Hammer markets his brand

By D.C. Denison
Globe Staff / September 1, 2009

There was nothing nostalgic about MC Hammer’s appearance yesterday before 100 entrepreneurs and marketing professionals who gathered at the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge for the Gravity Summit conference on social media marketing.

For many in the audience, Hammer, the energetic dancer and rapper whose music career peaked in the early 1990s, is more about the present than ever. With more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, the California entertainer has been keeping a large audience up to date with the smallest details of his life, in increments of 140 characters or less.

From the time he landed in Boston Sunday night (“Wheels down!!! Boston . . . Yes!!’’) to the start of the conference, Hammer sent 14 Twitter updates, or “tweets.’’

He sent five tweets during the talks that proceeded his morning keynote address. Hammer’s tweets also appeared on his Facebook page, where his number of “fans’’ recently topped 43,000. Meanwhile, Hammer’s MySpace friends are closing in on 24,000.

There were no requests for “U Can’t Touch This’’ or “Too Legit to Quit’’ from the conference attendees, who sipped coffee in a wood-paneled, chandelier-lit room across the street from Harvard Yard. Instead, the agenda was how to make a social media splash like Hammer has done.

The daylong Gravity Summit was making its East Coast debut after three events in California: at Stanford University and the University of California at Los Angeles and at Irvine.

When he took to the podium, Hammer was short on specifics, but long on enthusiasm. He urged the audience to follow his example and “get involved’’ with services like Twitter and Facebook, even if there’s no obvious way to make money.

“I jumped in with both feet, early,’’ he said, adding that with the number of users who are now online (“250 million on Facebook!’’) there’s got to be a way to “sell those people something!’’

Hammer, who’s real name is Stanley Kirk Burrell, has not been idle since the days when his videos were in heavy rotation on MTV. He has worked as a preacher, a record producer, commercial pitchman, and serial entrepreneur. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife of 24 years and seven children. His most absorbing current project is “Hammertime,’’ a reality show about his family’s domestic life that airs on the A&E cable network.

But yesterday, Hammer made it clear that future projects will all involve social media.

“I’m both an entrepreneur and a brand,’’ he said. “Being in the center of my universe is important to me. That’s what Twitter lets me do. . . . I want to get out in front of the conversation.’’

Asked by an audience member whether all musicians should be active on Twitter, Hammer hesitated.

“I happen to know that a lot of guys who are known for their love songs don’t actually know anything about love,’’ he said, adding that tweets from these singers could backfire by revealing how clueless they are about matters of the heart.

But for a natural showman like MC Hammer, ignoring social media “is not an option’’ he said.

“Social media is all about visibility and awareness,’’ he added. “It’s a great way to add value to my brand.’’

D.C. Denison can be reached at
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