On being a more-effective fandom

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If you’ve been hiding under a rock or something, BTS has been doing very well in the United States–not a huge surprise at this point, but good for them.

This has, of course, triggered some angst about why Block B isn’t doing as well as BTS outside of Asia. Of course I do feel that the horse-race mentality is not really worth adopting, but I also feel like, yes, the international Block B fandom could be considerably more effective than it is.

Let’s put it this way: The latest big campaign by international fans, which was supported by multiple fanbases speaking different languages, who worked very hard to get the story out, was intended to get people to NOT purchase Block B goods.

Do you honestly think international BTS fans have spent any time at all trying to get people to NOT buy BTS goods? If that’s the case, I couldn’t find any sign of it. This is not a fanbase known for its sanity, and still the only times I could find the words “BTS” and “boycott” together were when someone is saying something like, “The MAMAs treated BTS like shit! Let’s boycott!” (And for the slow, they mean boycott the MAMAs, not boycott BTS.)

Anyway, I was once part of highly effective fandom–the Firefly fandom! We took a show that was completely obscure and got it re-aired, released on DVD, and even got a feature film. (All without organizing a single boycott!)

Obviously we had some advantages: The average Firefly fan was probably twice the age of the average Block B fan, and we had some people who had had long careers in media and marketing, so it was not their first rodeo. Perhaps as a result, the Firefly fans were very much self-starters and easily one of the most enterprising group of people I have ever encountered: We discussed ideas, of course, but no one was waiting around for some Lord High King of All the Fans to grant permission before they took action.

We were also, in the beginning, a very small fandom. So there was a lot of emphasis placed on efficiency–there weren’t that many of us, so we didn’t want to waste our efforts! We had to be very pragmatic, and we had to prioritize.

So, how did we do this?

Basically, we ranked activities by two criteria: 1. How much work is this going to take? 2. How likely is it to expand interest in this property? If it was very likely to expand interest and didn’t take a lot of effort, we were sure to do it!

Here’s how I would rank things you could do for Block B.

Highly Effective Activities. These are the activities you never want to let pass you by, because the payoff is potentially very big. These efforts are not going to pan out every single time, but they are always worth making.

  • Planting positive stories in the news media. Any positive story is good, but some are better than others. “Park Kyung is in Mensa!” is nice, but what you really want is a story with what in marketing is called an action point–you make people feel good about the group, and then you give them something to do. This is why Elen’s tipoff to AllKPop had a measurable impact–the story was about an upcoming album, so people went looking for ways to buy it. The nice thing about action points is that they tend to coincide with what journalists call a “news hook”–something is happening  (like an upcoming concert) that makes the outlet want to cover the story now. The result is a win-win for the property and the outlet! So–keep your eyes peeled for these kinds of openings, and if you see one, pounce! (Just remember to be polite.)
  • Getting Block B featured on other popular media. Radio shows, successful YouTube channels–anything like this can have a big impact. I don’t care if you don’t particularly like the host or if they wind up not particularly liking the group or song: It’s worth it. Should you stick with K-Pop-oriented outlets or branch out (a question that also applies to news media)? Both are good: A request to a K-Pop oriented place is more likely to pay off in coverage, plus the audience is friendly. But it’s also worthwhile to take a shot at other outlets–remember, you want to expand the audience, so coverage from a place that doesn’t usually do K-Pop can pay off big time.
  • Rewarding coverage. If we get coverage of Block B, particularly from a place with a large mainstream audience, we want to reward that coverage. Online outlets are very aware of how much interest each story or video gets, so if we want more coverage of Block B in the future, we need to show a lot of interest in the coverage that comes out now. That means viewing the media on the outlet’s platform (even if someone has copied it someplace else), clicking the various “share” or “like” buttons, and liking, sharing, and positive comments on the outlet’s social media. If the coverage isn’t ideal, try not to nitpick, and keep the tone positive even if they really screwed up. (“Thanks for the awesome piece on Block B! I love that group–like you say, they are really exciting and fun! Although I have to point out that that was not, in fact, a photo of Block B. . . . “) If you asked for the coverage–and even if you didn’t–be sure to thank them for it.
  • Translations. Obviously no fan is going to be able to put out as many as quickly as V App, but every translation is helpful.
  • Social media. I’m not talking about spamming people and being obnoxious, but stuff like creating playlists on Spotify or YouTube, or making sure new Block B music appears on OneHallyu or Reddit, is always good.
  • Guerrilla marketing. Man, did we ever do so much of this for Firefly–flyers, online ads, posters, clothing, patches, bags, pins, decals, bumper stickers . . . everything you needed to be a walking advertisement for the property. People even made stamps and stamped marketing messages onto currency! Are you a student? Does your school have a free-speech area where you could put up a Block B-related poster or leave flyers? What about a coffee shop near you? A music club? You can make your own (simple designs reproduce easier)–just remember, while it’s OK just to do general brand awareness (“Block B is awesome!”), it’s better to have flyers that are about something specific, like a music release (think: action points). Also, you know, don’t break the law.

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My rear bumper

Mildly Effective/Neutral Activities. These aren’t necessarily useless to the property, but they take a lot of effort and don’t pay off quite so well when it comes to expanding appeal. Many of these activities are standard in K-Pop, but that’s more because they keep existing fans engaged. If you enjoy doing them, by all means do them; if you don’t, don’t worry about it.

  • Internet polls. The vast majority of these have one purpose and one purpose only: To drive traffic to a Web site. People are sometimes convinced that these help raise the profile of a property, but my feeling is that they are more likely to result in negative stories about crazy fans (see below) than positive stories about the actual property (see above).
  • YouTube views. They don’t pay the group much, and the only benefit (other than giving fans something to do) is that if fans try really, really, really hard, they might get a story.
  • Actually winning awards. Appearing on awards shows or music shows that have a big audience is very helpful to a group, but actually winning doesn’t do much. Enjoy the wins, but don’t kill yourself trying to make them happen or because the group lost.
  • Fan fiction, fan art, etc. Unless you’re designing marketing materials. Which you then actually distribute. (See above.)

Harmful activities. These damage the property. If you think these activities are helpful, you are kidding yourself. Often the underlying goal of these activities is to hurt the property so that said “fan” can have it all to themselves.

  • Boycotts. JFC. This is like the nuclear option. You don’t do this over bullshit, you don’t do it because the other fanbases are doing it and you want to be cool, and you don’t do it to “rescue” people from a situation they don’t want to be rescued from.
  • Xenophobia. Here’s a shocker: “Block B should be only for Koreans!” is not a message that is going to help the group succeed internationally. Christ.
  • Planting negative stories in the news media. If the group is in some kind of horrible trouble, the sensible thing to do if you are a fan is to not tip off the media about it–come on. If the group is not actually in some kind of horrible trouble, planting negative stories that suggest that they are is even worse, and planting those kinds of negative stories along with an action point (boycott the group!) is, well, just about the worst thing you could do.
  • Becoming the story. Crazy fan stories alienate everyone–and reporters love to do them. As much as possible, you want the story to be about the property, not the fandom. If the story has to be about the fandom (and sometimes that is the only way to get coverage), it needs to be a very positive story about the fandom–not about fan wars, or stalking, or boycotts, or whatever other stupid nonsense delusional “fans” come up with. (I cannot emphasize this enough: Be nice to reporters. The decision about how to spin this kind of story depends a lot on how helpful and friendly the fans are.)
  • Attempting to damage professional relationships. This happens when fans decide that something or other isn’t “worthy” of their group. Alienating potential mentors, spiking lucrative endorsement deals, the ever-stupid fanwars, false accusations against concert organizers, attacking a label for invented reasons–all you’re doing is increasing the possibility that no one in the industry will want to work with the group because its fans are such a pain in the ass.

So, there you go: A handy-dandy guide to being a fan who is actually helpful. Again, this is all stuff you can do on your own–indeed, it’s actually easier to plant a story if the requests for one don’t all appear to be the result of an organized campaign. Go forth and be useful!

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22 responses »

  1. I like this post even tho I really don’t see how many fans will actually do anything cause of it. I am a bit disapointed with a few block b fans, they post stuff that obviouslly gonna trigger something about the group. Like the new teaser is out and there is a white girl on it, besides random people that was in block b videos before is the first time they using a non asian model. People don’t care they never did that, they calling out like “I’m so disapointed”. Is so complicated to understand the international fandom, if they put an african american model they would be bashed the same way, if was an asian girl, too. Somehow people would say they are objectifying women cause she is dressed like this dressed like that. Not sure if I make sense, but they can never win.

    Block B issue isn’t cause there isn’t effective marketing from the fandom they won’t do the fanservice those fans expect and people too busy concentrating on their wrongdoings from past to actually enjoy them. Every single site I go they are called trash by many international fans and if a new kpop fan enjoy block b’s songs, they tell, “no, they are too problematic. Don’t bother, they are trash” and tell thailand story, park kyung’s mixtape with his 156 IQ but misogynist lyrics, they will also point Zico’s homophobia and racism, how much he is disrespecting others and well now he also used the golden phone after getting rid of his ex gf that was just some for him.

    Many BBCs that used to try to talk more about the group in small inetz communities gave up in some point, cause you not really a female if u support that kind of trash. I don’t know, the fact they value their lifes outside the idol spectrum make those comments get worse. Is like when you having a rough day but you didn’t do anything wrong, others did, but ur boss is extra pissed and uses you as a sandbag. There is no good side, they do nothing right, even if they did work to help others a lot people don’t really wanna know that. Besides the dating scandal that happened, block b members have being extra carefull about everything, but not sure they are gonna be able to overcome the haters they have with just that.

    • Eh, I wouldn’t grant those forums too much power–and arguing on them is basically on the “less productive” end of the activities spectrum. Americans aren’t looking for perfect celebrities anyway–there’s certainly plenty of “problematic” (ugh) stuff out there about BTS, but it hasn’t hurt them any.

      But the main reason that focusing on who is saying what on what forum isn’t especially productive is that only a very small sliver of the buying public ever goes to places like that. Plenty of people hear songs and buy them without ever finding anything out about a group other than their name.

    • I would say that BBC is one of the chillest fandoms around especially after some of the stuff I’ve seen a certain military fandom do. So a lot of times when ppl are hating on forums, we don’t bother refuting them because it’s a lost cause. They’re not going to suddenly convert to supporting block b even if the facts are slapped in their faces. I mean look at the JJY golden phone incident. After being proven that first of all there was no video and definitely no proof Zico was shown the video. The trolls scattered like the rats they were and never uttered a peep. These same trolls who keep bringing up the same old stuff about block b ain’t fans of boy groups and if you look at their past comments like to flame and say hateful stuff. They are actually a small minority but because they are so vocal, it makes it seem bigger than they are. Heck I’m totally disgusted by some of them calling Zico problematic when they’ve come out in support of Kim hyun joong and park yoo chun or they call for the heads of other netizens when they bring out their girl groups past. It’s all hypocrisy and you kinda have to know they’re doing all this to feel important. So pay them no heed 😄and support our boys where it truly counts.

    • I understand. Even tho is small helps promoting, I always try to push their names a bit, but yeah sometimes they get more atention over stuff people say than they really did or promote. We hardly see positive articles about the good deeds they do, that also helps.

      The only international news sites I visit daily is allkpop and soompi, communities I daily check reddit and I post there more, specially stuff about them. Other places most people post I don’t think there’s any worth cause people bash more than support.

      The thing about BTS marketing is they continuouslly doing fanservice and keeping in touch with their fandom since their debut I think, so if they don’t do that for a day many fans freak out. Helps a lot their fandom grew a tons, their music not my cup of tea but they got like a huge number to support. But that has a price I am not sure block b would be willing to pay to get that, don’t think they have much privacy and life out of work. Is good for the fans but probally tiring as hell for them. In the long run that might cost a lot later, I don’t know. I wonder how many BBCs we have to help with stuff, I always see the subs needing people I wish I could help, but my language is portuguese lol unfortunally that won’t help anything there. So only things I can do is spam twitter sometimes and check places to post stuff. Kind of sux many people couldn’t help promoting My Zone in youtube cause japanese copywrites seem to be really hardcore for their tracks and they don’t think twice in removing the videos . =/

      • Yeah, Block B is definitely not a normal idol group, and that cuts both ways. I don’t think they’d switch places with a group like BTS or Exo, though.

        For fans, I think it’s always good to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t–you definitely did help “My Zone”!

        • No they are not and that is so refreshing for us (fans with a brain and a capacity to use it) I’m gonna be honest: I absolutly adore everything they are, because they are acting so differently from all the other stereotyped kpop groups, but it is also true that in Korea, the netizens kinda rule the virtual world and not playing by the rules seems a bigger deal, or issue, than overhere (western world)
          That said, I had to read several times the article and the comments as I have been missing a lot as usual. I had no ideas all these things people think of them. Are they true?! As long as it is not really offensive, I don’t see what it has to do with music but I come from a part of the world where Trump is now the president of the most powerful country and where Marine Le Pen might become the leader of my country, so I guess my idea of what is acceptable or not has reached a limit far far away from what haters think is unacceptable ^^

          That said, I must admit that BTS is apparently a more conventional group but whatever they do, they do it über right. It took me some time but I totally accept to say they are amazing dancers and very good singers, I wasn’t amazed by their live performances but they can still improve I guess.
          (They do not crack me up like Block B does though… Who would? ^^)

          • I would be deeply skeptical of the notion that netizens are influential in Korea, especially when you’re talking about someone who is established (rookies are more vulnerable, while someone like G-Dragon can use drugs and emerge unscathed). The “golden phone” nonsense had literally no impact on Zico: He’s doing really well, both in terms of music and in terms of endorsements (which are more likely to be affected by scandals). “Playing by the rules”–at least the rules of idol life, like not dating–is more of an issue if you rely heavily on a fanbase that likes you specifically because you do play by the rules. The general public typically doesn’t give a crap, though, even in Korea.

            If it helps–Trump was “elected” by a minority of voters, because the American presidential election process hasn’t been updated since the 1780s and is not especially democratic. He now has record-low approval ratings. So, you are not alone in finding him unacceptable.

            • I was referring to the fans in my previous post. It is still very…not interesting but surprising to look deeper in the fans reactions about such things as private lives etc… Korean fans don’t have the monopole of crazyness when it comes to react on their idol’s dating life or else but no matter where it happens, I am always amazed and vaguely frightened by the intensity of their reactions. Extreme love, extreme hate, life and death matters… Has it always been like that?

              (The US voting system is indeed kinda weird and difficult to understand… I don’t know if it is comforting to think that the majority of people were against him and that he still got elected despite of that. If we get his feminin equivalent overhere, it will be because the majority has voted though. Not better.)

              • I’d say that Korean fan culture has become much less intense, actually–watch Reply 1997 if you want to see how crazy things used to be! Microdot also gave an interesting interview talking about the changes he’s seen in just a decade. These days former idols like Moon Hee-joon are much more open about what a pain in the ass it was to deal with that kind of behavior, so people are more respectful.

                But I do think that the people freaking out (either positively or negatively) tend to be the extreme cases. It’s just like anywhere else, really–the average person has better things to do with their time.

                (Yeah, the U.S. voting system…basically democracy was a REALLY novel idea at the time, so they didn’t trust it. Plus, the United States was new, and people identified much more strongly as being from, say, Massachusetts or Virginia, so people wouldn’t accept a system that didn’t seriously protect regional interests.)

                • That is an interesting itw even tough I have no idea who this guy is. So nowadays fans tend to be shy, really? Because I don’t make a lot of research but I still get to see some videos where they go crazy enough for me (airports…)
                  The extreme ones are the more interesting, socialement parlant. They do express their love/hate feelings through actions, in groups more of the time, in a way that is really sick (stalking, invadings dorms, sending awful threatening letters, hitting (!!??) them when they see them) and I haven’t found the equivalent in other countries of these girls.
                  I do feel sorry though for these young idols for not being able to experience relationships properly because the fans would be too “disappointed”. They don’t even have the time to start anything that it is already finished, they have to apologize for dating, they have to reassure the fans they are still their priority etc etc.. (some girls asked for a refund from thedonation they had made for Zico’s b’day?!…) it is close to slavery.

                  About the US voting system, I can say that it was only with the Trump nonsense situation that europeans started to look into it. It really is interesting to learn about its origins and history but it does need a reform.

                  • Well, if you look back at Beatlemania, that was pretty damned crazy–streets were shut down and people got badly injured in what were basically riots. And people got killed at a The Who concert. Here Morrisey recently was punched in the face at a concert by a “fan.”

                    You have the extreme behavior everywhere. What’s interesting about K-Pop is that for a while there that kind of thing was accepted as really normal. Now there are groups where it’s somewhat more tolerated, but a lot where it’s not–stalking and the like often gets you kicked out of the official fan club, which drastically reduces your access to the group. And whether or not dating is truly a big deal to fans really depends on the group and their marketing–a lot of very successful hip-hop musicians are married, and it doesn’t hurt them.

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  3. Hi polsygol, I really enjoy your blockb.com and your wordpress blog updates…. Some of your analysis on the music industry and culture differences btw Asia and the States are very intriguing!
    So I have a Block B fansite in Chinese and the sole purpose is dedicated to promoting and popularize Block B in China. They are yet well recognized in China. If possible, can I take the liberty to translate some of your Block B related blog posts into Chinese? (There’s a thing called the great firewall in China which basically forbids you to visit sites like FB,YT, GOOGLE,etc.) I’ll definitely label the source and the original author. Thank you in advance!
    Hope to hear back from you soon,

    • I have no problem with that–feel free! I’ll just request that you make it clear that these are just the opinions of one fan, not the views of Block B or its company. In the past, people have assumed that BlockB.com must be some kind of official Block B Web site, which it is not–I’m not in communication with them or anything like that!

      • Perfect, I completely understand. You’ve stated quite a few times that Block B.com is not the official and it’s maintained by you but I still you a lot of fans being confused by that… Thank you again by being such a diligent fan and all those great insights in the music/marketing/culture industry!!

        • Yeah, non-English-speaking fans in particular get confused because they can’t understand all the disclaimers. I get messages from them, and BlockB.com was even linked to as the official =Korean= Web site for Block B in a Japanese news story!

          Thank you for helping Block B as well!

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