The marketing industry has been whipped into a frenzy by a 17-year-old Canadian pop star. Justin Bieber has been hailed as Master of the Twitterverse while most brands are still trying to figure out what a Twitterverse is. A quick tour of Google yields pages and pages on social media marketing a la Bieber, creating Bieber-based marketing strategies, and adulations of Justin Bieber as an "Internet Marketing Guru." While many of these articles contain not entirely un-useful platitudes along the lines of "listen to your customers" and "respond to your fans," the fact is that brands simply shouldn't try to out-Bieber Bieber.
To know Bieber is to understand why your brand cannot really learn from him. Yes, he's a master of social media; yes, he's a master of activating fans; yes, he's a master of being cute in a non-threatening way--all of this is true. While he's good at marketing himself, Justin Bieber is not a proxy for your brand, and most brands are never going to see the exact flavor of success Bieber has enjoyed in social media.
- Your brand is not like Justin Bieber, and that's ok. Bieber has millions of fans because he has a giant platinum-record-making recording, producing, and touring machine behind him. Does that description in any way sound like your brand, product, or service? Unless you are Bieber, the answer is no. (And if you are Bieber, please follow me @shelila.) Most of the things people claim you can learn from Bieber have nothing to do with Bieber. Cliches gleaned from a cursory perusal of the Bieber literature do not a social strategy make. Want to know what's really behind Bieber's huge success in social? He makes music that a lot of people like. In fact they like it (and him) so much that he incites very public and sometimes violent outbursts amongst his global army of fans every time he cancels a mall concert, takes a picture with a Kardashian at the White House or kisses Selena Gomez. When was the last time anyone rioted about your brand? Do you want people rioting about your brand? Bieberizing your brand--making people love your brand so much that they riot when it's not where it should be or threaten the life of its significant other--would be noteworthy for its sheer difficulty, but it's not a good PR strategy. Your brand should be your brand, not Bieber's brand.
- Teens don't actually use Twitter, so don't try to reach them there. We've all heard the fantastic assertion that somewhere upward of 3% of Twitter servers is dedicated to Bieber-related traffic. We know about the legions of kids whose lives are forever changed by a mere follow from @JustinBieber. We know that Twitter actually had to modify its algorithm to make sure that Bieber was not always a trending topic. But Beliebers are the exception to the rule. Research has shown time and again that teens and tweens just don't use Twitter. True Beliebers were driven to Twitter because Bieber was there, not because they care about Twitter. So, unless you are Bieber, don't go looking for your teenage demographic on Twitter. And don't try to ride the Bieber wave to fame and success. Bieber-baiting--the practice of taking the Bieb's name in vain to drive traffic to your Twitter handle, blog, or website--is an Internet crime as transparent as black hatting, and just like black hatting, you can fear the wrath of the machine if you get caught Bieber-bating. Teenagers may love Mr. Biber, but they won't love any brand that uses Him for anything other than spreading Bieber love.
- Even Bieber cannot live on social alone. Bieber's social media empire is driven by a regular media empire. Bieber got his start on YouTube, but his use of YouTube had nothing to do with being social. He used web video as a way to publish his work and was lucky (and arguably talented) enough for people to share his content and watch it more than anything else ever on YouTube. The content he put on YouTube was media content, not social content because there was no call for interaction with fans. Bieber's music isn't intrinsically social just because it was put on a platform that allows comments and sharing. Further, the end result of Bieber's phenomenal YouTube success was a record deal, product endorsements, and a 3D movie. Bieber didn't use YouTube because he wanted to be social; he used it to get into traditional media. Now, because his records are hits and because he's so lovable, his adoring fans want to socialize with him. Bieber's traditional media empire--the records, the tours, the commercials--fuels his social empire.
All this talk about Bieber may just be part of the ever-growing number of marketing aphorisms claiming there's a perfect analog for social media strategy in something seemingly unrelated like gardening or teen sex (SFW), but the difference between Bieber marketing and comparisons to kindergarten, cooking, or drug dealing is that Bieber actually is a social marketing success, not just a proxy for a vague concept. That's precisely why you have to be careful. Comparing social media to gardening is just a clever heuristic, but beliebing that your brand can rise to Bieberdom is seductive trap. Remember this next time you're tempted to click on something that decodes Bieber's magic formula: there is no magic formula. Bieber's social media genius is Bieber-specific. It works because he gets to the right people, with the right message, at the right time, in the right place. And isn't that really what marketing is all about?