By Xuan, Ahmed, and Queenie

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.
Nowadays we see officials such as President Obama joining social networking sites like Twitter because social media networks have acquired a status themselves. In fact, President Barack Obama will hold a special "Facebook Live" townhall at the Facebook headquarters on April 20th “to discuss the tough choices we must all make in order to put our economy on a more responsible fiscal path, while still investing in areas like innovation that will help our economy grow and make America more competitive. “

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.

[Xuan]
People are coming to recognize the power of social media sites.  I did a Google search on “how to acquire more Twitter followers” and the results exceeded 100,000.  Chris Brogan, who describes himself as a public speaker, entrepreneur, and longtime blogger, thinks that certain Twitter criteria make for micro celebrities and listed them under the title, “Get More Twitter Followers Today” on his website.  He starts off with advising people to share links three or more times a day, and makes suggestions like to “share useful information that others can use, too!”, to “respond to OTHER PEOPLE using the @reply method,” and “don’t tweet all about you: tweet all about them.”  This is coming from a person who has over 170,000 followers on Twitter using, presumably, the formulaic method he shares on his blog.

Amy Gahran, mobile tech writer for CNN.com sites research from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence stating that having a large Twitter following does not equate with influence.  But advises those interested in augmenting their Twitter following to focus tweets on a specific topic and to be aware of relevant hashtags.  Another way is to always be  “ready to turn into a reporter” in the case of breaking news.  Gahran uses the personal example of her covering of a dam burst in Tennessee that increased her followig by 1,500.

A Businessinsider.com article talks about harnessing the potential of Twitter as a marketing tool.  It offers advice on every aspect of managing an account – from personalization in appearance to how frequently it is acceptable to promote your own products or services (5%).  This article emphasizes the importance of building up your tweets and personalizing “your page before attempting to market yourself to other Twitter users.”  The goal is to allow your page to grow organically as what you share is re-tweeted.  Something interesting brought up is the phenomenon of marketers purchasing Twitter followers.  Although these paid services attract the attention of Twitter followers who are more likely to follow someone already with a presence, “adding too many people at once may flag your account as spam.”  I came across various sites that offer this service including buytwitterfollowers.org and twitter1k.com.  They offer several packages that range from 500 to 10,000 followers costing anywhere from $17 to $97.

The ability for Twitter to garner attention is undeniable in respect to both the content published and Twitter users.  I was able to track down two individuals who would be considered micro celebrities using wefollow.com, a Twitter directory founded by the same name behind Digg, Kevin Rose.  Will Francis, who currently runs Harkable, is a self-described “Digital & Social Media Marketing Consultant, Blogger, Musician and Producer, Apple geek, Northerner, Vegetarian” who resides in London according to his Twitter biography. He has over 53,000 followers, over 5,000 tweets and follows 30,000.  When asked what his motives were behind starting his Twitter, he replied “I worked at Myspace (as editor of MySpace UK) and was always interested in other social networks so I initially joined out of curiosity in 2007.”  He imagines his audience to be like him and shares with them interesting content that they wouldn’t have found otherwise on the bases that if it were interesting to him, it would be to them too.  He thinks that a lot of what makes someone interesting is by being him/herself.  Although the attention he has garnered on Twitter was completely unintended, he is conscious of how his tweets are received: “I have learnt what people find interesting and I probably tweet more links out than random thoughts or facts about my life these days.”  Twitter is important to Will because it provides to him more immediate interactions with the world.  He tweets because of the its and the internet’s general ability to connect people and ideas.  He blogs too, and points to their importance.
Penelope Trunk is currently the CEO of Brazen Careerist, “a career management tool for next-generation professionals,” and in the process of launching her fourth startup company.  Her self-description on Twitter, where she has 120,000 followers, reads “author, blogger, entrepreneur.”  She started her Twitter account because she wanted to understand how social media works, “each person has to figure out what each tool is good for in their life…social media helps us meet our goals”.  Penelope says that she gains about 1,000 new followers a week but doesn’t believe in the power of Twitter compared to the usefulness of blogs.  She thinks that blogs not only enable a greater capacity for connection because of the greater length in characters permitted, but also sees blogging as a viable tool for marketing.  The micro celebrity promotes her own products on her blog and has even acquired enough following for other companies to pay for her endorsement.
Penelope says that she has the highest ratio of followers to tweets (120,000 to 500) for a non-celebrity because “[she’s] fanatical about writing tweets and editing them.”  She’ll think of up to 3 tweets a day that she wont run and has an editor who helps her through he process.  Her approach to filtering out her posts is just based on her own understanding “of what fits in a Twitter and what fits in a blog based on its rhythm.”   Spending an hour taking “an idea that starts out about 400 characters and get down to 140” is fun for the micro celebrity.  Twittering is something fun for Penelope because she is passionate about writin.  She wants her tweets to be “a fun thing during the day” for her audience, whom she imagines to be intelligent and interested.  Although her tweets are very calculated in the sense that she invests a lot of time into them, she thinks that her Twitter page is relatively authentic.  Compared to when she started to tweet and now, she says that she has come to a better understanding of what makes a good tweet – elements of comedy and poetry.  She also discourages using URLS excessively because people get tired of clicking, contrary to the advice Chris Brogran, a mirco celebrity I mentioned previously, offers. When asked what advice she would give aspiring micro celebrities, she that “anyone trying to get a micro celebrity status (for the sake of just having status online) should get a life.”  Not only does thinks that people who are only interested in accumulating followers disillusioned to think that it will change their lives, she also adds that “social media is just a marketing tool” good for and supplementary to something you are either selling or doing with your life.  She says, “I’ve tried to write in ways that complement how I make money.”  This comment goes along with her other statement of her making “a living off of having influence over people” and knowing social media to have that kind of influence being the reason behind her decision to become part of online communities.  There is an apparent connection between the success of her career affecting the success of her presence in social media networking sites and vice versa.  Ultimately, Penelope’s philosophy on social networking and on the success she has attained is that “You gain influence by doing something you love to do and that you’re great at.”

During my search for micro celebrities to interview, I perused the profiles of a number of Twitter users with substantial following through the Twitter directories such as justtweetit and wefollow.  What I found interesting was that the most popular Twitter profiles were belonged to those having to do with media insiders – bloggers, marketers and advertisers, writers, technology and entrepreneurs.  When I asked Penelope whether she thinks micro celebrities are all avid consumers of media, she said “they are… in a pathological kind of way.”  A reoccurring variable I see is for these people to either involved with and/or continuous immersed in what is happening in the media and social media – either through a combination of creating, observing, or utilizing.  This was true with the Twitter users I interviewed: Will works in social media and Penelope is an entrepreneur who has integrated social media into a large part of her career.  Most of them also had blogs and/or websites that they linked to.

Although people makes claims to clear cut strategic methods can result in attaining status on social networking sites including posting links frequently, being ready to break news, and having topic-driven tweets, it is unrealistic to expect micro celebrity status to develop by simply taking characteristics from Twitter pages that are successful.  Something that I think all micro celebrities would agree on is that they take satisfaction out of tweeting and that they lead lives others consider interesting.  The combination is what allows for their tweets to grasp the curiosity of Twitter followers who can feel connected people who make up the media and disseminate it, while the act of following is also contributing to the determining of who and what makes up the media.  Essentially, Twitter users tend to follow people who have existing interesting lives and enjoy tweeting about the things that they encounter.

[Queenie]
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.”

Fans love to interact with their idols and favorite personalities in the entertainment industry and they’re hungry for exclusive information, including videos and pictures that they can access via mobile or computer.
Alexander G., a student and Perez Hilton reader, created a Twitter account just to ‘follow’ Britney Spears. Despite how big of a fan he is of Britney, he’s skeptical about the authenticity of her tweets. “Britney Spears definitely does not tweet even though signature are always attached to her messages, like Brit or Britney, as a way of allowing fans to feel the slightest bit closer to her,” he said.
Similarly, @heyitsyesi said she would like to think that the celebrities she follows on Twitter are actually updating their accounts themselves. “The authenticity is the allure, I understand that may not always be the case, but it certainly changes the way I feel about interacting with them because there is a possibility that they will read something I post to them not to mention it provides insight about the type of people they are… I follow a few comedians and I love reading when they post something sarcastic and funny because that is what drew me to them in the first place. Then there are the pleasant surprises.”
She started following Vampire Diaries actor Ian Somerhalder (@iansomerhalder) shortly after becoming a viewer of the show, and was surprised to learn about his passion for animal activism. “I like reading about ways he's helping or what can be done.”
On a different note, Alexander G. questions the intention of some tweets and even decided to ‘unfollow’ a celebrity whom he thought was not connecting with fans, but rather building her brand:  
“Ryan Seacrest constantly replies to tweets fans send him, which raises the hope in others that one day he will do the same for them. What they don't see is that while he builds his fan base, he also starts his reply-rampage a few minutes before American Idol is on, or when he's airing something important, as a way of turning his millions of followers into viewers. The same goes for Khloe Kardashian, except she takes it to another level. I had to unfollow her because it was basically an advertisement on my newsfeed about the different projects she was invo
My conversation with Alexander G. reveals a feeling shared by many people and fans—that some celebrities don’t tweet themselves or, in some cases their tweets become spam-like. Whenever there is doubt of the authenticity of this tweets, fans perceive celebs differently. 
On the other hand, personal figures have so much freedom as to what they can tweet about. Just recently, actor and soon-to-be NYU grad professor James Franco shut down his Twitter account-- presumably due to “a picture of himself getting rubbed up on by a bunch of naked women for a new short film by Kids writer Harmony Korine.” His twitter updates might have been upsetting his ‘paymasters’ who thought he could potentially jeopardize his (and their) image.

Franco, who opened his account a few days prior to hosting this year’s Oscars a little over a month ago, told Politico: "My thought was 'this is my Twitter. I can do whatever I want.' But certain companies I work with contacted me about what I was saying." James Franco’s twitter case brings the issue of ‘online reputation managers’ discussed by Adrian Chen in Gawker. Online Reputation Managers are like watchdogs that monitor and filter posts, pictures, and any other online material that could be considered inappropriate or compromising. Their jobs is to protect an image and maintain an online reputation; it is like PR in the social media space. 

As an ordinary person, one deals with the conflict between the real but controversial versus political correctness, but as a public figure, that conflict becomes much more complex. The audience clearly prefers when celebrities are real and share mundane details of their lives because it creates a virtual bond between them.

During Social Media Week NYC, ID Director of Digital Strategy Natalie Lent, whose client’s include Ben Stiller and Alicia Keys, mentioned that different branding strategies are used depending on the clients because social networking doesn’t come natural to all of them. She said that it’s better for an actor to not open a Twitter account unless they can dedicate the time to tweet and engage with the fans constantly.

From our research and one-on-one interviews, it seems as if the status of an ordinary person/micro-celeb/celeb is not defined by numbers, but rather reputation and perception. The quality of tweets and their consistency is what seems to help gain an audience and maintain it.

[Ahmed] 
It seems that with the advent of these social media avenues, the possibility of becoming a celebrity is higher than ever. All it takes is a contentious idea or attention-grabbing stunt, or even something very simple and/or mundane that speaks of the moment. It is posted on a social network, it goes viral, and suddenly instant fame is achieved. Micro-celebrities are the new celebrities, and it’s within everyone’s reach. The lure of this possibility of instant fame must be a major player in instigating a micro-celebrity to post on the web. We see this especially in the posting of YouTube videos. Justin Bieber is a prime example of someone who achieved a meteoric rise to fame after being discovered on a You Tube video. Often these videos are posted on social networks and spread like wildfire.
The micro-celebrity uses the platform of social media to become a bonafide celebrity, or it least is, in many cases, driven by that desire. No longer is it necessary to be discovered by A&R or talent agencies to make it to the world of music, modeling, television, or film. The stage is the web, and social media networks provide a captive audience for everyone to try their luck at becoming a celebrity.
One thing I think is important is to draw a link between the celebrity culture in America and the notion of Micro-Celebrities on social networks. The effect of the former on the latter was quite clear in a conscious and subconscious way when we interviewed Jason, a photographer/party promoter in New York City who has more than 2500 friends on Facebook. Jason is “obsessed with the American celebrity culture” he said. And he feels that his effort on Facebook to keep a fan base or audience is paying off in the short term by the “celebrity treatment” he gets in New York City nightlife. On a long-term note, Jason believes that his efforts on Facebook have and will help his photography career.
Another person we interviewed is Duane, a Steinhardt graduate student who has more than 2900 friends on Facebook. As he studied communication, Duane “loves the idea if being connected” he stated. Through his informative posts and humorous comments he shortly realized that he had gathered a fan base and he utilized this by sharing his own blog (http://www.thisisfyf.com) which has a good following in the gay community in New York City.On the other hand the unintentional micro-celebrity status is an interesting phenomena. People who become micro-celebrities overnight don’t have an easy task in maintaining their level of celebrity status. An example of that is the face of the Egyptian revolution, Google executive Wael Ghonim, who became a micro-celebrity overnight after his interview on Egyptian National TV, where he became the catalyst for engaging the Egyptian people at home to protest. Ghonim’s popularity has died out due to his random statements in the media about the revolution and the incohesive comments that he made. This shows the importance of engaging your fan base and employing the authenticity aspect of your action as a celebrity.

On the other hand the unintentional micro-celebrity status is an interesting phenomena. People who become micro-celebrities overnight don’t have an easy task in maintaining their level of celebrity status. An example of that is the face of the Egyptian revolution, Google executive Wael Ghonim, who became a micro-celebrity overnight after his interview on Egyptian National TV, where he became the catalyst for engaging the Egyptian people at home to protest. Ghonim’s popularity has died out due to his random statements in the media about the revolution and the incohesive comments that he made. This shows the importance of engaging your fan base and employing the authenticity aspect of your action as a celebrity

There is an obsessive focus on celebrity in our world today. Celebrities are seen to live a kind of fantasy existence that we are encouraged (some would say brainwashed) to revere, be fascinated by, and long for. Now, with the potential accessibility of celebrity to all through the web and social networking, we are seeing a new culture of micro-celebrity take form. It is an evolution of celebrity culture that is at once empowering for the individual, and a kind black hole in our celebrity culture.  The seeming accessibility of  celebrity has seen the rise of countless micro-celebrities. It has given a voice to millions that may never have had that opportunity, and at the same time it has strengthened the bonds of our celebrity obsession.

One Response to “Social Networking Sites and Social Statuses”

  1. mdeseriis says:

    Dear Xuan, Ahmed, and Queenie, thank you for this elaborate, lengthy travelogue on status and celebrity culture in social network sites. Let me begin by noting that the travelogue is more of an assemblage of three different segments than a truly co-authored article. I understand that you may have experienced difficulties in meeting as Ahmed was abroad, but it would have been really good if you made an effort to intersperse your research and come to a synthesis and common conclusion. In any case, Xuan and Queenie’s segments focus on two different aspects of celebrity culture in social network sites–namely how Twitter users achieve (micro)celebrity and how they try (or fail) to manage their reputation. Both segments are supported by original research and, in the case of Queenie’s, show the “follower” perspective, which I found interesting because it shows how Twitter users get annoyed by pure self-promotion and look for the real, authentic self of the celebrities (something that corroborates Boyd and Marwick’s research). Ahmed’s section is much less developed as the original research does not seem to yield very insightful information. Both Jason and Duane may be interesting characters but say things such as loving the idea of being connected, and being obsessed with celebrity culture, that are too mundane to provide good materials for research.

Leave a Reply