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.
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!