Social Media and the Entertainment Industry: The Justin Bieber Paradigm

Missed out on February’s Social Media Week?  No worries – Zemoga’s got you covered.  This week we’re covering all things social media, from entertainment to retail to the auto industry, and more.  Trust us, you’re gonna wanna re-tweet this! By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur) On March 28th, MTV aired a documentary following the movements of a Read more

Missed out on February’s Social Media Week?  No worries – Zemoga’s got you covered.  This week we’re covering all things social media, from entertainment to retail to the auto industry, and more.  Trust us, you’re gonna wanna re-tweet this!

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

On March 28th, MTV aired a documentary following the movements of a seemingly average 16-year-old.  He likes playing basketball with his best friend.  He eats white toast instead of wheat.  He wipes his mouth after brushing his teeth.  I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, so?”  Well, NPR seems to think he’s important…and here’s why you should, too.

The subject of the documentary is teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, whose name shouldn’t ring a bell unless you’ve spoken to a 13-year-old girl recently.  But don’t be ashamed if it still sounds vaguely familiar; Bieber’s been a trending topic on Twitter ever since he released his “One Time” single back in July 2009.

Sure, Justin Bieber is the first artist to have seven songs from a debut album make the Billboard Hot 100.  And sure, his My World album went platinum.  But we’re not concerned with what he’s done as we are with how he got there.

Sometime in 2007, single mother Pattie Mallette opened a YouTube account to post videos of her 13-year-old son’s performances for family and friends.  Justin Bieber’s covers of popular R&B recording artists Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, and Alicia Keys generated a cult following among an ever-growing network of young amateur artists demonstrating their talent on the video-sharing platform.  Bieber eventually caught the attention of Scooter Braun, a former marketing executive for hip hop label So So Def.  The young vocalist was flown to Atlanta, Georgia to audition for legendary record executive L.A. Reid and was signed by R&B icon Usher shortly afterwards.

This pint-sized phenomenon isn’t the first example of social media-turned-superstardom; a lesser-known Dutch singer-songwriter by the name of Esmee Denters attracted the attention of Justin Timberlake, who signed Denters to his record label after watching her YouTube videos.  Although Esmee Denters has yet to earn the worldwide acclaim Justin Bieber has received in his young career, the fact remains: YouTube has changed the entertainment industry forever, from the way artists are discovered, to the way they interact with their fans.

There is no better evidence of this than Twitter, which has the power to make or break our favorite red carpet personalities. For some, it’s a useful PR tool that brings them closer to their fans.  For others, one bad tweet can turn into a PR nightmare.

Twitter provides us with an all-too-intimate glimpse into the lives of public figures.  We can observe Ashton Kutcher flirting with wife Demi Moore.  We can watch Lindsay Lohan air her dirty laundry.  John Mayer has a love/hate relationship with the platform, divulging details about his political views and his tumultuous relationship with Jennifer Aniston one minute, and threatening to cancel his account the next.  Kevin Smith gave Southwest Airlines a few minutes of bad press when he tweeted about getting thrown off his flight as a result of his weight.  Even Justin Beiber turned to Twitter to keep a maniacal mob of fans at bay during a Long Island mall fiasco earlier this year.  The list goes on, the tweets keep coming, and managers and agents everywhere cringe as artists take control of their own images.

Regardless of the risk, celebrities welcome Twitter with open arms – and busy fingers.  Actress Alyssa Milano recently admitted to Jimmy Kimmel that she’s addicted to the microblogging service, delivering a crash course in tweeting, and even describing a creative way to stay connected while not having a cell phone handy.

But does everyone care what Kanye West had for breakfast?  When it comes to being a VIP user, celebrities must remember to keep the “social” in “social media.”  Fans expect high-profile users to function in the social space the same way they do – which means maintaining a two-way flow of information.  This is a huge opportunity for celebrities to get to know their fan base.  The old Hollywood, with its untouchable movie heroes and mega-watt starlets, are no longer only accessible through a lens.  They’re human.  They take jogs with their dogs.  They drink as much coffee as we do.  And they tweet about all of this, and more.  Thanks to social media, magazine interviews and talk show appearances no longer have the same impact they used to.  Social media has bred a new generation of fans that demand more entertainment, and more interaction.

Still with me?  Alright, so let’s take a look at celebrities on Facebook.  It’s one thing sharing your thoughts in under 140 characters, but sharing photos, videos, links, and more is a whole new beast.  If done correctly, Facebook can do wonders for a public image; Mashable even proposes the question Are Celebrities More Interesting on Facebook?.  The answer is yes, but only under certain conditions.  The most important of these is authenticity.  Why even bother engaging in social media if you’re still going to maintain a buffer between yourself and your fans (…Britney Spears)?

Vin Diesel, on the other hand, has Facebook down to a science.  He uploads photos and videos: some professional, some private, some of his friends or things he likes.  He updates his status with what he’s doing today, offers inspirational quotes, or asks questions.  He posts events, invites his fans.  He responds to comments, and participates in discussion boards.  So far, it doesn’t sound like he’s doing anything special, and that’s the best part – Vin Diesel is using Facebook exactly the way we all are, and with over 7 million fans, it looks like it’s working.

So what’s next?  If you ask me, we’ll soon see a growing trend of collaboration.  As we learned from Justin Bieber’s story, there’s a wealth of untapped talent out there, people recording videos of themselves singing, dancing, or acting right in their living rooms.  Social media engagement by celebrities is largely promotional at this time, but the tools and the framework are there for something phenomenal to happen: have you ever dreamed about jamming with your favorite rock band, or directing a movie starring your favorite actor?

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