Social Media Running Free: The Importance of a Brazilian Fan Finding an American’s Post About A British Band
Just to say this out loud at the start: this is largely a personal story, but it has connections to a larger behavioral theme we’re seeing in much of our work.
Our story begins in Florida. In February, I went on a remarkable journey to a remarkable show – as I am wont to do – as a good friend and I traveled to see the first date of a world tour of one of our favorite bands. The first show of any world tour is notable, although sometimes not in the most positive way as kinks are worked out of set lists and new songs stumble around looking for their place. This one had several extra layers of notability that laid heavily on the concert: it was the first show celebrating the release of arguably one of the most successful albums ever for the band, it would be the first time anyone would see the usually-legendary stage show and effects, and most importantly it would be the first live performance after the lead singer recovered from throat cancer – in many ways a tribute to his triumph over it as well as the answer to the question of whether he would ever sing the same again. The band is one of the most successful touring bands of the last thirty-plus years with a legendary fan base that I had only really encountered tangentially online and occasionally in person. Being a fan most of my life too, I should add.
The band was Iron Maiden.
I won’t belabor you with the more enthusiast-based details of the trip except for this: it was a truly incredible experience and show that featured massive pyrotechnics, stagecraft creations of all sizes – including stagecraft creations like a giant balloon-based head that then had pyrotechnics on it. There was also a craft-beer-related element with the band’s association with Trooper Beer by Robinson Brewery, which was cool not only because I like craft beer and the band, but because it was a beer-centric trip by default with my professional-brewer-best-friend who attended it with me.
What I want to highlight here, and then connect to the larger conversation of social media behavior and what has changed, is how what was normally seen as a very terrestrial experience has been transformed into a worldwide radio tower for others. And let me be clear: I’m not simply talking about content – as in, fans trolling for set lists or photos of the new stage setup, or the occasional video, which is still very much happening. Rather, I’m talking about a level and scope of connection that I certainly didn’t expect in Ft. Lauderdale and didn’t expect by the pithy dribble of content I was bothering to post.
So let’s unpack what I expected to happen…
I figured that even among my close friends, much less the thin ring of people I’m friends with on Facebook who actively love the band, that my posts there would be amusing at best, a 3-day turn-off at worst. But on Instagram (the only account where I was posting publicly viewable photos and also simply using the #ironmaiden hashtag) I knew that there was a chance for complete strangers to interact. More than that, because I was tagging any posts with the location on Instagram, I knew that locals going to the show and any visiting fans might stumble on my posts. This is further compounded by the fact that Ft. Lauderdale is a sprawling place with plenty going on within a hundred miles – discovery on Instagram wasn’t going to feature my posts anytime soon. Keep in mind I really wasn’t trying hard to get noticed – any content was largely posted for my own edification and maybe the interest of a few who stumbled on it.
What actually happened is best looked at in two parts.
The first being onsite:
The Iron Maiden fan community is something to behold. For one thing, they effectively swarm an area like ants for several days. We spent literally hours around the hotel pool chatting with new friends the night before, we encountered them as we visited area breweries nowhere near the venue, and they overloaded the small rib joint owned by the drummer, Rock N Roll Ribs. And when someone notes that Iron Maiden has a global audience – in fact one of the largest followings of any band in the world – you should absolutely believe them. The fan meet-ups were like Epcot on steroids and it’s honestly difficult to describe both the comradery and the surprise we felt as we walked through the takeover of a local restaurant by hundreds of fans from all over the world. And it truly was all over the world – if you take even a slice, let’s say a single hour of the meet-up, you’d find us talking with fans from every single continent but Antarctica who had traveled for the event. Also, I would be remiss not to note, all ages and men and women – I was a bit shocked at the diversity.
What I want to really examine after all this setup is what happened online…
My very thin keyhole of public online posts on Instagram became a much larger window for those who followed my trip. These weren’t friends from home or family that would likely interact with anything I posted, but completely new people who chose to Like or Comment. And these weren’t predictable demographic groups, at least not what one might expect of many who looked at a heavy metal band in their 50’s and 60’s. The interactions that flooded in, hanging on every photo of the fans and the show, were not from British metal heads or American rock fans – but from South American Iron Maiden fans from varying countries and backgrounds. I should note that I am a part of the band’s fan club and had been on the forums – a great group to be sure and how the meet-ups were organized – but this was different, independent, and entirely generated from an interaction with the small bits of content I floated.
They didn’t just Like – but started visibly interacting with my posted content, starting conversations and tagging friends to draw further attention. Sure, the short 15-second Instagram videos garnered hundreds of views apiece, and dozens of Likes from people who I certainly didn’t know was interesting – but the conversations were the most telling. These were engaged fans. And more surprisingly, they were new friends.
One young woman, a 21-year old from Fortaleza, Brazil commented: “I am very grateful that you have shared this beautiful moment! I am Brazilian, and in March my city will receive Iron Maiden, and my little heart is tight with anxiety.”
Days later she would chronicle her own Iron Maiden show, further revealing the diversity and youth of the band’s fan base, but also highlighting the inspired engagement of a very empowered culture of women in Brazil, something we have seen first hand with our own research.
After the show, as I would expect at any event from conferences to performances, attention on my posts died down. I’m used to this, which I used to joke in presentations as “the Bonnaroo effect,” so named because once a year I would gain 500 followers talking music at my annual festival pilgrimage and lose 500 behavioral research and marketing folks – just to lose and gain a thousand once I went back to talking about social media.
But what has happened since is perhaps just as surprising…
The experience, and even those few posts that garnered such attention, changed not just my perceptions but even my day-to-day engagement. When I returned home I went back to posting about my “normal” life – my hobbies, work, my daughter, etc. And immediately I saw new regular followers and engagements. New friends from Venezuela and Brazil connected with me on my craft beer app of choice, Untappd (even though I had not published a link to it); a Native American brother-sister pair found me on Twitter; on Facebook I connected with a stalwart group of Canadians who continued to follow the band’s tour after our opener; and my Spring Break father-daughter trip to Disney had an extra set of vacation-watchers from new friends in São Paulo.
A single concert. Concert-going is something I think I can safely say has been a “thing” for me over my near 40 years on this planet and I’ve attended upwards of 250 concerts (I even catalog them, because OCD is also a “thing” for me). And out of all my shows and all my years of fandom, I have never had an experience that was so intense and eye-opening from a connectivity perspective – and never have I had a single show connect me globally with such a caring network that has stayed active in my life, even when most of them only lived vicariously through me.
While it’s a personal story, it’s also telling of the wider world social media has brought us, and certainly a signal of the social awakening that will continue to tear down barriers and connect interests. It’s an injection of vibrancy and authenticity that an Internet often laden with American-cynicism needed.
This is art and passion crossing borders and generations, with demographics that blur and connect on their own without the “brand” itself through the excited periphery of discussion and sharing. This isn’t the future, it’s right now. We only hope to help more brands understand what’s happening right in front of them.
by: Dean Browell, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder