Once upon a time, celebrities were a select group of virtually unknowable individuals, their appearances and comments tightly regulated and their image preserved at all costs. Now, that idea of the unknowable star is however, if not dead, then certainly dying, having been replaced by a new breed of celebrity that uses social media to get closer to fans and give them the “unguarded” personal insights that they crave. To take just one example, it used to be common practice for an unholy scrum to break out in the battle for celebrity baby photos as tabloids and glossy magazines fought tooth and nail to be the first to publish the exclusive pics of the latest addition to a celebrity’s brood. Now though, celebrity baby pictures are frequently posted to Twitter instead, often just hours after the birth.
The importance of this shift is signified by the fact that Forbes magazine now publishes a list of their “social networking superstars”, i.e. the celebrities with the most fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. The top 10 is in some ways surprising, being dominated by young pop stars with hordes of teen fans, rather than the megastars one might expect. This indicates that, despite the finely tuned management structure that characterises the modern music industry, there is still something of a generational divide, with younger stars realising that social media should be a way to actually interact with their fans and offer controlled looks into their private lives, rather than being used as yet another promotional channel for their latest CD or film. Rihanna, for example, who was number 1 on the 2012 list with 59.6 million fans on Facebook and 23.8 million followers on Twitter, is praised by Forbes for posting pictures of her friends and family and uploading candid photos, some of which even appear to show her taking drugs. She has also become famous for her foul-mouthed reactions to slights on Twitter, all of which heighten the impression of an unmediated glimpse into the celebrity lifestyle. Clearly, the aura of the star as perfect and unimpeachable is now a relic of a bygone era.
Companies are also quickly realising the lucrative potential of social media and are developing innovative new ways to use sites like Facebook and Twitter, particularly in the area of celebrity endorsements. KFC Australia’s ‘Good Times’ campaign is an interesting of the example of the intersections between celebrities, companies and social media. The fast food chain has enlisted Good Charlotte pair Benji Madden and Joel Madden to write song inspired by submissions to its Facebook page on the theme of what it means to have a good time in Australia. While obviously promoting KFC, this campaign is also giving Good Charlotte fans the chance to directly influence the Madden brothers’ songwriting and interact with the pair, and is just one of a multitude of innovative ways that celebrities are using social media.
HTC is another brand that also uses social media effectively, using their Facebook page to interact with fans and users across the world. Their Facebook page immediately makes it clear that the brand has the support of celebrities, with the cover picture being a picture of Rihanna with an HTC phone! Rihanna continues the brand promotion on her own Facebook page, with promotions relating to HTC prominently featured on her page (one post reads, “Thanks for an amazing tour! As a treat, the first 7,777 fans to “like” HTC will get an exclusive remix of ‘Diamonds’”) alongside casual pictures of her using an HTC smartphone.
With the continuing rise of social networking sites, companies need to rethink and rework their marketing strategies. Harnessing the allure of celebrities on Facebook and Twitter has proven to be an effective strategy so far for several brands; it will be exciting to see what developments will come along next.