Friday, 30 September 2011

On fans and social media.

So there's this group work thing going on and word on the grapevine is that one of the groups is going to present on the connection (importance?) between fans and social media, or more precisely on the importance of fan support for social media.

Cool? Of course. :P So let's get started then shall we?

First of all there's the point of "Why?". Why did we choose to work on the connection between fans and social media? The obvious answer is because we had to for class, but actually the way the selection was done we were able to select our topics individually and happened to end up being in the same group by chance. I think this reflects that all of us see and have an interest in the connection in the first place, and it makes sense when you realize that there are many kinds of social media today that touch many people in many different ways, so no surprise when something like this happens and you find a ragtag bunch of people coming together for an awesome group effort (a-hem).

So fans and social media. A question to ask would be, "What kinds of connections exist between them?" I'm sure we can get down and dirty with the details but our group found a grand total of...(drumroll please) 2!: Commercial and casual. Let's take them in order shall we?

The commercial connection. Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, just look around today and you'll see so many people connected almost endlessly to a whole range of social networking services (SNS). But wait, what does "staying connected" mean? Technically it just means that you're receiving, or open to receiving new information doesn't it? No wonder many companies these days have proper accounts on sites such as Facebook, as noted by our group member Seira. "Welcome to ZARA's official Facebook page," it says, and note in particular the word "official". ZARA thinks Facebook is serious business and while it may seem a bit strange at first, just think about the kind of connectivity, the ability to "share", to "like" posts and the commercial potential of these fan-based social networking sites suddenly becomes blindingly obvious; it's almost like ZARA gets you to do their marketing for them...for free!

The above makes it seem like "fans" are getting the short end of the stick, but social media actually works both ways, empowering the average user to publicly approve or disprove any commercial product. Take for example the case of musician Lupe Fiasco. As described by our other member Caio, Lupe was all set and ready to release his album "Lasers", and even Tweeted that all the work was done and was simply pending release from his record company. Well, the people there didn't for some reason, making Lupe's fans antsy enough to generate buzz via blogs and petitions, which eventually led to the release of the LP. How democratic!

But enough about business, how about you and I have a seat on the couch and watch some movies? Today's selection comes courtesy of our members Yuki and Ikue so sit back and enjoy. Like Star Wars? How about some Disney?

How was that? We good to go? Cool but you know what, we've already moved onto the next topic: The casual connection. Didn't notice didja? Gotta watch out for those ninjas. Sneaky little buggers...

So yeah, be on the lookout. But seriously, if we look at the casual connection between social media and fans you're likely to stumble upon gems like the above 2 videos before long. It used to be that the kind of technology and connectivity required for Hollywood-quality special effects and broadcasting your amazing vocals were restricted to professional companies (like Lucasfilm and Disney), but with the cheapening of software technologies and video sharing sites like YouTube, basically anyone can make movie magic in the comfort of one's home...and be famous too!

Here's another question though: What happens then? Maybe you're greedy and being famous isn't enough for you. Well, social media to the rescue. Ever heard of Vocaloid? It's basically a voice synthesizer program from Yamaha, but here's the catch: It owes much of its success to massive fan support. There are details, and it goes a little something like this:

  • Vocaloid folks promote in Japan with mascot character Hatsune Miku. No surprise, this is "Cool Japan", with manga, anime et al. It's a cheap and easy means of cultural recognition that taps into existing fanbases and tastes. Smart.
  • This isn't enough however, so next comes the fan reaction. Miku proved extremely popular, spawning original creations in several mediums, most notably in the form of songs and music videos shared on video sites like YouTube and Nico Nico Douga (Japanese YouTube).
  • This layer of fan support is multiplied when others take the songs/videos and make "covers", fan art, figures etc. and by this time what you have is the creation of a kind of sub-culture, which as Rimi points out is how memes are created, with self-sustainability and cultural resonance creating an endless loop that multiplies the fan input further.

The thing about this example though is that the Vocaloid folks were totally cool with recognising this user-generated content, in turn adapting them into new commercial products such as CDs, games and even Toyota cars!

But wait the magic doesn't stop there (but if you call now we'll throw in a free bath towel...). Vocaloid-related content also helped kick-start some fan careers, such as music group Supercell, which became famous by using the Vocaloid program in their tracks:

"The composer, ryo, and several creators joined together to form this super entertainment unit, whose songs posted on NICO NICO DOUGA...counted more than 20 million views.
In 2007, ryo (supercell) created songs such as “THE WORLD IS MINE”, “Melt”, and “BLACK ★ ROCK SHOOTER” using vocal synthesizer software for Windows called “Hatsune Miku” and posted these songs on NICO NICO DOUGA website. His world views expressed through his melody and his lyrics were quickly accepted and his songs became a huge movement on NICO NICO DOUGA which led him into the limelight.
In 2009, their 1st album “supercell” featuring the VOCALOID, Hatsune Miku, made a stunning debut, selling more than 150,000 copies."-Supercell website
In short, Vocaloid is a good example of how fans can and do interact with social media, in casual as well as commercial terms which I guess sums the above-mentioned points in this post up nicely. It continues to be popular and viable because of fan support, with both sides sharing a symbiotic relationship. Without its fan-base (or Lupe's fan-base etc.), it would be nothing more than a simple voice synthesizer, but instead it is a flourishing brand, spanning mediums, crossing national boundaries (remember "Cool Japan"?) and influencing pop culture the world over.

So maybe next time you check your Facebook, your Twitter feed, view something on YouTube or use any other forms of social media, maybe you'll be a part of the next big thing. Maybe you'll be the reason why we have virtual avatars holding live concerts. Or actually, maybe you'll "be there" yourself, in person or in the comfort of your own home.

UPDATE: Here's a video I came across recently on kids' reactions to the virtual concert :)


  1. I was going to wait till after the class presentation to post on here, but I couldn't wait. Love the writing, and the you connected the fans to a lot more than I thought possible.

    Don't care too much for that hologram pop diva, (she's everywhere) But I love how such things are pushing technology alone. As the American government has lost interest in funding NASA, which is one of the biggest contributors for improving or pushing new technology, juxtaposed is the less-than-noble hologram that with such popularity keeps pushing the limits to our technology. This is that stuff in Sci Fi!

  2. Thanks for the compliments! Actually the main reason for the spread of connections is due to each group member offering one of their own, so in a way everybody brings their own viewpoint to the table.

    Personally (and this may come as a surprise :P) I don't really go for the Hatsune Miku thing either. BUT, I do very much go for the professional-level art, music videos and covers that the fans generate..which in a way also reiterates the spread of interests involved.

    It's interesting that you connect this to NASA, but come to think of it it's probably true because doesn't the greatest leap in technology (at least for the US) come from government interests? Whether via NASA or wartime efforts (just do a quick search on wartime inventions that have led to so many technologies we use today, or even Vannevar Bush's concerns about the MIC leading him to "foretell" the Internet).

  3. It was fun reading your new article since I also picked up a Vocaloid song on Nico Nico Douga as an example and wrote about why Japanese fans love to make fan creation or subside stories of the original contents so much on my blog. In the case of Hatsune Miku, now the big corporations such as Toyota have got involved in the movement (You can even see one of the vocaloid characters at the counter of the Lawson convenience store next to TUJ!). However, many young people in their teens and twenties now share the same music experience of vocaloid songs and the new creators keep coming in to the scene on a user basis. I'm not a big fan of Hatsune Miku or Vocaloid, but still think that the movement has a strong potential to become a mainstream in Japanese pop culture next to anime and manga (but I'm still not sure if it really attracts other people outside of Japan).

  4. It's definitely a big thing in terms of "otaku" culture.

    For mainstream media I think there has already been some level of use in terms of professional bands such as supercell picking that up. For the Vocaloid program there is still a level of separation when you hear the computer generated voice but on the other hand when singers cover Vocaloid songs or use them professionally it starts to bridge that gap.

    Even with a computer generated voice though you increasingly find more and more instances appearing in pop culture like autotune (for Songify, or even professional artistes), or the kind of music that comes out of bands like the Japanese Perfume.

  5. Thanks for this informative and enjoyable post. I had almost no awareness of this vocaloid thing before reading it. And I certainly had no idea about Hatsune Miku.

    I really learned a lot here and am anxious to see what Shinichiro has to say on the subject in his blog.

  6. It's definitely a significant part of Japanese pop/otaku culture. For the past few weeks in fact Lawson's convenience stores have been having a Vocaloid promotion (; I think it just ended though) going on with a Lawson-inspired original character adorning flyers and posters on the event.

    The one near my apartment has a space where you can sit down and have a bite to eat and while doing so I found that it's basically impossible to go in the store without hearing the promotion pitch on the speakers; I must have heard it dozens of times by now :P

  7. I know that I totally am a late comer, but the last clip just cracked me out ... and I'm still fxxkin laughing typing this shit! LOL
    I really liked how those children cut Hatsune Miku in half by their insane words!
    THAT was so funny! XD

  8. Lol yea that was amusing. Totally asked an unrelated audience. I guess as much as Vocaloid is well-known and popular, there are groups in which the trend has little or no traction whatsoever