July 17, 2010 |
If you have chosen internet as the place where you do business (no matter what business it is), you probably realize that some of the things that matter to you are hardly important for the rest of the world. You dream about things like getting to the front page of Digg or listening in person to Steve Jobs introducing their brightest shiny product to a huge audience or having 2,000 followers on Twitter, or whatever. These are some of the common things that inspire the online crowd and have a chance of making people in this business actually happy – despite of the fact that the majority of the world has never heard about Twitter and hardly knows what Digg is.
I know that every industry has its specific ideals, goals and celebrities but online world is probably the most peculiar one because the number of people working online is particularly large and we are very good in passing the information within the crowd with a huge speed – so myths can be born here in huge volumes and at the speed of light. One of the most interesting myths that we all share is the power of social media – something that every ‘social media expert’ is supposed to believe with all their heart. But how powerful is social media in reality?
I have recently watched Julie & Julia. For those of you who have not watched the movie, I can tell that this is probably the most inspiring thing to watch for those who dream of going pro in blogging but don’t dare as it illustrates a story of true success in blogging for a girl who could not do any good of her life until starting a blogging project online.
To tell a long story short, Julie Powell started cooking a few new dishes every day based on the book of recipes by Julia Child and described everything in her blog which eventually grew a substantial readership and got noticed by cooking enthusiasts and general public in the comments. But the most interesting part is that the key to getting to real success was not in blogging itself: the brightest point in the story was when Julie’s blog was covered in The New York Times – and she immediately received tons of suggestions on a book deal from various publishing houses. This is viewed as her ultimate success in the end of the movie.
And watching the movie made me wonder again if we are probably exaggerating the power of social media given that we still measure success of online celebrities by how they are treated in traditional media: no matter how popular a blogger or a Twitter user is online, we only think it is a true success when this person gets a book deal or is invited by TV producers to turn a blog or Twitter stream into a TV show where millions of people will be able to witness the success.
Here in Russia lately a popular story on TV was about how some talented people in the country (singers mostly) turn popular without any help from producers or labels – only after uploading their videos on YouTube (or Russian analogue which is named RuTube) and growing popular only virally. In fact, one of such true huge successes is Peter Nalitch and Friends – the band that has represented Russia in Eurovision this year (not really a success in Eurovision but still widely popular in Russia).
I can admit that I’ve heard about Peter Nalitch through some friends who sent me a link to listen to the music but when it comes to the rest of such internet-born celebrities, the situation is very different for me. True, I have already seen many of these new celebrities singing – but somehow this has never happened online and the only way for me to learn they exist at all was by watching these stories about true online success on TV in the news or in some dedicated programs that were created when the TV producers sensed these people will be interesting for the audience given their online success. What strikes me is that I have never seen any of them online – and the same should be true for the vast majority of the country’s population as well.
I will have to admit it: I am not really the most active participant of the Russian blogosphere and social media as I only subscribe to a dozen of the most interesting blogs on internet and tech news in Russia. So these celebrities had no chance of reaching me online anyway as I am not really exposed to the vast majority of tools where they achieved their viral popularity. Yet I am a normal Russian person who has an average number of friends in local social networks so I am not entirely isolated actually. But if I only get to know them by watching TV (which is not my everyday habit, by the way – I spend way more time online in front of my computer), the vast majority of the people in the country definitely discover these new bands and singers on TV as well, not online where the popularity is supposed to initially find them. So it turns out that this online popularity is a very limited one and only reaches a small crowd of interested people who later help promote these celebrities virally, some of them probably arranging for their first TV appearances.
The conclusion? Social media is great for promotion if you focus on some very specific niche of the online population – if you use the right tools, you will be sure to reach those people you want to reach. But if you are looking to become a true national (or international) celebrity, nothing is like TV appearance – be it a talk show or news. No matter how passionate we in the geeky crowd are about social media, it is quite obvious that unfortunately social media only reaches those people that are truly immersed in those tools that you use for your actions. And everyone else will keep blind and deaf unless you get some mainstream media coverage. So it’s as simple as that: social media makes online celebrities mostly while true celebrities are born on TV and this situation will probably stay this way for quite some more time because the battle between the traditional and new media has not reached any visible end yet.