Super-fan 2.0: Why loving One Direction can be hard work
- 2 October 2013
- From the section Technology
Every night, 16-year-old SJ arrives home from her school in London and gets back to running her global media empire.
She is one of the UK's most famous Directioners - as fans of heart-throb boy band One Direction are known.
And while she would never go so far as to call herself 1D's biggest fan - that's just asking for trouble - her Harry Styles-inspired account, @STYLATORARMY, is certainly up there: 850,000 followers and counting.
"I think it's just because I tweet the content other fans want to see and can relate to," she explains, deftly simplifying a social media strategy for which marketing agencies routinely charge thousands.
"Also because I talk to a lot of other fans on there and don't ignore people - that makes them like my account, spread the word and follow me."
Her account is a mixture of news about the boys, dialogue with other fans, and general adoration for the X-Factor runners-up who have seemingly taken over the world.
She is the epitome of the modern day super-fan - because in 2013, loving popstars means a lot more than simply running down the road after the Beatles.
No, in an age where so-called "big data" is changing business, it's also changing what it means to idolise as well.
And not only can music fans say they merely love an artist, but they can demonstrate that love with black and white statistics - and use it to their advantage.
Modern-day fan club
Buddybounce, a London-based start-up, is seeking to provide something of an idolisation dashboard for both fans and artists alike, taking into account the millions of plays, tweets and other interactions that take place every day.
"It is a modern-day fan club that allows fans to get their dream, really, of being the biggest fan and get closer to their idols," explains Emma Obanye, one of the company's co-founders, who has fond memories from her teens of standing outside BBC Television Centre, waiting for the Backstreet Boys.
When a fan signs up to Buddybounce, they are given the option to plug in various different services to monitor how often they interact with an artist.
The site can monitor how often you tweet about the band, or watch a YouTube clip, or listen to an album on Spotify, and a whole host of other things.
To get noticed, it means hours and hours of effort to clock up the points.
For the labels that use it, Buddybounce is a tool that is attempting to make sense of the thousands of digital acts of fandom that come an artist's way every day.
"We have developed a way for artists to keep track of who has been rewarded as a fan," explains Giulia Piu, Ms Obanye's business partner, where "rewards" mean some kind of reciprocal interaction from a band member.
"So instead of basing it on luck, we give them a way to try and interact with as many fans as possible."
Hiding in bins
It is this idea of "luck" which causes perhaps the most friction within fan communities.
Fans often go to extreme lengths to catch an artist's eye, says Directioner SJ.
"People come up with all sorts of ideas to get their attention. Sometimes people throw their phones on stage - once a girl hid in a bin!
"It didn't work. The boys went inside... and then security took her out of the bin."
Naturally, faced with the noise, it's hard for artists to spot the real devotees - and getting it wrong can cause great upset.
"Justin Bieber once mentioned someone on Twitter who had just listened to his album once, but wasn't much of a fan, and said, 'This album's all right,'" explains Ms Obanye.
"Justin retweeted her - and there was so much hate from within his fan base because they were like, 'Oh my god, you should be noticing us' and this, that and the other.
"For fans now, that kind of interaction is so sought after - a mention, a follow... it's a reward, it's what they dream, what they really want."
The company has teamed up with artists, including Conor Maynard, who has granted highly sought-after meet-and-greets to fans with the best Buddybounce scores.
So for fans like SJ, having such a huge following may see them rewarded by getting closer to the band.
But being a "famous" fan has some dangerous downsides.
"Recently, I've had emails from a team of people," SJ says, "pretending they were from 1D's management."
"They made it look like it was coming from them - it had [official domain] onedirectionmusic.com in the email address.
"Then they pretended to be [the band's record label] Syco as well, basically emailing me saying, 'We have an amazing opportunity for you.'"
What followed was a stream of emails, spoofed tweets and messages with the sole intention of gaining control of SJ's account.
It wasn't an isolated incident - fake accounts are set up frequently, capitalising on fans' dreams of meeting their idols, even if such offers do raise alarm bells as seemingly too good to be true.
Social networks have put in place efforts to make spotting scams easier, the most obvious of which is Twitter's "blue tick" system - an added logo showing an account has been checked and is legitimate.
It's a problem that artists and their labels need to remain on top of if they are to make sure that social media remains a key part of the marketing machine, up there with making music videos or even going on tour.
"It was the UK fans' excitement about One Direction that really got them started," argues Sunil Singhvi, Twitter's head of entertainment for the UK.
"The fans' ability, via Twitter, to tell Europeans about One Direction really catapulted them there, then from Europe to America, and now it's a global phenomenon."
Sonny Takhar, chief executive for Syco Records, is equally enthused: "Social media has become the new radio, it's never broken an act globally like this before."
And unsurprisingly, Directioner SJ agrees: "The boys have said themselves how social media has been part of their success, because if we make a 'trend' about them, you can see that worldwide - so it spreads the message to other nations."
So while the super-fan of 2013 may have their work cut out to stay digitally popular, their efforts might not be in vain, even if they never do get to meet the subject of their adoration.
"There are a few others like SJ who are benefiting right now, from a young age," says SJ's mum, Rebecca.
"That is a credit to all those fans out there who have done so well in learning how to use Twitter as a tool to communicate with their idol, but at the same time within their own community as well.
"Quite a lot of young people are going to be getting very good jobs in that field very soon."
Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC