BTS is the biggest boy band in the world.
Just how big are we talking? Well for starters, they brought in an estimated $5Billion to South Korea’s GDP. That puts them in the same range as companies like Samsung, Hyundai and Korean Air. Surprised? Well, it gets better.
They’re estimated to generate economic value of 37 Billion in the next 10 years. Some of this value is from tourism-7.6% of the visits to South Korea in 2017 were influenced by the Korean group. But let’s talk about album sales.
BTS sold 1.4 Million album-equivalent units in 2020. The only other boy band to eclipse them? The Beatles.
But how exactly did 7 Koreans get to the top of Boy Band mountain? By building the strongest fan ARMY in the world.
Who is ARMY? ARMY(stands for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth“) are BTS’s worldwide fan club. At last count, over 63M BTS fans had subscribed to their YT channel. And over 43M fans are part of the Twitter following. But these numbers by themselves are not what’s impressive about the band.
What is impressive is the amount of dedication these fans regularly display.
What’s new about fans being dedicated you ask? Don’t fans of all bands go to concerts and buy merch? Yes, they do.
But do fans of other bands regularly perform services like translating BTS content into English and other languages? Accounts that translate everything from song lyrics to group videos to members’ social media posts. How about paying for and running coordinated social media campaigns for the band? Campaigns that have generated close to 2,395,082,950 mentions of BTS on social media between 2013 and 2020. Even Big Hit’s bi-annual corporate meetings where they lay out business strategy for the coming months is double-checked by millions of ARMY members online. Not exactly ‘regular-fan’ behavior.
Their dedication go beyond the online sphere as well. Since BTS themselves are so charity focussed- they have inspired the same in ARMY. Like when ARMY worked with Unicef and BTS to launch the Anti-Violence ‘Love Myself’ campaign. Another fan group called OneInAnARMY has run more than 20 charitable organizations since it began. And In June of 2020 when BTS donated $1M to Black Lives Matter-ARMY more than matched that donation within 2 days.
This focus towards giving also extends towards members-Fans even take care of other fans. There have been numerous instances of teachers, lawyers and bankers from within the BTS ARMY offering their services to each other during times of need.
But who exactly is part of ARMY?
In a fan-organized census of 2020, more than 400,000 ARMY members participated revealing that nearly 50% are over age 18 and one in five have some college education.
The Loyalty Secret Sauce
So why does BTS inspire such a loyal following amongst a worldwide audience? The answer lies in a multitude of factors.
One big reason is their treatment of fans themselves. BTS fans feel like insiders, not just a statistic. The band makes them feel seen. BTS does this by creating personal relationships with fans on the app, WeVerse. Personal shoutouts, good luck wishes and even asking about fans’ personal relationships are not uncommon.
When you serve your fans by treating them as fellow human beings, you create a powerful bond. And in a world where anyone with a smartphone is an influencer, BTS has used this bond to create an army of digitally native micro-influencers.
Another reason is the band’s parent company ‘Big Hit’ entertainment. The K-Pop industry is notorious for ‘manufacturing’ their bands. BigHit however, empowered members to showcase their authentic selves rather than superficial personas. What was previously thought of as ‘unmarketable’ connected with fans.
This difference was made obvious in a big way with Big Hit releasing hours of video showing band members going about their daily lives. This access to the band’s real lives created a level of intimacy with their fans that was unusual amongst other K-Pop bands.
Their authenticity and vulnerability reflect in their songs as well.
The band has developed a reputation for taking a stand on tough subjects like mental illness, self-love, and consumerism- all with their music. These message-driven songs are the reason that ARMY has developed such strong pro-social stances. Which in turn gives them a shared sense of mission and connection even outside of their love for the band.
Perhaps John Cena said it best when he confessed that he was an ARMY member. In 2020, Cena said, “I got interested in what the music stood for. They advocate [for] self-love. They advocate [to not] be afraid of failure. They are great performers, but it is the message they send [that] resonates with people.”
It’s a message that 65M members resonate with.
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