It has been a long four weeks for Beliebers, with no signs Justin will be returning to Instagram anytime soon. The pop singer’s collection of selfies remains locked away behind what could now be the most followed error message on the internet. If you haven’t heard, the 7th most followed Instagram account in the world has gone MIA after Justin Bieber ‘closed’ his account, apparently out of frustration with a portion of his online audience who don’t like seeing him pictured with (other) women. I can’t say I was a subscriber myself, but suddenly leaving 77 million followers in the lurch due to the behaviour of a few seems to be both unfair and disrespectful to their commitment to the star and his brand. Cue the ‘Sorry’ background music, a late night rant is incoming.
Justin. Mr Bieber. Biebz. Please don’t go and get angry at all of my honesty, I just want you to stop for a minute and ask yourself ‘Is it too late now to snap a pic and say sorry?’
Social media is supposed to be about having a more direct and long lasting relationship with your fans and customers. You get a place in my personal News Feed, where you get to indirectly sell your latest wares to me, and all I ask for in exchange is a bit of an insight into your world, or at least the world your PR manager wants me to see. It goes both ways. You might consider me one in a million, or two, or thirty… but this relationship we have is actually contributing to your brand equity, upping the rate your manager can charge for an appearance, especially where sharing a picture or two online is probably part of the fine print.
There isn’t a real debate about who is on the better side of the fence here. With local Instagram celebrities raking in thousands for a single sponsored post, I can only imagine the figures exchanging hands when an A list celeb shares a snap of themselves eating at their new ‘favourite’ burger joint. Believe me, I am not angry about this at all. Rather, I am 100% jealous. Pay me to eat food, sip coffee and wear your latest tee and I will sleep soundly at night, no doubt about it. In fact it won’t hurt to remind you now that my inbox is always open, but I digress…
What does grind my gears though is when celebrities think they can halt the exchange of value, the social media relationship, whenever they feel like it. If we were on an equal playing field, sure, give me a bit of notice and I will forgive you. But when you are making big bucks off the access you can grant advertisers to my personal feed, and I am getting almost zilch in return, don’t expect the same level of support when you (inevitably) make your comeback. Of course, Justin Bieber made the extra mistake of blaming his fans too, taunting them with threats of deactivation in the days prior to his Instagram departure. Be careful Biebz, those piercing screams at your concerts may begin to fade if you turn too many fangirls into haters. And on behalf of all internet users, please avoid that.
I might sound pretty snarky, but I do have a bit of the Biebz on my iPod. He is probably a great guy. But he chose a career in the public spotlight, and even more relevant is that he seems to post on Instagram on his own accord, at least most of the time. I could stop to consider that the whole ordeal is actually a con by his marketing squad just to get more people talking about him, but I am in the middle of a good rant here. #exclusive
Prior to dropping the bomb Justin Bieber commented: ‘I’m gonna make my Instagram private if you guys don’t stop the hate. This is getting out of hand, if you guys are really fans you wouldn’t be so mean to people that I like.’ I don’t agree with the hatin’ going on by a few fangirls, but Selena quipped back with a good point: ‘Don’t be mad at your fans. They love you. They were there for you before anyone.’
And she’s right. The Belieber squad built Justin’s empire offline and online, spending ludicrous amounts on his music, concert tickets and merch. In a sense they are what gives his brand value. His appeal is only worth as much as his influence. They stood by him when he was crucified on social media during his rebellious phase. You know, when he peed in buckets and threw eggs at his neighbour’s house? So when he cuts off his relationship with his biggest fans, and tells them it is their fault, what does that mean for his brand? How can his influence be measured when there is no content, on Instagram at least, to show his ability to drive engagement? Music sales aren’t that great of a measurement nowadays. Wouldn’t you rather put your product in the hands of an Instagrammer with daily likes and comments in the tens of thousands than a celebrity that got a bit of engagement a few months ago? And for users, wouldn’t they rather engage with someone that actually posts content on a regular basis, and who doesn’t blame tens of millions of them for the actions of a few?
If the point of Justin’s stunt was to show his fans that it was a ‘privilege’ to have access to his Instagram page, and thus a loose connection to him, then he doesn’t really understand social media at all. It’s a privilege to have a following, especially that big, and he has jeopardised the relationship by treating it as a one way street. Social media drives brand loyalty, there is no doubt about that, but if there is one thing the internet has shown us it is that loyalty is fickle; the next big thing is always a click away. So when your audience gives you value online and offline, and they can take it away at the drop of a hat, since they aren’t the ones relying on it to pay the bills, why would you taunt them and then cut them off? It literally defies the ‘marketing concept’ of giving your audience what they want, and doing it at a profit.
First you’re up, then you’re down and then in between Justin, Oh, I really want to know, What do you mean? I am sure your manager is nodding his head yes, but you still wanna say no, but it’s time to activate the ‘inappropriate words’ filter on Instagram and treat the rest of your audience with respect. Your audience owes you nothing. You owe them everything. That’s the way social media goes, and that’s the way fame goes. Whatever happened to you ‘As Long As You Love Me’? You were supposed to be their ‘platinum’, their ‘silver’ and their ‘gold’. This isn’t going to be a Romeo and Juliet ending, Justin, if you don’t give value to your fans they will work to devalue you, and it will be your own fault when you are ‘starving, homeless and broke’. Ah relationships, they can be hard work, huh? Especially when you don’t ‘wear the pants’.