Real Band, Fake Following
Last week we learned of the band Threatin, who mounted a European tour based on a large online fan base that was fake. As of this writing, they have 38.8k fans on their Facebook page, 4.6k followers on their Twitter page and 1,390 following on Spotify. This is only news because Threatin used the strength of their online audiences, as well as some spliced up live footage of another band, to book that overseas tour. Upon arriving, the venues were virtually empty, with only people from the supporting band’s guestlist walking through the doors, reportedly.
On Wednesday, Threatin released this very enlightened statement, responding to their recent coverage:
What is Fake News? I turned an empty room into an international headline. If you are reading this, you are part of the illusion. – Jered Threatin
What a douche, right?
I mean, that’s the real story here; That this narcissist thought he could dupe the western world. And he did, until it crashed spectacularly. And to act like this is all part of the plan now that his house of cards has toppled – well, I’d like to say that it’s pathetic, at best, but in all honesty, it will probably win him a reality TV show where we can watch this walking train wreck take place on a weekly basis.
Is Jered Threatin a moron or a genius?
He’s a moron.
But, the story isn’t as simple as that.
It’s easy to look at how this played out and say, “Well, obviously no one showed. They had no real fans.”, and yes, you’d be right. No one was actually excited about Threatin playing their hometown because, largely, no one knew who Threatin was.
Threatin, whether he knew it or not, was relying on the concept of “social proof” to see his star ascend. This is partially how fame grows, by the way. As an outsider, you see that other people have an affinity or trust for Threatin and that gives you signals that you may like them as well. It’s the reason we trust online reviews, especially in volume, or brands with a massive following. Someone else took the risk of being an early adopter, they still trust this entity, and as a result, you, as a latecomer, have less risk in also relying on that entity.
Plus, now you’re in a group of people who like a thing, rather than being the weirdo who likes something all alone and independently.
This sort of fake fan base/social proof has been used before.
It’s been used effectively.
In the 1940’s, Frank Sinatra’s publicist, George Evans, auditioned and paid young girls $5 each to scream for Frank and whip up excitement. We don’t look back at George Evans and call him a narcissistic douchebag because he relied on this tactic. Hell, we may even call him kinda brilliant.
Imagine it: You’re a white,17 year old girl in 1947 and you consider yourself to be Frankie’s biggest fan. You’ve been waiting weeks to share the same oxygen as ol’ blue eyes and, if luck smiles on you, maybe he’ll make eye contact with you and give you a smile.
The day of the show arrives and the moment the chairboy of the board (he was too young to be the chairman in 1947) steps on stage, another white, 17 year old girl at the same venue is losing her mind, demanding the attention of the young Mr. Sinatra. Not only is she probably going to get that attention, but now you’re displaced as the number one fan. She’s screaming, now you’re screaming… and maybe crying for extra effect. The girl next to you, who is another white, 17 year old girl who also considers herself Sinatra’s number 1 fan sees multiple other white, 17 year old girls screaming, some are crying. This girl now realizes that this is the appropriate way to act at a Sinatra show and if you’re not doing it…. You must not be a fan.
Have you noticed the differences in execution here between Jered Threatin and George Evans?
Let’s unpack it:
- People were already Frank Sinatra fans. Sinatra was starting with a strong base of devotees. These hired guns were there to elevate the experience and increase advocacy.
Evans’ motivation wasn’t to create an astro turf fan base, it was to create a frenzy among the people who were already there. Maybe some kids would get crushed and end up in the hospital. Can you imagine the kinds of headlines they’d get? Boffo! Social proof certainly played a part in all of this, but he was also creating some artificial competition, which then normalized the behavior of screaming and crying. Behavior that would otherwise be considered absurd.Threatin’s goal was to fake early momentum with the hope that it would snowball into a legitimate audience that would continue to grow into a following. It almost sort of worked.
- If you followed my above narrative, you’ll notice that I asked you to pretend to be white, 17 years old and female. I also asked you to imagine other people, in your same proximity, who looked a lot like you. This is the secret ingredient to social proof. That people who are like you have said ‘Yes’.
When you purchase followers from Fiverr, those followers are going to come from Brazil or South Korea or India or, pretty much anywhere you’re not from. You may be able to post up big follower counts, but those followers that you bought aren’t real people, which means that they don’t have real friends who will be influenced. So, what do I care if you have 38k fans on Facebook if not a single one of them is a friend of mine. It almost betrays social proof because it says that the group who loves Threatin are different from my social circle – which strongly signals this doesn’t appeal to me or my tribe.
At least with the tactic George Evans employed, you had to recognize yourself in these screaming teenage girls in the room because you, yourself, were a teenage girl in that room.
How It Actually Could’ve Worked
In researching this post I listened to Threatin’ and the band/guy seems reasonably good at the music he plays. I couldn’t tell you if he’s the best because I don’t care about hair metal. Frankly, I’m surprised something that shallow didn’t evaporate a while ago. But, that’s beside the point. He seems to be, at minimum, ok at hair metal. (Feel free to correct me in the comments if I’ve got the sub genre incorrect.)
They had a visibly large number of social media followers, as well.
Those two truths and a PR agency will actually get you somewhere. The large following could definitely have been leveraged to get Threatin some coverage from blogs, because they think that once they write about an act with lots of followers, that act will post a link to the article on their Facebook or Twitter feed and that will send traffic back to the blog, which will then make some money from ads.
On the strength of those blog articles, they may have been able to get some stories written about them in bigger publications or worked their way into on-air radio appearances or podcast appearances. At minimum, they could’ve primed the pump on their tour route by promoting those blog articles to local audiences who dig other hair metal acts.
“Check out why Leopard Skin Press calls us the next Whitesnake and come see us at the Elks Club Hall next Saturday!”
But they didn’t do that (I’m guessing). They just booked a tour and figured that someone in England was going to be like, “There are 20 people going to this show… I don’t want to be the only person in my town who isn’t there.”
And that’s the second-most thing that drives me crazy about this story: There was actually a path to success for them if they had thought it through a little bit more. They could’ve snowballed this bullshit following into a real one!
But here’s my main point of frustration, and this applies to the entirety of marketing and people who fake it:
It’s unnecessary to begin with. Simply be the best at what you do. If you aren’t the best today, aim to grow into being the best tomorrow. Most, if not all, of those things that you want will come if you just work on your craft and then share it with the world.
When you’re great, no black hat strategies or tactics are needed.