By Xuan Feng, Queenie Yeung, and Ahmed Ibrahim

The distinction between celebrities and micro-celebrities is relevant when discussing social networking sites and status. Celebrities can have thousands or million of ‘followers’ but those ‘followers’ are generally members of their fanbase. In other words, a celebrity can attract a large number of people not for their tweet’s content, but for who they are. Contrastingly, Marwick and Boyd identify ‘micro-celebrity’ as the act of people building up social statuses over the web via video, blogs, and social networking sites. “Marketers, technologists, and individuals seeking wide attention” maintain continual interaction on websites such as Twitter for the purpose of establishing a presence online (8 Marwick and Boyd).  Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook allow for ordinary people to attain a certain status and following online.  But even traditional celebrities and public officials such as President Obama has joined because social media networks have acquired a status themselves.

When looking at how social statuses are constructed on social networking sites, audience is key.  When Marwick and Boyd asked a group of Twitter users who had strategic plans for their audiences what types of content they post, one responded with “like my stream 1/3 humors, 1/3 informative, 1/3 genial and unfiltered, and transparency is so chic, try to tweet the same way” (9 Marwick and Boyd).  Twitter is seen as a “platform to obtain and maintain attention, by targeting tweets towards their perceived audience’s interest and balancing different topic areas” (9 Marwick and Boyd).  Users post with certain types of imagined audience in mind.

In the presentation of self, authenticity is also a crucial aspect for Twitter users interested in increasing popularity online.  One of the biggest problems that surge with social networking sites and public figures is verifying authenticity in regards to the identity of the person behind the tweets and the messages or opinions expressed. Twitter implemented ‘Verified Accounts’, a badge that establishes an account’s authenticity, which takes care of the authentic identity concern. High status people like Ashton Kutcher have a ‘verified accounts’ check in their profile, whereas ordinary people don’t. The second concern is about crafted tweets that appear personal and authentic, but aim to sell a product or service. Celebrities are often hired to make endorsements and appearances and it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish sponsored posts. Last February, Hearst Corporation held a series of panels for Social Media Week New York. One of the panels was about being a ‘celebrity spokesperson in the digital age,’ in which actress Denise Richards talked about only tweeting about products she believes in.

Context and audience also heavily determine authenticity.  Twitter users try to balance audience building, personal authenticity and audience expectations (13 Marwick and Boyd).  This requires monitoring, as in the case of Soraya Darabi, the social media strategist for the New York Times who  is “’constantly aware of [her] followers’” and uses Twittersheep, a tool developed by her company to track what her 472,000 followers pay care to.  Twitter users trying to acquire more followers are also generally aware of their audience and try to maintain “authenticity” by revealing personal information strategically.  Soraya says that while she doesn’t share deeply personal information on Twitter, “it may look good for professional purposes to say [she’s] having lunch or dinner with X” if this is a person her audience are aware of (14 Marwick and Boyd).

Micro-celebrity techniques such as “interacting directly with followers, appealing to multiple audiences, creating an affable brand and sharing personal information are rewarded, and consequently encouraged, in Twitter culture” (14 Marwick and Boyd).  Marwich and Boyd add that the ability to spawn attention is a status symbol in itself.  But the practice of micro-celebrity can be criticized as inauthentic in itself.  The aspects of self-promotion and the ability to truly share a connection with people are in conflict.  This leads of the question of whether the ‘public’ sphere is becoming synonymous with ‘commercial’ because of the difficulties in maneuvering and distinguishing the intention of social network users today.

Apart from being used for brand building, social networking sites are complementing, almost replacing, traditional focus groups. Businesses, celebrities, and ordinary people ask for feedback and suggestions using their Facebook and Twitter accounts and are able to read answers in real time. A popular example of this phenomenon took place in 2009 when Kim Kardashian, who now has over 7 million followers, reached her fans via Twitter to ask for their opinion prior to the launch of her perfume.  “When she was deciding on a color for her Kim Kardashian perfume bottle, she asked her followers on Twitter whether they preferred a hot pink or a light pink. (It was light pink, by far.) “Twitter is the most amazing focus group out there,” she said.”

Questions that we pose are: How is status defined on the web? Word of mouth popularity? Number of followers? Reblogging and shared links? “When an indi­vidual’s account is public, anyone – with or without a Twitter account – can read their tweets through the site, RSS, or third-party software… the lists of followers on both public and protected accounts indicate only a potential audience, since not everyone who follows a user reads all their tweets.”  (Marwick and Boyd).

Also, if real celebrities benefit from their status through advertising or keeping their fan base engaged what do micro celebrities get out of their status?

We would like to conduct further research on micro-celebrities, their incentives, who they imagine as their audience, and how they actively maintain authenticity.  Also, we are waiting on interviews including that of Natalie Lent, director of Digital Strategy at ID who manages several people’s Twitter accounts such Ben Stiller’s.

Queenie attended the panel with Rob Shuter, Bryan Boy, Denise Richards, Natalie Lent, and Alisa Leonard.

5 Responses to “Draft 2: Social Networking Sites and Status”

  1. lizcullen says:

    I think status is definetely defined on web by a mixture of the above listed (number of followers, reblogs, etc), yet also by maintaining an active voice that interests followers. It seems that many micro-celebrities and even mega-celebrities have noticed a formula in capturing an audience such as with the humor + marketing + informative tactic. I think the success of Kim Kardashian lies in her ability to both manipulate her audience in a way where they feel connected to her and are able to help her–almost as a real personal friend would. I am also interested in knowing more about these people that manage celebrities twitter accounts–since we often assume that it is the celebrities themselves who post, not their agents or other people on their staff. Would this affect their followers if they were more aware of this notion, or would people still believe that the information is coming direct from the source? How much deception plays in on social networking sites, and what do these private and public spheres each contribute?

    • chelseachristensen says:

      I think this is a really great suggestion-I know I definitely have some mega-celebrities that I follow on Twitter, but even if I like the celebrity it doesn’t necessarily garner them a “follow” from me. I definitely look at content, and they have to keep me entertained somehow, rather than just always tweeting, “can’t wait for the show tonight at xyz” and “thanks for an awesome show xyz!” It may be difficult but just finding some examples of celebrities that log on themselves (i feel like taylor swift and some other celebs actually do) and who manage their accts, and if it makes a difference in quality.

  2. cassidyraehavens says:

    Like Liz was saying, I think the most interesting aspect about this is agents who manage celebrities’ Twitter accounts. I think that’d be an interesting topic to delve into a bit more here and touch on the questions that Liz is posing. Besides that, you guys have a lot of great research so far, but you’re lacking the original research part. One celebrity who I find kind of interesting on Twitter is Yoko Ono–she tries to follow as many of her followers back, and she’s even following me. Obviously, it would be really hard to get in contact with her, but you may want to mention that and what it does for her celebrity. It makes her seem a lot more accessible than she really is, and a lot of people (including myself) take it personally that she is following them back.

  3. Matt Gorman says:

    I like the research you have done so far––I’ve definitely seen a lot of what you guys have found from other sources to be true in my experiences with social media. I think a very helpful thing to do to supplement all this would be to maybe find a way to look at Twitter and Facebook and prove (or disprove) through your own observations that the findings from the readings are true. Maybe you could survey people and ask why they follow particular people. As a case to prove that people often just follow celebrities because of status or word of mouth, you could look at Charlie Sheen, who had the record-breaking increase of followers, but whose tweets are surprisingly lame.

  4. aroyce says:

    I think these are really interesting questions that you are asking and answering. I especially like the question if “This leads of the question of whether the ‘public’ sphere is becoming synonymous with ‘commercial’ because of the difficulties in maneuvering and distinguishing the intention of social network users today.” I definitely see what you are saying and it is an interesting debate which feeds into different avenues like news media and documentary. Online media does have the potential to be authentic, but not always. I see some parallels to what Matt and I are doing in terms of online journalism and what you are interested in”increasing popularity online” I think it’s something difficult to discuss because their are many definitions to what can be considered authentic, or even newsworthy when a social or seemingly neutral space gets commercialized, and an audience’s reaction to that.

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