Joining the likes of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Rihanna and even Donald Trump and Barack Obama is K-Pop group BTS (Korean: 방탄소년단), the only Asians who made it onto US Weekly’s Most Influential Celebrities on Social Media. While their appearance may come as a surprise to some, particularly those familiar only with celebrities in the US media, BTS has established itself as a boy band with one of the strongest presences on social media since their debut in June 2013.
Success in Numbers
Let’s look at some numbers. To begin with, they have 9.4 million followers on Twitter, 6.1 million on Instagram, 5.3 million on Facebook and 4.6 million subscribers on YouTube. They also regularly receive over a million views on each of their videos on V Live, a Korean-based broadcasting app, known for working with other popular Korean celebrities in the entertainment scene such as BigBang, Exo, Twice, and IU. Unlike most celebrities in the West, they also have a presence on Chinese social media, with 1.1 million fans on microblogging website, Weibo.
In addition, the group first made it to the top of the Billboard Social 50, a chart that measures an artist’s reach on social media, for two weeks from 29 October 2016, and has made regular reappearances there since. This was precluded by BTS being the most retweeted artist in March 2016.
Let’s look at a few more numbers. In comparison to BTS, Canadian singer and songwriter Justin Bieber, another regular on the Billboard Social 50, has 102 million followers on Twitter, 92.4 million on Instagram, 75.3 million on Facebook and 32 million subscribers on YouTube.
The social media race is, in part, a numbers game: the more followers and subscribers you have, the more likes, comments and views you receive. And numbers alone seem to suggest that Justin Bieber far outstrips BTS, with ten or more times the number of followers and subscribers on all the social media platforms where both artistes are available.
These numbers perhaps suggest why some people were so angered when the boy band won at the Billboard Music Awards in May, with some expressing their confusion as to who BTS was and others even going so far as use the opportunity as an outlet to denigrate and belittle the entire K-Pop industry.
kpop is still irrelevant, nobody in te states is gonna listen to a korean song just because bts won an award https://t.co/xTtKRVlGXK
— spøøky (@vioIation) May 22, 2017
So how did BTS win the Billboard Music Awards? How did they get onto US Weekly’s Most Influential Celebrities? And how did they reach the top of the Billboard Social 50, not just once, but (as of the time of writing) 54 times?
The Importance of Engagement on Social Media
What is engagement? In social media marketing, the term ‘engagement’ refers to the levels of interaction of one’s followers or subscribers on a given post on any social media platform. These interactions often take the forms of likes, views (applicable to videos) and comments.
What does this mean with regard to BTS and Bieber? Simply put, due to the sheer number of followers and subscribers Bieber has, he is likely to have more likes, views and comments on each post, as compared to BTS.
However, while the absolute volume of likes, views and comments is important, the number of such interactions as a percentage of the total number of followers or subscribers is perhaps even more crucial. This metric measures the percentage of your following who is actually interested in your content. In influencer marketing in particular, a higher rate of engagement suggests that the influencer produces content that is more relevant to their following. In other words, if the influencer were hired for a campaign, their campaign post is more likely to be taken note of by their followers.
According to the comparison chart presented here, the data suggests that while Bieber has more followers, likes, comments and views, BTS actually fares five times better in engagement, thanks to the number of likes and comments they receive on average (as a ratio of the number of followers they have) for each of their posts. While Bieber has a lower percentage of inactive followers, both accounts fall in the mid-range of inactive followers based on the global average. A large number of inactive followers suggests a lower potential reach, since these followers have a history of not interacting with posts on Instagram.
Social Media’s Most Influential Artist
So how does one become social media’s most influential artist? BTS’s acceptance speech at the Billboard Music Awards event gives us a hint to our answer.
Leader of BTS and main rapper Rap Monster (Kim Namjoon) began his speech with the words, “ARMY, our fandom, thank you very much… this award belongs to all the people all around the world that shined their love and light on us by the millions” (translation by Koreaboo).
Indeed, BTS does have a lot to thank their fandom for. Known for their enthusiasm and zeal, the BTS ARMY interacts both with each other and with their artist on social media at an unprecedented rate. As of the time of writing, the hashtag #방탄소년단 (BTS’s group name in Korean), trends on Twitter with 434 000 tweets. Search @bts_twt (the group’s official account handle) and you will be prompted to reload the page every minute to see new tweets, of which there is no lack.
Where voting makes a difference to whether the artist wins an award, you can be sure that the BTS Army will vote. Fan accounts and fans alike will encourage other fans to take part in the voting process. Here’s an example from the recent Mnet Asian Music Awards.
— worldwideBTS 🌎 (@btsanalytics) October 22, 2017
— 아미 Park Jimin WIFE (@ArmyBTS3656337) October 19, 2017
When voting is restricted and connected to social media accounts, fans sometimes create additional accounts in order to register their vote. While this behavior is certainly not unique to BTS fans, it is definitely still a testament to the passionate support those in the fandom have for their artist.
~~Tutorial Thread~~ Voting for BTS in MAMA infinitely by creating twitter accounts. *For pc and laptop users. **Use Chrome. #2017MAMA_BTS
— 🍒망개떡🍒 (@dna8army) October 23, 2017
When their artist does not make it to the top, fans take this very seriously and in some cases, personally.
The gap is really stressing me.
Pls vote BTS on MAMA. 🙏🏻
This is the biggest music award in SoKor so pls let’s do our best!#2017MAMA_BTS
— 박마리엘 (@btstar_) October 23, 2017
— BTSObbsesed (@Btsobbsesed) October 20, 2017
Aside from voting, fans also stream music to support their group.
— AJ아이데 💜 (@aidjimlop) September 23, 2017
They do so not only in enjoyment of the group’s music, but also as a strategy to keep the boy band on the charts.
— 아리 (@kyamon101026) August 17, 2017
Instead of support mainly for the music that the group creates, there is a clear sense that fans support the members themselves. Fans see themselves as having a “duty” to these members, to ensure that they are constantly showing their love and support, whether this is through voting, streaming or purchasing merchandise.
— 킴벌리 (@bangtanlovely7) September 24, 2017
With such ardent supporters, it is no surprise then that BTS has been tweeted, voted and streamed to the top of various charts. What BTS has managed to do, then, is to create a sense of loyalty in their following through judicious use of social media.
Lessons for Social Media Marketers
ONE. Pick the Right Social Media Platform for Your Purposes
Although BTS has accounts on various platforms as noted above, their platform of choice is Twitter. Why Twitter when the platform appears to have more limitations than most others? 140 characters and a maximum of 4 photo or video attachments per tweet for example.
For one, Twitter’s system allows for a greater reach than most others, with retweeting or quoting another user’s tweet being an integral part of the user experience. This means that if any BTS member tweets something, it can be quickly retweeted and/or liked by fans and shared across the platform. BTS’s latest tweet, for an example, with one of the members thanking fans for attending their Taiwan concert, received 258 000 retweets and 598 000 likes in three days.
— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) October 22, 2017
Twitter is also a great way for fans in the fandom to keep updated on the latest news (in bites) and to communicate with each other. Notably, it is largely through retweets, quote and hashtags that fans encourage and remind each other to vote and to stream music.
Does this mean that social media marketers should all migrate their brands to Twitter? Certainly not. For many brands, especially those in the makeup and fashion industry, aesthetic appeal is still an important aspect of marketing. In such cases, Twitter is may not the best platform to use to advertise your product. However, marketing managers can still consider Twitter for other purposes, such as holding Q&A sessions with your target audience, disseminating press releases about your company or getting that hashtag about your new product trending.
It is important also to note that although Twitter is BTS’s main form of social media outreach, they have not neglected other platforms, such as Instagram or Weibo, making sure to post a few times a month in order to reach out to audiences who may prefer those platforms.
This is a strategy that business should also consider: don’t just stick to one platform. Use them in tandem to achieve an all round marketing solution.
TWO. Encourage Your Audience to Engage with You
When BTS first debuted, they used their Twitter account to send personal replies to their fans.
@zelokiddo hi i am a man
— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) February 21, 2013
Given that tweets are short and sweet by nature, this allows interaction to happen across the platform without pressure of having to ensure that everything is of top-notch quality. The casual nature of the replies also adds to the fan’s experience as it creates the impression (whether true or false) that these tweets are genuine interactions with their favorite boy band.
New and upcoming brands in particular should try as much as possible to engage your audience in conversation on social media. The higher the level of engagement, between you and your target consumer base, the more likely they are to be interested in you.