Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Social Media, Behind-the-Scenes, Celebrity, and the Authenticity Dilemma

by Steven S. Vrooman

You know you need to do social media.

You know you need to do casual, goofy, funny, "real," and/or behind-the-scenes social media.

You hate that.

Sound about right?

You are not alone.

This is a dilemma. But the solution is simple:


In the past three weeks I have done social media consulting with two very different people with two very different goals and this was the answer in both cases.

Social media is not just some sad pantomime of reality. For certain purposes and for certain audiences, it should be "real" reality, as much as possible. And if that reality is you hating doing social media, well then.

An important piece of social media strategy is to take your audience:


We love that stuff for things we like, from the old Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to DVD featurettes to TMZ to . . .

You see where this is going. Celebrity

You might think a celebrity is not the same thing as the business or organization you are promoting on social media, but that's not quite true. You need something personal-ish, especially for a smaller organization or business. Social media makes the world a small town, and if you live in one of those, you know that everyone knows who everyone is, for better or worse. If I can see who you are, it helps:

That's a slide from a kyenote I gave to the Texas Self Storage Association. The idea is that one dilemma self storage faces as an industry is that people tend to think those businesses are creepy or sketchy. Popular culture reinforces this notion. To combat that, you show some of the nuts and bolts of actual people doing actual work, like weeding or taking promo shots. In some cases, I just want to see who you are so I know who to talk to when I go there:

This is what contemporary marketing theory tells us. As Seth Godin says, "The new era of modern marketing is about the connection economy, it's about trust, it's about awareness."

So make that connection. Build trust.

What that looks like is an awful lot like what researchers on celebrity culture have found. Horton and Wohl in 1956 came up with the idea of "para-social interaction," that people can have what they feel like are "real" relationships with stars or even with fictional characters (who play villains and get shade when people meet them on the street, for example).

Most of our perspectives on celebrities are more complex than that, which is where we can really learn something about a social media world in which someone like Sara Hopkins can get millions of followers across various social media platforms, but especially Vine and Snapchat, by being awkward, funny, weird and "real" as she does things like show us all the things she keeps in her purse for 7 minutes:

Joshua Gamson talks about two models of celebrity, the democratic and the aristocratic. The aristocratic model holds that star are just better than us, glorious creatures form another sphere . . . . aaaaannnnddd Todd Gitlin points out that eventually our love curdles and we love to hate them. The democratic model is that we could be just like them with a few other opportunities. In both models, we want to know about them, dirt and all, and feel connected to them.

Sometimes the dirt is what we like best, and not in a hateful way. Richard Dyer argues that Judy Garland's awkwardness, her addictions, her "combination of strength and suffering" (p. 149) are what make her an icon for the gay community.

Gilderoy Lockhart says the following about celebrity:

It's a joke about a pompous phony of a character, and you will probably feel like him when you do what I suggest next, but the pattern of what you DO actually does affect how your celebrity works. So,


This is what I told them. 

In one case, the person was reluctant, given his expertise and public persona, to do this, even though half a dozen of us around the table were all suggesting it. It wasn't just a distaste for this kind of thing, personally, but this person is a journalist, and the feeling was that we were asking him to do exactly what journalism school trained him not to do, insert himself into the news.

Which is fair. So, be a celebrity but keep your distance by embracing the awkward as you go behind-the-scenes. Don't just show video of yourself doing something, show video of, in this case, you telling the camera how weird it makes you feel to be doing the thing you are doing. That's what you are really feeling, so it's the most honest thing you can do. And, remembering our celebrity theory, it is what will draw us to you the most.

For example, when I went live on Facebook to be goofy and tell a few jokes before I started a webinar on game design and teaching, I doubled my audience. Granted, it wasn't an enormous audience, but still. Doubled. With this:

The Kristen Stewart jokes probably helped.

In the other case, I was advising a person in religious life who was trying to figure out how to bring a certain message to church congregations. Her concern was that the subject was so controversial that they might just think she was a "church-hater." So my suggestion, which she took, was to make this a video. A personal video of her saying she was hoping she could figure out how to do this. Maybe a group video where people have conversations about how she can avoid that fate given the topic and what they hope to do with the congregations. Make that part of the media that you provide to the congregations and use the lessons of social media and celebrity to work in "real" life: show that what you want them to do is struggle with ideas, just like you are. You know this could all go wrong and are sharing that fear with them, because, as this whole process demonstrates, you think they are good people and you trust them. 

This is the #ShareMore theme that is worked through in my TED Talk:

Various theorists have long pointed out that relationships and connections are more important than information is persuading people. We just kinda suck at information exchange. We'd rather connect.

And isn't that what social media is???????????

It is not broadcast TV. It is a relational, two-way street. We could have invented another kind of Internet, but people kept pushing for the interactions that have always been its core to proliferate and become more powerful.

Why are we trying to hew to lessons from 1980s textbooks about one-way communication that were, given my celebrity theory stuff above, wrong even from the beginnings of their disciplines?

Look, here's a final example.

I think you should watch my TED Talk because it illustrates what I want you to understand as you read this. I also know that this post is getting a bit long and so maybe another video might help you re-engage. 

Okay, but I also know that you will look at my embedding of that video as crass self-promotion, especially after I already embedded one! That's not my intent, as I don't get money for YouTube views or ads and I'm not sure how you watching me on video is any MORE crass self-promotion than you reading my blog, or how yet another video counts as worse levels of crassness, when it comes down to it, but I have a feeling you might respond that way anyway. I just do.

So I am here taking you behind-the-scenes. All of social media looks and feels like crass self-promotion sometimes. And as we build edifices of online presence across multiple platforms, sometimes we want to share across those platforms, not always to "leverage," but sometimes just because I already said it really well on that day I was wearing a blue shirt, so why not?


Did I really persuade you about self-promotion? Were you even thinking of that in the first place? I dunno. It doesn't matter.

I am actually okay with you thinking I am a self-promoter. If part of my job is teaching you how to self-promote, well, jeez, I kinda need the street cred there. 

What all this has done is take you a bit inside how I process things. That way you can decide how much connection you want to make with your idea of me and whether or not further reading or watching of my stuff is worthwhile. 

It highlights that all of this is your decision, which it always was, but it feels good to have the person writing or filming admit that to you and leave it up to you. 

That's called trust.

It's the only thing that matters.

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