In the Future Fame Won’t Exist

This week Shirky asserts that when one receives more attention than one can give the result is fame. He correlates the concept of fame with the size of the audience that’s being communicated to. Essentially stating that the larger the audience, the more likely fame will occur because the author is unable to respond to all recipients of the message. Said another way, the author would be at some point receiving more attention than they could reciprocate. As an alternative way of explaining the shortcomings of broadcast messages he lays out in a diagram that illustrates broadcast messages to large audiences are essentially one directional. Only when the audience is small can tight conversation commence.

In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

-Andy Warhol

This philosophy may have held true when the book was published; however, I believe is Shirky revised the book he would probably reconsider the solid lines he’s drawn between broadcasting, loose conversation, and tight conversation. Likewise, he might also reconsider the implication of the audience’s general acceptability of the author’s fame. I believe in the new age of media that broadcast messages are more and more targeted to a specific audience segment. That quite possibly, in social media today, there is no such thing as a broadcast. Take Walmart for example, when Walmart uses Facebook to communicate with their customers the message is already targeting who they want to communicate with and what topic. The customers routinely leave comments to the Facebook post which consists of one of the following:

    1. Positive sentiment about the post topic. For example, “I love Lay’s potato chips.”
    2. Negative sentiment about the post topic. For example, “Lay’s potato chips make people obese and Walmart should be ashamed.”
    3. Negative sentiment about Walmart’s shopping experience. For example, “I tried to return a bad bag of Lay’s chips once and they wouldn’t give me my money back”.
    4. Negative sentiment about Walmart generally. For example, “Walmart should pay people minimum wage and stop shipping jobs overseas.”

Regardless of the comment’s sentiment, the customer is responding to the comment to be acknowledged in some way because to them there is no such thing as fame. For them there is only a conversation. For them there has to be reply by the author. Because for them, if there wasn’t ever an attempt to reply then they’ll ask why did Walmart ever post a message in the first place? And if that question is asked then social media stops working as a means to engage the audience. Whether authors like it or not, this bidirectional communication is the current expectation of the social media audience. Said another way, if you want to keep a positive image then you should response to everyone from your biggest fans to your harshest critics. Otherwise, you may be making waves in social media for all the wrong reasons.

Again all feedback examples above would require a reply.  In practice they would sound something like this:

    1. Thanks and keep checking back for new flavors of Lays.
    2. Lay’s also offers a healthy baked style and we’re proud to sell those too.
    3. I’m sorry to hear that.  Please send us a message or call us at 555-555-5555 and we’ll get this straightened out.
    4. Walmart has pledged to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US.  You can follow the latest here <link>.

Big companies like Walmart realize social media only works when you target the messaging and you open up the lines of communication so a conversation can flourish. As a result, big companies started hiring teams of people to continue the engagement in social media. That essentially means there is no such thing as a broadcast message or fame anymore among those who thrive in social media; just loose to tight engaging conversations. This week I interviewed Ben Baker from Walmart’s marketing department. He is one of leaders in social media for Walmart and he provides great perspective on engagement. I encourage everyone to check it out if you have time.

Ben Baker Interview

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One thought on “In the Future Fame Won’t Exist

  1. Great points! It all just depends on how you define fame, really. Fame might be thought of similarly as the long tail of social media. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_tail . Years ago, some authors argued that the new media world would more evenly distribute attention across individuals. Now, we know that the same as usual holds true, the top 10% of bloggers get 90% of the audience’s attention. Does that make everyone famous? Or mostly just the top 10% as usual? Either way, we all are being asked to uphold the same standards for communication, engagement, and dialogue. I can see why Walmart, which pays big bucks for big teams of social media experts, would have a lot of work to do when engaging people in its brand. Geez. I am lucky that I get less than 3-10 comments on any social media update.

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