There's more to a celebrity's social media profile than you think. The vast majority of us are now active on a multitude of social networks and outlets, whether they're used to catch up with old friends, to post photos of your daily encounters, or to stay up-to-date on breaking news. For celebrities however, there's so much more that goes into how they use and leverage their social media accounts. Celebrities are up on a pedestal for everyone to see, both making their impact much broader and their missteps far more consequential.
As the CEO of a mobile social network with over 20 million users, I've had the opportunity to work closely with hundreds of celebrities in shaping and developing their social media presence both on our network as well as others. In doing so, I've learned a lot about celebrities and how they leverage their following online. Here are five ways that I've seen the role and uses of celebrity social media profiles evolve over the past year.
1) Celebrities Are Brand Names
Publicists are increasingly taking over and shaping the voice of mega celebrities, almost like they would a brand campaign. Once celebrities hit a certain threshold of popularity, managing several social media accounts can become overwhelming and publicists are a necessity to maintain a feeling of authenticity and keep messaging on-brand. These bigger celebrities would have to be on social media 24-7 to preserve the same broad presence.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr are penning deals with big celebrities, which involve the infiltration of marketing behaviors into their accounts to keep users interested and engaged. Celebrities' accounts continue to tweet and post updates even after they die, like in the cases of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston -- though they've passed on, their celebrity brand lives.
My personal experience with this is different since our service is voice-based, meaning celebrities have to use their own voices and sound authentic, and can no longer rely on marketing teams to manage their accounts. This is one of the reasons why we have to work so closely with the celebrities early on, since they're often not used to having to manage a social media service completely on their own.
2) Rethinking the Celebrity/Fan Relationship
The celebrity/fan relationship has shifted from a one-way delivery channel to more of a conversation. These days, fans' tweets and comments on celebrity posts are actually getting responses. The name of the game is now engaging with a fan base. A big trend this year was asking celebrities, via social media, to join fans as dates to big events. These invitations received acceptances and responses from Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Kristin Cavallari and Taylor Swift. Getting more personal, NBA star Jeremy Lin even held a live chat with his Facebook fans from his hospital bed. These are all great examples of how although publicists and brand managers can help with account management, the celebrities themselves must make an effort to maintain the connection with fans.
Another example of engagement is Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" channel, which allows users to post whatever questions they like and receive responses from individuals like Barack Obama, Louis C.K., the Mars Curiosity Rover Engineering team, Billy Nye "The Science Guy," Woody Harrelson, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Psy, creator of Gangnam Style.
Fans crave a more personal connection with the stars they love and this trend in social media allows celebrities to provide just that, which can have a powerful effect on the size and devotion of a fan base.
3) Reforming a Celebrity Image
Celebrities have also been using their social media presence to change their public image. Roger Ebert, the famous film critic who lost his jaw and ability to speak due to thyroid cancer, now uses social media to expand his influence. He gave a pretty moving TED talk on how he uses Twitter and his blog to write about creativity, race, politics and culture. George Takei, well-known for his role as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, has used social media to successfully transform his image by posting hilarious content and advocating LGBT rights on Facebook and Twitter, where has amassed a huge following.
Social media can be a powerful platform, as it can effectively shape public opinion of an individual or group of people. This can lead to the downfall of some celebrities, but for others like Ebert and Takei, it means extended career and influence.
4) Social Media Primes Online Content Distribution
A trend made popular by the well-known comedian Louis C.K., many content creators are bypassing standard distribution channels for their performances and instead using social media to promote their own channels for distribution, which are less costly to consumers and produce higher revenues for them. Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan are some of the other comedians cutting out the middleman by leveraging social media to reach out directly and grow their fan base.
These celebrities' social media presences are a huge part of why this method is so successful, as it directly distributes their own un-regulated content to their fans. This unfiltered link does benefit the celebrity content creators monetarily, but it also benefits the fans in that they feel a more personal connection to the stars they love.
5) More Rich Multimedia
These days, celebrities are going beyond text updates and incorporating rich multimedia more often into their online presence. For example Taylor Swift is one of many celebrities that have held a Google + Hangout and interacted with fans using the service. There has also been a significant boom in photo sharing through sites like Instagram and Twitter, and video sharing through services like Viddy and Socialcam. Even audio-based social networking has gained in popularity, particularly in countries like China through WeChat and in India and Southeast Asia through our serviceBubbly.
Text just doesn't feel quite as human as a video, photo or audio clip. The element of authenticity is important for building an up-and-coming celebrity's profile. These users can easily determine what is authentic and what is not. Sometimes, the human-quality in celebrities can be the difference in building a strong fan base and ultimately a brand -- social sites should recognized this and encourage it among their celebrity users.