Battle of the Digital Brands: Justin Bieber vs. One Direction

Bieber Fever has been proven to spread faster than measles. The virus spreads, as things do these days, on social networks. For this week’s Battle of the Brands, we force a digital sing-off between Justin Bieber and new teen heartthrobs, One Direction. Which one has the better online voice?

Facebook: Bieber has a huge online following. Over 45 million people liked his page, and half a million people are talking about it. The cover of his new album “Believe” introduces the timeline. His androgynous facial features have him looking over his left shoulder to the text “Justin Bieber Believe,” as if he needed some kind of affirmation of his status. His links on Facebook go to photos, downloads (a single off his new record), the ability to pre-order his new record (which dropped on June 19th), events, music videos and behind-the-scenes videos, Spotify, his newsletter, his line of beauty products, and an app called WeTopia, a game whose proceeds go to a Haitian orphanage. Bieber’s timeline goes back to only March 2009 when he joined the social networking mammoth. Typical to a young audience, his first post was an emoticon. He appears to post fairly regularly, updating his status with thank-yous and videos and pictures. He clearly recognizes his fans’ role in his success and the Bieber brand is strong on Facebook.

Twitter: Over 25 million people follow the musical prodigy. Interestingly, he (or whoever tweets on his behalf) follows more than 123,000. His tweets are what you would expect from a teenager trying to shed his boyish image and who also happens to sit on pop music’s most celebrated throne. Bieber tweets about his new album, his fans or his interests (apparently, the Beebs is a fan of Italian soccer). He’s also a retweeting machine. It must be hard being an 18-year-old cultural phenom, but based on his tweets, he’s relishing his role while simultaneously trying to justify his place in the music landscape. Here’s a representative tweet: “we have shocked every person who said we would go away…and we did it based on the music. that is all i ever wanted. thank u for supporting “

YouTube: This is how you know you’re more famous than the person sitting next to you: You put up only 58 videos on YouTube in almost three years, but have 1.5 million subscribers who have watched your videos an astounding 2.6 billion (yes, with a “b”) times. Besides a place to store audio from his new album “Believe” and older ones, his YouTube page has interviews with Fuse, older music videos and a couple of interaction videos.

One Direction:
Facebook: The manufactured British boy band, which placed third in 2010’s British smash reality show “The X Factor,” is just the most recent rung on the boy-band evolutionary ladder. Their following is growing, as evidenced by the 7.4 million likes on their Facebook page. Their timeline photo is made of  individual images of the five band members. One for all, all for one it implies. Links on the page go to photos, events, music videos, info for their North American tour, joining the 1D (One Direction) super fan club, an interactive page for fans to tell their favorite One Direction story, merchandise, polls and the ability to download songs from various Internet retailers. Status updates, signed by whichever band member posts them, are snapshots of what members of the band are thinking and doing. Earnest in tone, the band’s posts help solidify the image of what budding pop stardom is about: humility in knowing your fans got you to this point. Hopefully, they retain that image as they continue down the path of international fame.

Twitter: The current pop sensations have 4.8 million followers on Twitter and follow 760. There are few original tweets from this account, but plenty of retweets — from band members and fans alike — and a healthy number of @ replies. Signatures at the end of tweets explain which band member was tweeting, and there appears an additional team member who goes by 1DHQ who often tweets from this account. The band clearly understands Twitter’s role in the relationship between brand (band) and audience.

YouTube: One Direction’s YouTube channel has 70 videos, 555,000 subscribers and almost 60 million views. Not too shabby for a band that was created from a reality show two years ago. Clips from the band’s recent tour populate the channel, but the band sees a use for YouTube other than housing music videos. They post video diaries from the road and even a thank you message to their fans. One Direction seems to understand the authentic and transparent communicative nature of the social Web.

One of the interesting things about each artist’s social identity is that their fans, some who have 25,000 followers on Twitter, feed off one another precisely because they’ve labeled themselves as fans. These fan-follower numbers may be so high because One Direction or Bieber retweeted a post once, and that led to an avalanche of other fans following them.

Both brands — Team Bieber and Team 1D — are using technology and the social Web to help foster community around them. But for this digital dance off, there can only be one winner. Bieber’s got the numbers, but One Direction has the connectivity that makes social media irresistible for many. For the millions of pop music fans, social media has given them the chance to interact with their idols in new and exciting ways. One Direction embraces this, giving fans not only the moments they live for — the tweets, retweets, status updates — but the behind-the-scenes content that makes them feel as if they are a part of the band. This is why we give the Golden Mic to One Direction as the better digital brand.

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