An often-cited reason for the group’s growth in popularity stateside has been its prolific use of social media, from broadcasting live-streams on Naver’s V Live service while on tour to keeping up a steady stream of selfies on their shared Twitter account.
The boys’ use of social media signals broader changes taking hold in the K-pop industry, which has traditionally been dominated by larger entertainment companies like JYP Entertainment, YG Entertainment and SM Entertainment. The companies bring in hundreds of millions in revenue and have powerful backers: Alibaba bought a stake in SM in 2016 while the private equity arm of luxury company LVMH invested up to $80 million in YG back in 2014.
In comparison, BTS’ management agency, Big Hit Entertainment, is a smaller outfit founded by the producer Bang Si-hyuk. The company made around $30 million in revenue in 2016, Bloomberg reported, citing local media.
But what Big Hit Entertainment initially lacked in financial firepower or influence within the K-pop ecosystem, it made up with a savvy use of social media.
“Making appearances on television shows is still the most reliable way to introduce new idols to the public, but Big Hit started to focus on social media and target foreign fans instead,” explained Kim Suk-young, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles whose research covers Korean cultural studies.
The move ultimately paid off. BTS now has 11.4 million followers on Twitter, earning the group a Guinness World Record along the way for having the most Twitter engagements for a music act. The group recorded an average 252,231 retweets per tweet on the social media platform. By comparison, fellow K-pop boy band EXO recorded a lower amount of 78,185 engagements per tweet.
The degree of frequent interaction on social media has allowed the group to “get closer” to its international fanbase, Kim said. The issue of language barriers is easily solved thanks to the group’s loyal fanbase, officially called ARMY (or, Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth), who transcribe and translate content from the group so that fans who don’t speak Korean can partake in them too.
The group’s growing international recognition has also led to bigger things for Big Hit Entertainment. Following months of rumors, Bang told Bloomberg earlier this month that the company had discussed an initial public offering with its backers, although it had not ironed out specific details, including the size or timing of an IPO.