000 project, based on the pre-sale of tickets to attend an event featuring 1000 musicians on the stage, with a playlist of rock classics. We went from donors to the audience of a show. Relying on crowdfunding also means testing quality, value and potential of an idea. Because if someone is willing to pay something in order for a project to come true, it means it truly has an appeal, it’s interesting. And all of this avoiding financial risks. Perhaps, this year, we could have financed the project purely with sponsorships, but then the participating identity of constructing our initiatives with a bottom-up approach would have been lost.

Is it more difficult to do crowdfunding in Italy?

I’ve never had direct experiences of crowdfunding outside Italy, but I see that campaigns abroad have amazing responses, even producing results that are ten times higher than the initial target. I believe in Italy we’re still far away from such results, perhaps because Italians aren’t that present on the web like Anglo-Saxon users, or because there’s a sort of mistrust towards those proposing a crowdfunding campaign, perceived like the sly ploy to make easy money or even a possible swindle. It’s part of our Italian mentality to think “who knows what’s behind it”. This means one needs to be extremely transparent with donors, explaining the reasons for every decision. In the States it’s the idea that conquers donors, in Italy it’s the detailed expense sheet. Having said that, Rockin1000 is a twice successful case, two consecutive times, so it seems people in Italy too are more ready to contribute to a “bottom-up” project.

When and how should one use crowdfunding?

If the target of crowdfunding is to collect € 3,000, it can be supported by family and friends. When the amount involved is larger, then the idea must have an appeal for potential beneficiaries. We have hundreds of volunteers and thousands of musicians involved in Rockin1000. This is a huge sounding board for the crowdfunding campaign, because when we publish a post on the social media, we have at least one thousand people organically sharing our contents. A close and reactive community that has an identity doesn’t require investments in advertising campaigns. It’s as if we had thousands of PR spread around Italy. Ready to financially support the cause, as well.

A community though that is set on Rock as a topic.

We’re actually quite vertical in our community of musicians, of rock music fans. We haven’t understood though how wide is the range of music fans we address. We always defined ourselves “rockers” because I am one myself, and I know quite well what people that love my music like. As a group, we’re good at communicating to our target, because it’s very close to our personality and this makes it so much easier. We might be able to convey messages that aren’t strictly connected to rock music but it would be a dispersive operation, one that would distort our identity, it would undermine the credibility built over time and it would scatter our precious community.

What is your target of users?

There are two types: musicians, those who play in basements because they love playing or in pubs just for a few euros. We give them the chance to get to stages they would otherwise have difficulties reaching. We try to make them experience what it feels to be a rockstar. The one thousand musicians of Rockin1000 were the protagonists of a video that has become a global success. They will have at their disposal, during this summer’s concert, the second leg of Rockin1000, a full stadium and a scenery like those a great artist could expect. The second type of followers are rock fans. They haven’t got the same challenge-oriented rebel spirit typical of musicians, but they are optimists. They believe dreams can come true, that if you commit you can achieve your goal, that there’s hope in the future. So, we get to the heart of these people because we’ve been able to embody their values making a small dream come true. This is probably the main reason why they watch the video of Rockin1000 every morning, more than once. It’s inspirational.

Taking care of such an involved community must entail responsibilities.

I don’t like people who go about telling others how they should behave or live and I laugh when I read articles online or advertising on the five truths to achieve success or the ten secrets to communicate well. If there were infallible recipes, the web would be by now full of billionaires. As Rockin1000, we conducted an in-depth study of our targets, what they like and dislike, what stimulates them and what brings them down. Our communication is always shaped around the elements we found. We like telling our story because it can be a source of inspiration for many people, but we don’t want this story to become the usual ten pieces of advice. The success we had is connected to a great idea, to good practices and mostly to a serendipity, that is, a series of things that happened without us looking for them, they fell into place almost miraculously, leading us to success. It’s not something that can be planned: sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean one has to sit down and wait for things to happen. It means one must try a billion times until things click in the right way.

How important is eclecticism?

In the project, I am the general coordinator but the whole IT platform for the musicians, I developed it myself. By building up the technological aspect, pure programming, I penetrated the user experience vision and I examined from the inside the aspect of communication; seeing how my users move within the website allowed me understanding what works, what is understood and what isn’t, how to modify it and how to communicate in the right way for our users.

How many people are now part of the main team?

We established a company, there are seven of us. We included the professions we felt were necessary for this type of project. The general coordinator, an event project manager, a screenwriter dealing with video making and cinema in general, because we like the idea that this project may be connected to a wider narration, not limited to the small space of a videoclip. Then a social media manager, a press office, a sound engineer and a sales manager. All in all we are ten, normally, and we become 250 closer to the event, of which 200 volunteers and 50 professionals in various fields, from video-production to event organization, to customer care, to graphics, to social media and all the rest that is needed.

The future?

We’d like to bring this project abroad. We’d like to take it to New York, pull down the barrier separating rockstars from those who play in the basement. Making them play on the same stage. We have a list of 45 rockstars we are following in order to understand what is the element we could use to involve them. We have to make the effort to adjust our mentality to theirs, because what may be a value for us, could as well not be a priority for someone at the pinnacle of success. I mean, how about seeing Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters themselves or Bruce Springsteen playing with our mega-band in a stadium? That is, keep on making our community’s dream come true.


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