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Online Trends

Published September 12th 2018

The Changing Face of Fandoms: Beliebers, Bots and BTS

In which the React team wonders whether massive online fandoms have changed since we first started covering the phenomena with the help of Leaf Music's social media coordinator Lauren Porteous.

The news was slow, we had no new content and it was raining heavily. We weren’t in a good mood when we penned the tweet, and we weren’t expecting much from it at all.

4,000 retweets later and having abandoned looking at our Twitter notifications, we were left feeling reflective. WTF just happened?

Our moment in the BTS spotlight

On the 13th of August we wrote this on Twitter. It was a reflection on how so many of the queries we were writing were returning loads of results relating to the world famous K-pop group BTS.

It was picked up by a couple of the big BTS fan accounts and before long it had generated thousands of engagements. We had a lot of questions.

Surely, we thought, all this engagement was being automated in some way. So we ran decided to run some tests.

Does mentioning BTS guarantee massive engagement?

Would simply mentioning BTS get you a ton of engagement?

The Brandwatch account (separate from the @BW_React account) quote-tweeted the above tweet, gaining a solid 1 retweet.

Apparently you have to work harder than that.

What did the replies look like?

At this point our replies were in the hundreds – would we find obvious patterns in tweets that would suggest responses were from bots?

We found a few that seemed obviously automated, simply sharing videos unrelated to what we’d said, but these responses seemed fairly few compared to the more genuine looking comments.

A good test here, which was totally unintentional at the time, was when I tried to plug our Influencer Report (which mentions BTS) below that tweet. Foolishly, I included the wrong link and we were treated to a barrage of complaints saying the article I’d provided had no real link to BTS and that it was clickbait. Surely bots aren’t capable of that level of interaction just yet, right?

It seemed like many of the responses, in terms of replies, were genuine.

Do the accounts engaging have many followers?

The answer to this is yes and no.

At one point we noticed that @BTS_ARMY, which has more than 3 million Twitter followers had retweeted us – although it seems like they later changed their mind and un-retweeted us. We also had a retweet from @USBTSARMY which has an impressive 300k followers.

Seems legit to us, but what about the other 4,000 retweeters? Using Brandwatch Analytics we downloaded data surrounding our retweets so that we could work out the mean, median and mode averages of follower counts of people engaging with us on the day our Twitter got set on fire by the BTS fans. The mean looks pretty healthy – the median and mode not so much.

To put this into perspective, we took another successful day’s tweeting from the @BW_React archive to compare the results and looked at the follower numbers for people who retweeted our announcement of the most influential men and women on Twitter last year. The mode and median follower count here are significantly higher than the accounts who retweeted our BTS comment.

Follower counts of retweeters in two popular @BW_React tweets

BTS moment Influential tweeters moment
Mean followers 2392 2766
Median followers 212 400
Mode followers 12 119
Mean, median (central number in dataset when follower counts sorted chronologically) and mode (most common follower count in dataset) of follower counts of @BW_React retweeters on 15 Nov 2017 and 13 Aug 2018

What we’re seeing here is that even with the big fan accounts driving up the average number of followers, BTS fans appear to be less likely than those who retweeted our other content to have a high follower count. 32% of the BTS dataset had less than 100 followers, compared to just 18% of those in the “Influential tweeters moment” data.

Of course, we should note that a low follower count is not necessarily a sign of a bot account.

Are fandoms changing?

We’ve got our suspicions, but we’ve in no way proved here that a significant chunk of the conversation around BTS is automated. We decided to speak to a fandom expert about how they saw the BTS fandom, comparing it to what we might now call a more traditional social media fandom – that of Justin Bieber.

Lauren Porteous, Social Media Coordinator for Leaf Music, has a lot to say on the changing face of fandoms. Alongside her work at Leaf Music, she’s also run one of the biggest Justin Bieber fan accounts on the internet. We’ve spoken to her before about setting up a successful fan account but this time we wanted to discuss her thoughts on how BTS fans differ from Beliebers. She says that the activity of a fandom online can be linked to how active artists are on social:

 “K-pop band BTS always communicate with their fans, whether it is through another social platform, live streams, photos, videos and everything else. They keep their fans very updated, so the fans are always there waiting for the posts. They also get a crazy number of engagements which could be a mix of both bots and real people. Justin Bieber on the other hand doesn’t communicate much through social media or give many updates – photos, videos, livestreams, replies – meaning that Justin’s fans don’t really tend to be waiting around and going to his profile 24/7 because we know it’s unlikely that anything has been posted.”

Lauren talks about how the Justin Bieber fandom has matured over the years and is less likely to jump on trends and aggressively tweet in huge volumes. It’s certainly true from our perspective that the Belieber Mob seems less of a thing on Twitter these days. She admits “we were crazy, just like the 1D fans. We would always rush and try so hard to win fandom contests and voting polls, etc…now it’s like we’re not as concerned about that stuff.”

Lauren even talks about how Bieber fans would do their best to “spam” artists in order to attract their attention: “A few years ago people, myself included, would spam artists, in my case, Justin Bieber, to get follows, replies, etc. We’d put around 100 tweets with “1”, “2”, “3” after each post in our drafts and then tweet them all out at one time so the artist could hopefully see and follow or reply back. Spamming was the way to go. Times have changed now and that is far in the past, although some people may still do it.”

While the old methods of “spamming” may be dying out, perhaps automated accounts are the new ways that fans can show their appreciation.

“If you tweet one thing about BTS, the chances of it getting picked up and retweeted thousands or hundreds of times are pretty high. I have created a few polls before for the company I work for and BTS were included. They ended up getting thousands of votes as well as retweets and likes, which makes me a bit unsure on whether it is mostly real people or bots. Even just going onto BTS’ official pages are insane – their engagement is huge. There has been a lot of suspicion around BTS and bots from other fanbases due to their incredibly high overall engagement.”

BTS: A perfect storm

The combination of a hyper-engaged pop group with a hungry fandom, supplemented by newly accessible (although dubious) ways of boosting conversation around them in the form of bots, could be the reason that BTS seem so ubiquitous online these days.

Regardless of whether bots are being used, the BTS machine is impressive to say the least. It’s refreshing to see a whole new genre of music splashed across our screens and being so enthusiastically embraced – it’s a phenomenon that you just can’t imagine without the internet.

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