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.