In 2015, when Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the Alps, killing all 150 people aboard, its hashtag quickly became the number one worldwide Twitter trend. But just a day later #AlwaysInOurHeartsZaynMalik took the top spot. It was created when a member of One Direction officially quit the band — news that prompted more than 4 million tweets in a day, far more than the 200,000 that #Germanwings had garnered.
How can the departure of a band member so overshadow such a tragic plane crash in social media? Nicole Santero, ’13 BA Communication Studies and ’16 MA Journalism and Media Studies, examined that question for her master’s thesis. Her research on the fandom phenomenon won second place in the 2016 UNLV Graduate and Professional Student Research Forum, third place in the 2016 Greenspun College of Urban Affairs Graduate Research Symposium, and propelled her into the top 10 out of 80 master’s and Ph.D. students in the Rebel Grad Slam 3-Minute Thesis Competition.
We talked to Santero, 24, about how fans control boy band news on Twitter, her work as a social media manager for the Clark County School District, and how research skills helped her in her academic and professional career.
How One Direction became a thesis topic
My thesis is 115 pages of fandom research and analyses. It sums up my infatuation with not only boy bands but the utilization of social media as a research and reporting tool. My interest in doing a study like this stems from breaking news and fan culture, and I wanted to explore how they fit together as well as the values they each bring in today's digital world.
I’ve always been intrigued by social media, and Twitter is my favorite platform, so I examined previous research on how breaking news has become so prevalent on social media. I think how reporters and journalists look to and utilize Twitter to break news is really interesting.
How fans promote a band through social media
Overall, “Directioners,” as the band’s fans are called, have a complex system of news trending on Twitter that is built on an intense emotional investment to their idols. The top influencers are able to push out information to an extensive network of followers. Directioners use Twitter to maintain One Direction’s relevance in pop culture, while establishing their own status as prominent and savvy social media users in the digital era.
Building confidence through research competitions
To be honest, I was really terrified to compete for a lot of reasons. Not knowing how people are going to react to my research — knowing that it’s a little bit different than traditional topics — worried me. But I got a kick out of seeing people’s reactions to it. I don’t think a lot of people thought I could make it into a serious research topic. No matter how scared I was, competing made me more sure and confident about my research. These types of competitions really force you to become an expert, especially when you’re trying to get your point across in a coherent way to a variety of audiences.
A day in the life of the Clark County School District communications team
Some of my social media duties include monitoring all of CCSD's different accounts regularly (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) and updating them with the latest news and information about the school district. I also assist in media relations and crisis communications, draft news releases, coordinate media interviews, and assist in the planning and execution of media events.
I think social media is a great way to get the word out to the community about things they may not be aware of — especially when it comes to all the types of awards and honors students are receiving at all grade levels, and also how teachers and administrators are going above and beyond and earning recognition for their innovative and hard work.
Advice for storytellers
In public relations and social media, I do a significant amount of writing. You need to be a good writer and you still have additional duties that require other elements of multimedia and so on. You can’t pin yourself to one specific niche and expect that to take you everywhere. Know and learn as much as you can as the field evolves. Adapt and learn.