I Just Can't 'Belieb' It

So the world of communications has irrevocably changed – on that all communicators agree – but just how much damage is being caused by the power of social and online media in the hands of the wrong influencers? If the recent Justin Bieber debacle at Anne Frank’s house is anything to go by I would say there is room for some serious concern.

For those who haven’t followed the story, the ‘teenage superstar’ Bieber commented in the visitors book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” The reason we know this, is that the tourist site posted the message on its Facebook page.

Image of Justin Bieber’s comment on the Anne Frank House Facebook page


As a communications professional, after my initial incredulousness about just how uneducated and self-serving these comments were, I was struck by what a complete PR faux pas this was. Surely his army of advisors would have educated him on who Anne Frank was, gave insight into what he could expect at the museum and crafted messages to be coming out of the experience as well as examples of what should be written in the guest book?

Here was a perfect opportunity to position Bieber as more than just a pop star, a platform to both educate his fans and possibly provide some social commentary on the atrocities faced by Anne Franks and her family to his ever growing base of online followers.

Looking into this reach, I discovered that the official @justinbieber Twitter handle has in excess of 37 500 00 followers. His ‘Believe’ Facebook page has 52 million plus likes, with a further 510 540 people talking about it. The Bieber YouTube channels yields  more than 4 million subscribers and just under 3.6 billion video views.

So, on just three platforms, we are seeing one individual reaching in excess of 3.6 billion people. That is more than half of the world’s population. To contextualise that further that is larger than the combined populations of the three largest countries of the world China, India and the United States.

Brand ‘Bieber’ is obviously a well-oiled communications machine which has at its core a 19 year old singing sensation. But just where do the responsibilities lie for what is communicated?

As we continue to see unprecedented growth in social media and its ability to impact and to a large degree shape the conversation around issues as witnessed in the recent Oscar Pistorius case and the Egyptian revolution, there is a definite need for more accountability from large brands. In addition, we as communicators have a key role to play in shaping the messages and brand profiles.