At the tail end of 2005, I was sitting in my office as Digital Product Manager at Sony (BMG) working on the Take That website. The band had been away for ten years. Take That were making their comeback and this event was marked by many things - a documentary charting their career, a new “Greatest Hits” album called “The Ultimate Collection - Never Forget” and of course their first official website. Until this point in time the “Take That Appreciation Pages,” had occupied the prime real estate of web space as the number one destination for all things Take That. The owners of the “Take That Appreciation Pages,” were doing a better job then we ever could have at managing the fans. Resources at Sony were stretched between many, many artists. The “Take That Appreciation Pages,” were dedicated to their cause. When it came to Take That as Lulu said in the documentary, you weren’t so much a fan as you were a disciple.
When TakeThat.com was live, I asked five levelheaded fans from the Take That Appreciation Pages to help moderate the forum. My intention was to complement not to compete. We soon struck up a great team effort. The new team of girls was fantastic and to this day I don’t know where I would have been without them. It was a comfort to know they were there helping me hold the fort on this project. To me, they were part of the Sony/Take That team. I was and am still very grateful. Within a short while, we had 16 thousand Take That (mostly female) fans on the forum animatedly discussing all manner of Take That topics.
However, things took a dramatic turn on the forums. There was now a disturbing presence. The peace was broken. The moderators reported a new person on the forum, someone with an attitude. We decided to observe, hoping he would go away, but the fans were reporting that they were finding his comments upsetting. I, as the administrator, and the moderators felt responsible towards the fans. Several days later, the moderators told me they received private messages on the forum threatening physical and sexual violence. This “threatener” had even obtained emails and had IM’d one of the moderators. Naturally, I was extremely upset for the moderators.
I immediately went to my line manager, the Head of Digital, and told him what was happening. Surely, there was a protocol for this kind of thing at Sony. My boss shrugged his shoulders looked at me as if I was wasting his time and asked, “What do you expect me to do about it?” He was nonplussed. A few terrified fans just were not worth the effort. In short, he did not care. It was written all over his face. I went back to my office and shut the door. I was numb with shock… to the core. I couldn’t believe that someone, in my opinion, could be so cruel. Then I got angry. Not for me, I didn’t matter - I was in the ivory towers of Sony. I got angry for the moderators. They were loyal fans who had stayed true for a decade whilst Take That were inactive. They were doing an unpaid job for Sony, a labour of love for their band, re-living their teenage years. There was now a man terrorizing these girls and shaking up an entire community and then someone in authority who had plenty of power to do something about it and could not be bothered. So I got on the phone and called a friend. A friend who I knew was very high up in the police force. He advised me. He told me to send screen grabs of all the messages to him. By this time, I had already banned the IP of the person in question. He returned under another alias and had started sending me death threats and he now knew where the Sony office was. The next afternoon I was gathering all the messages and disturbing images together in PowerPoint format. I took stock of the volume of material and at that point, of clicking send - I finally gave in to the upset and cried a little.
Then there was nothing. No more messages, no more threats, no more of the person that had caused all the distress. Things went back to normal. The moderators were happy, relieved and the appreciation I got was wonderful. A few days later, I asked my police friend for an update and he said, “Don’t worry about it.”
To this day, I still don’t know what happened. However, I do know this. Those Take That fans deserved better than what they might have gotten had I not taken action. I do know that no matter what, any organization has a duty towards its fans. An organization with fans must show its fans respect. Where would we have been had I taken the same approach as my boss and done nothing? What kind of fan experience would that have been? A horrific one?
Without our fans, we are nothing.
Leena speaks all over the country on the subject of digital music business. Events regularly include University of Chester, University of Westminster, The Manchester College, London Metropolitan University, Croydon Council, Southwark Council and Portobello Business Centre. Leena also currently lectures at the University of East London.
Leena’s business “Positively Music “is a coaching business that helps the music industry create communities of raving fan customers. She is writing a new book called “The Fan Experience” focussed on the music fans’ growing role in the music business with the audio visual product and training courses to match.
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