Michael Jackson's death on June 25, 2009 triggered a record-breaking social media explosion as Twitter, YouTube, blogs, search engines, and online news sites were flooded with traffic about his passing.
Here at Rapleaf, we thought it would be interesting to gauge the King of Pop's online popularity and fan base before the social media outburst, and to compare them with those of other leading pop culture icons in music such as The Beatles, Elvis, and Madonna. So we sampled public profiles of 1.1 million fans of these four artists across major social networks and got some surprising results.
Before discussing the findings, here are some things to keep in mind about this study:
- Data is gathered from publicly-available sources
- "Fans" of an artist are identified as people who publicly mention the artist's name on their social media profiles, blogs, forums, etc.
And now for the results:
Gender Breakdown of Fans
- Elvis and Michael Jackson appeal pretty equally to both males and females
- Beatles' fans tend to be slightly more male while Madonna's fans arepredominantly female
Age Group Breakdown of Fans
- The proportion of the under 18 age group is roughly the same for all four artists; the proportion of the over 45 age group generally coincides with when each of the artists began their musical careers -- Elvis has an older fan base while Michael Jackson and The Beatles have younger fans.
- Although Madonna is the most recent pop culture icon in the group, Michael Jackson and The Beatles are the most popular among fans in the 18 - 25 age group.
Fan Sociability - Percentage of Fans with over 50 Friends
- Fans of these artists are social individuals, with the vast majority of them having over 50 online friends; Michael Jackson fans tend to be the most social with over 70% of fans having 50+ friends
- These sociability trends seem to reflect the general age breakdown of the fans: Elvis fans, being older, tend to have fewer friends than Michael Jackson fans, who are the youngest overall.
Online Popularity of Artists (Normalized)
- The Beatles have nearly three times more fans online than the second-most popular artist, Elvis. The Beatles have more fans than Elvis, Madonna, and Michael Jackson combined.
- Sociability of online fans -- The rate of social media adoption among younger demographics may help explain why Elvis fans aren't as well-connected as the younger Beatles and Michael Jackson fans. It's important to place the overall sociability of these fans within context of how the data was gathered. Fans of these four artists are all people who are active enough online to fill out social media profiles and indicate their musical preferences. Because these users are more active, they're also more likely to be better-connected. This helps explain why there is such strong representation from users with over 50 friends.
- The Beatles' dominating popularity online -- The Beatles' online celebrity may be bolstered by both their music's enduring appeal and the success of their recent compilation album 1 released in 2000, which has become one of the best-selling albums of this decade with over 31 million in worldwide sales. While all the artists in this study are period icons, The Beatles' prominence on social media may suggest their ability to better transcend generations, which is in part evidenced by them having the second-youngest fans.
- Michael Jackson's lack of internet prominence -- This is particularly bewildering given Michael Jackson's younger - and presumably more tech- and social media-savvy - fans and his status as one of the most influential entertainers and musicians to ever take center stage. His 1982 album Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time with over 100 million sales worldwide (more than twice the second best-selling album).
Again, these findings reflect data gathered from before Michael Jackson's passing two weeks ago. If Michael Jackson's swift ascent to the top of Facebook is any indication of his fan base, had this study incorporated results from the recent social media outbreak, the King of Pop's online popularity would most likely reign supreme.