Excuse me, is that really you? Reality and identity in social media OR How Avril turned out to be John

Well, it’s official, 50Cent didn’t write his own Tweets (but it’s ok, he’s learnt his lesson and he does now http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12676791)

To get started, i think it’s worth mentioning that in many ways 50Cent, that’s ’50’ to his friends, and I have quite a lot in common. True, i’m not a crack dealing ex con from Queens, and i never got shot nine times, but i do, at least, write my own Tweets.

Maybe a little background information is in order. For the purposes of this article, i’ve enlisted the support of Wikipedia, that fount of all the best, or at least all the most popular, celebrity ‘facts’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/50_Cent). 50 is, as it happens, the third most popular rapper in the world, after Eminem, who i do know, and Nelly, who i don’t. Unless, in an unlikely turn of events, this is Nelly Furtado, in which case i do.

50 is a man quite at home with irony, as anyone who releases a first album called ‘Guess who’s back’ must be. But whilst he may have had only a tenuous grasp on details like ‘the law’ and, possibly, grammar, it turns out that he does have a social media strategist, which i don’t. It turns out that, surprise of surprises, the social media strategist was actually Tweeting for 50 as a ghost writer. This is clearly potentially as damaging as discovering that Robbie Williams didn’t write all his own hits and the President doesn’t actually write the State of the Union in the bath. It turns out that his Tweets were not micro blog windows to his soul, but actually “it was mostly to generate buzz”.

Buzz, that most elusive of things. Buzz, the buzz of interest, the buzz of activity, the buzz of your single being elevated to the Radio one playlist, the buzz of the tills, the buzz of the follow up and directly aspirational CD ‘Get rich or die tryin’.

Well, get rich he clearly has and social media may well have helped. Many bands and venues now employ ‘street teams’ to handle or support their promotion. People want to be associated with celebrity and celebrities in turn can ‘gift’ their patronage on these people, as well as free baseball caps and, possibly, spent cartridges. Social media are social; driven by interactions, enlightened self interest and the ‘buzz’.

The buzz is what people want, it’s why organisations and businesses employ social media, but they don’t always have the charisma or understanding to make the buzz ‘Buzz’. Many musicians utilise Twitter, and i enjoy many of their Tweets, but clearly some are more ‘genuine’ than others, and i judge them accordingly. Wayne Coyne, psychedelic hippy bandmaster of the Flaming Lips, is the most prolific Tweeter i’ve found, but his numerous photos and videos invariably consist of picture of his sushi or his latest efforts at creating a dripping latex luminous skull. I can’t imagine that anyone else is penning them for him, unless his social media strategist has been spending too long in the same smoke filled rooms as Wayne. It’s a wonderfully open stream of consciousness, a drifting and rambling tale interspersed with photos of Wayne with various fans grinning widely with their arms around him.

He also plays a great game of ‘Where’s Wally’, where he tapes a $50 note to a little cartoon character that he draws and tapes it to some piece of street furniture in whatever town he is in, then Tweets clues to where Carlos is hiding. You wouldn’t believe the excitement, the buzz, that this creates as hordes of free loving hippies descend on post boxes, launderettes and traffic lights across America to hunt down this memento of passing stardom.

Others take a different approach. Avril Lavigne clearly employs a social media strategist, or possibly a marketing strategist. Maybe even a strategic marketing strategist. Her tweets are Disney saccharine. Now, don’t misunderstand me, i love Avril. I love her for her outright pop splendidness and Skater Boi outright MTV attitude. I love the ironic image of the lonely pop princess being rejected by the establishment only to be borne to success by the kids. It’s exploitation of the first order, fake beyond fake, but fun beyond fun, but even i baulked at her recent tweets ‘hanging around with some friends choosing the name of my new album’ e.g. playing to about 40,000 people in Japan and telling them what your new album is called.

I’d imagine that these days 50 is too busy partying and Avril is too busy knitting, or whatever it is that American pop princesses do these days, to be bothered with actually writing their own Tweets. Wayne, on the other hand, ageing hippy and sushi fan, that’s an image i like. I love the honesty of it all. He looks like he doesn’t care because, i suspect, he doesn’t care. This is a man who once released an album on tape where you were encouraged to drive to the nearest drive in cinema, wind your windows down, turn the volume up, and try to synchronise your tape with all the other Flaming Lips fans doing the same thing.

Collaborative music. Social music, and you didn’t even have to play an instrument. This is the man who released Zaireeka, an album with four different versions, each containing parts of the tracks, so that you had to invite three other friends over (who had to bring their ghetto blasters), and you all had to hit ‘play’ at the same time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaireeka). Socially created music, different every time. I’m sure he got rich, but nobody died tryin’, although i suspect there were some wicked hangovers on the way.

My point? It’s no surprise that some people write their own Tweets whilst others are ghosted. Who would be surprised that many of the messages that are crafted for us are, well, crafted. Celebrity and sales are never far apart. Business and sales are even closer. The risks are obvious; everyone wants the buzz, but nobody wants to be seen to be chasing it. Maybe we all need a social media strategy? Maybe i’ll go back to my ‘hood and write one.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Identity, Social Media, Twitter and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Excuse me, is that really you? Reality and identity in social media OR How Avril turned out to be John

  1. Pingback: Choreography: by design, not by accident | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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