Celebrity – Fan Relationships through Social Media

Before Twitter first launched in 2006, the idea that celebrities interacting with their fans was limited to a simple autograph and maybe a photo. The communication shared between fans and their favorite celebrities was perhaps one of the most limited forms of communication before the rise of social media. An article in The Post Game titled Tebowmania And Social Media Coach Boost Eddie Royal’s Facebook And Twitter Stock explains the rise of sports stars in social media. Especially in America, sports stars are glorified. Feats of athleticism are replayed over and over on Sportscenter and off field antics fill the pages of newsstand tabloids. Unfortunately, the media tends to jump on negative portrayals of athletes much more so than the good.

The article studies the case of the Denver Bronco’s wide receiver Eddie Royal and his huge Facebook and Twitter followings. Royal is not known as a huge star athlete, yet he still has over “100,000 likes and has surpassed 50,000 Twitter followers.” The way Royal does this is “through content, not because of his name or even necessarily his game. And he knows this.” Royal connects with his followers, posting often enough and almost always offering something personal to the fans: a video shoutout, a picture, and the most popular, free tickets to a Broncos game. The article mentions that Royal has a “social media coach” named Jeff Weiner. His motto is that his clients should interact consistently with followers and engage with them on video. The point is not that the communication between the stars and their fans becomes unmediated, that may never be possible. What social media has done for this particular relationship is remove a layer of mediation.

An issue that should be addressed is whether or not the relationship between fan and star is an interpersonal one or not. The way I view it, the relationship between an individual fan and a celebrity is not interpersonal, but the fandom, the collective group of individuals that consider themselves fans, has an interpersonal relationship with the celebrity. The two are cleraly interdependent because one would not exist without the other. Therefore it is the fandom that is benefiting from social media, not the individual fans, although there are cases where celebrities do interact with individual fans through social media. The experience is more equivalent to the “communities” that Baym in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age. The communities she describes form their own mannerisms and support one another online. In very large communities, individual relationships may occur, but the focus is more on how the group has a whole interacts with one another.

The article presents all this information in a fairly objective way. The author, Steve Henson doesn’t add very much commentary either explicitly or implicitly. However, the information presented is of a positive nature and it comes out feeling as such. I very much agree with the way this story is presented. It shows how technology is shaping society and affecting relationships as stated by Baym. The presentation in the article stands in stark contrast to what was shown in the film   Life 2.0. The film portrayed these extreme cases of interpersonal relationships formed through the online social platform called Second Life. It can be argued that the presentation of the situations of these extreme cases was objective in that there was not an extensive commentary on what was being shown, but the relationships themselves gave a feeling of negativity to the notion of interpersonal relationships being formed online, and in some cases brought out of the virtual world into the real one.

Any statements made in the article I chose were immediately supported by a quote or statistics. A different approach to this article could have been much more subjective in terms of the writer expressing his opinion on the matter. There was no praise or criticism of the actions of these sports stars. If there had been, the article may have been more interesting to read (from the standpoint of a non sports fan), but would have had to been classified as an editorial, not an article. This is the problem I have with Life 2.0. This documentary sells out to the fact that people do not want to watch normal people interact with other normal people on Second Life. Perhaps the article I read could have presented a negative effect of professional athletes interacting with fans.

Interpersonal relationships online can be positive, and they can also be negative. The discourse surrounding this developing phenomenon should represent both sides of the story, not try to portray it as either. No interpersonal relationships are that binary, the writings on the topic should reflect this.

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2 Comments

  1. This is a great topic and the article supports this really well. One thing that got me hooked to Twitter is online presence of my favorite bands, and the fact that they are the ones who initiate contacts with me (by following me before I can follow them) is a phenomenon I cannot find anywhere else. I enjoy this fan-relationships made readily available on Twitter and Facebook, and some conversations that occur there make me reflect back on the time I was at the artist’s end of relationship, which is nicely summed up in the excerpt below:

    “I can remember being a fan like it was yesterday,” Royal said in an interview with ThePostGame. “I worshipped Walter Payton and wondered what kind of person he was. Social media is a way to interact on a personal level. I want to let everybody know that I’m just like them. I just happen to play football for a living.” (Henson / ThePostGame http://www.thepostgame.com/node/4255)

    Although I am totally missing out on the individual-level relationships as you mentioned earlier, as a group, I can get all kinds of updates faster than those outside this fandom-level relationships, such as previews of upcoming albums or chances to buy/win their instruments at ridiculously low prices. Thanks for the post, Chris.

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  2. I completely agree with your point that interpersonal relationships fall between the collective fan base and the celebrity (as opposed to the individual fan-celebrity relationship) on Twitter. The celebrity almost acts as a shared interest among all of his/her followers, which in turn spawns interpersonal relationships between them. And where we may see the benefits of interpersonal fan-celebrity relationships on Twitter for the fan, it’s hard to imagine the value of that interpersonal tie for the celebrity in the relationship. But I’d like to offer a little personal anecdote that might flip the lens on this discussion..

    A few weeks ago I tweeted a 140-word music review (you can hardly call that a review, maybe we’ll go with “reaction”) to a song recently released by a well-known hip hop artist. The artist read my tidbit and @-responded to me, which I immediately replied back. The back-and-forth-@-ing lasted about a week, and ended with him sending me a direct message asking if I’d like to discuss our music debate over coffee. Surreal, to say the least, to be sitting across from one of the most respected MCs talking about some of the most game-changing tracks in hip hop, but also eye-opening to this discourse over fan-celebrity relationships. To him, Twitter and other means of social media, afforded him direct insight from his listeners. He was hungry to be part of the “real world” again. Celebrities/famous talents are always curious as to how they are received and perceived in the “real world,” so perhaps they thrive off this new breed of interpersonal Twitter relationship with their fans just as much as their fans do.

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