Twitter and the celebrity effect

I have nothing against mainstream culture. In fact, I am very immersed in it. I watch a few TV shows pretty religiously – some good and some just plain awful, I listed to good music as much as I listen to ridiculous hip hop, I am a huge movie buff and , living up to my stereotypes, I can probably tell you about the latest celebrity gossip if you asked.Full disclosure complete.

That being said, I am a professional, a scholar, a geek, a nerd. When I learn about things like, oh I don’t know… Twitter perhaps? I marvel at how fellow professionals, scholars, geeks and nerds can put their minds and creativity to work to develop tools that have the potential to (and do in fact) revolutionize industries and academia. But alas, it seems as though I am also naive.

I understand why it is so significant for one of the world’s biggest celebrities to have joined Twitter – the legions of fans Oprah has amassed over the years is a gold mine in terms of compelling a very key demographic to sign on to the service and Oprah herself is like King Midas when it comes to summoning the mainstream media’s attention to any product or service, turning it into a best-seller or overnight success with a single touch. It is certainly a turning point for the 35-employee company that is Twitter (You didn’t realize it was that small? Neither did I) as Jeremiah Owyang predicts. And it might just be what needed to happen in order for it to turn large profits as more brands and companies will want to pay to use it to communicate directly with their customers. I get it.

So why am I not beside myself with excitement? After all, I have come to embrace Twitter as a part of my work and everyday and I look forward to its continued development and success. Unfortunately, I find the sequence of events that ended up putting Twitter in the hands of mighty Oprah a bit disturbing – precisely because I feel like I understand its potential too much to see it get thrown around like it did the last couple of weeks.

In Ashton Kutcher’s defense – I don’t think he meant to flat-out challenge CNN to a race for 1 million followers. That’s something Stephen Colbert would do 🙂 In his video, Kutcher did say “If I beat CNN to a million followers I will literally go Ding-Dong-Ditch Ted Turner’s house…” but he also said “That’s just crazy,” twice, when realizing how many followers he had and saw it, as he said during his appearance on Oprah, as a manifestation of the state of the media where one person’s voice can be as loud as an entire news network. Of course, Kutcher is not any person, he is a celebrity and has clout, and unfortunately for him the YouTube video and the half-kidding, half-serious promise went viral (expected) and the public ran with it…… and Kutcher ran with that… and Larry King was outraged and he joined Twitter… and EA games offered Kutcher’s 1 millionth follower a chance to be in its next game… and Kutcher offered to donate 10,000 net to Malaria No More if he won… and a follower reminded him that he should be doing that anyway… then Ted Turner said that if Kutcher donated the nets he would help him win… and what the heck did Ted Turner have to do with CNN anymore anyway?… and it turned out the account Kutcher was racing against wasn’t even CNN’s… and CNN took over the account…… and CNN offered to donate nets as well and let Kutcher know that is was on… and John Mayer tweeted about the greatness of Larry King being on Twitter… and hackers tried (FAILED!) to create fake accounts to help Kutcher win… and then Kutcher was leading… and then CNN was leading… and Kutcher took the lead back… and then people found out their couldn’t unfollow Kutcher… and Kutcher was joined by P Diddy… and Kutcher counted down… and he beat CNN to 1 million followersAnd it was all a sloppy mess.

Oh, and then Oprah hears about this new service called Twitter and with one wave of her wand she asks Kutcher to come on the show and Ev and the guys at Twitter hook her up with an account and voilá!

I don’t think Twitter sold out. I think it will continue to be as helpful and as good of a tool and resource as it has been for us early adapters. I just think it could have been done more justice. The way the news landed in Oprah’s hands was all about buzz about what was going down with the “race”, hype about one users’ number of followers (a pet peeve to many I’m sure) and meaningless content (another pet peeve).

I don’t think celebrities joining Twitter will be the service’s demise. I find John Mayer’s use of Twitter interesting and engaging and if it weren’t I wouldn’t follow. That’s the beauty of an opt-in service as Todd Defren says. More people joining Twitter is is only good news for Twitter – it might help traffic grow and finally lead to a profitable business model. My only beef (and I’m not alone) is that the Kutcher stunt is will take credit for Twitter reaching this new milestone. Not the fact that Twitter came in very handy during the Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, the California wild fires, James Buck Twittering the word “arrested” from Egypt to get help from his school to get out of jail… or the hundreds of other instances of Twitter put to good use.

Damn it Oprah.

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