“Social media influencers are not celebrities.”

Jason said it last week, and at least a couple of people repeated it in the comments.

Except…they kind of are (sorry, Jason!)

True, the paparazzi aren’t chasing Scoble, Arrington, et. al. around Silicon Valley. (Aside:  although that would make a fairly awesome humor video…)  But in their sphere of influence, they’ve achieved a level of notoriety and attention that equates to celebrity.

Admit it, social media geeks.  All altruistic talk about authentic conversations and community building and the greater societal good aside, some part of your motivation in getting into this tilt-a-whirl of web 2.0 crazyness is the idea you, too, could someday be a Social Media Rockstar. You may not admit it to anyone else.  You may not even admit it to yourself.  But at this point, social media is still a fairly small pond–and you’re a fish with growth potential.

I’m reminded of Seth Godin’s recent offering, The Dip.   He says it’s not enough to be good at what you do.  To succeed and push past “the dip,” you need to be the Best in the World. But “the World” in this context is “your World,” and that may mean “the World of Seattle independent coffeehouses” or “the World of online community managers.”  Or “the World of social media.”

In other words, to really succeed, you need to be a Rockstar at whatever you do.

It turns out that it’s only natural that social media creates notable, personality-driven leaders and influencers.  It’s social media, after all, and that makes it intrinsically personal.

Social media has radically lowered many of the technical and financial barriers to being seen and heard at a national or international level.  But to rise above the cacophony of voices from all the other people who’ve recognized that, you have to have something really compelling to say and you have to say it in a way that resonates with a large number of people.

However, the people who’ve figured out how to do that and who have gathered a large enough following, the Social Media Rockstars, would be naive to not recognize they have a valuable commodity on their hands.  Influence is power, and power can be sold, bartered, and traded.

I don’t hear it articulated in quite this way often, but I get the impression that this tendency to gravitate around individual Rockstars is one of the many and sundry things that cause corporations to hesitate to get into social media.  I think there’s a fear (and it’s probably justifiable) that social media is essentially funneling your brand through a human being to the masses, and if that human being has a massive melt down, they can take your brand down with them.  If you make a person the “personal, human voice” of your brand to the consumer, what happens if that person leaves?

We’re still walking that dodgy line between social media folks being people who are motivated by passion to talk about stuff online, and being “talent” who are motivated to talk about stuff online by a paycheck.  Especially since increasingly, many bloggers and social mavens are motivated by a mix of both.

But the thing about Rockstars is, they’re people with passion and creativity.  Pushing anything, whether it’s a grassroots movement or a brand, into new territory requires a huge amount of energy, drive, creativity and passion. Those are the people you want on your team, even if they do occasionally need a kick in the ego to remind them not to get all prima donna.

You may need to sometimes remind a Rockstar that it’s not all about them, but if you do, they will usually remember it, because it’s true.  Deep down, those altruistic or idealistic ideas are what motivated them in the beginning.  The Rockstar thing was just the icing on the cake, because the people who are primarily motivated by the chance to be a social media celebrity will drop off the map when they realize it’s hard flippin’ work.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice that C chord.  I may still be a “social media roadie” at this point, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

photos courtesy JasonRogers and anyjazz65 on flickr.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Rachel Luxemburg

    There’s an additional implication here:

    Being a “Rockstar” in SM is all well and good, but if your ultimate audience is elsewhere, then SM star power does not serve your employer or your customers, it just serves your own ego.

    In other words — do your customers know or care who Scoble, Brogan, Solis, etc are? If they don’t then maybe it’s better to spend your time becoming a star in areas that they will care about.

  • http://www.rickwolff.com Rick Wolff

    I’ll admit it: it’s kind of a dream of mine to be in a situation (meaning, having done some kind of enthusiasm-driven, made-for-me work) where people I don’t know walk up to me and go, “Aren’t you Rick Wolff?” That would just blow my mind! The only thing better would be to hear that my work benefited that person in some way that would make a story.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Rick — Change your avatar to a real picture of you and it will happen. (Love the cartoon, but there’s no connection to reality for those who haven’t met you.) Blog World Expo last year it did to me. Todd Earwood couldn’t figure out how people knew who I was. I said, “It’s all in the avatar, dude.” He changed his to his face that day.

    Good post, Kat. I agree with Rachel, though. Our clients don’t care who Solis, Scoble, Defren, etc., are. They only care that we’re connecting them with their customers. We’re only rockstars to each other, which is kinda inbred and frightening.

    But if I qualify under rock star status, I most definitely want to be Neil Young as opposed to, say, Brett Michaels.

  • http://mediapitch.ning.com Jason Kintzler

    I hope to one day be in the same sentence as the Solis, Scoble, Brogan and the Falls – Until then, I’ll keep plugging away with my garage-band blog until Ryan Adams needs an opener. I think these guys are more ‘Social Media Icons’ than anything. Thanks for rocking this post for us all to read.

  • http://greeh-house.tv eric : Gardenfork.tv

    These soc media rockstars are only that to those of us in this Web 2.0 fishbowl . The average person does not know who they are.

    When I work with clients, they have no idea who these Rockstars are and they don’t need to. They want to use social tools to connect with customers or each other, not to Robert Scoble.

    I often talk to my friends about how we, the soc media fish, are yelling at each other about how great all this stuff is, yet, for the most part, a lot of the world is concerned with more presssing matters, and rightly so, i believe.

    These non-fishbowl people do use social tools, they just don’t yammer about it non-stop like we do.

    ___

    And for those of you who want to be recognized, I get tagged in airports, and its a bit weird, but that’s the choice i’ve made, sticking myself on two web shows.

    But the cool thing is the feedback i get from non-fishbowl people who watch Gardenfork and Real World Green, and they tell me how I have inspired them, or showed them how to do somethig they didn’t think they could do. Like cut down a tree or make creme brule’.

    you can see some non-fishbowl people using social networking to connect to each other here: http://www.green-house.tv

  • http://www.theviralgarden.com Mack Collier

    The problem with being a social media ‘rockstar’ is that in order to STAY a social media ‘rockstar’, you have to spend a lot more time with and kissing up to, other ‘rockstars’. And a lot less time with the people that REALLY matter.

    No thanks.

  • KatFrench

    Wow, great comments!

    Rachel and Jason: As far as clients go, I don’t think they know or care who the rockstars are in social media–but as with any vendor or partner, they do want to know that their social media service providers are respected by their peers.

    And frankly, there is a need to bring in the big guns from time to time. A respected, outside expert opinion can sometimes carry the necessary weight to push a client off the fence.

    (And FWIW, Jason, I don’t think you have anything to worry about on the Brett Michaels thing.)

    Rick and Eric: I think personally impacting peoples lives, and hearing how your work is a part of their story is definitely one of the most awesome parts of being involved in social media.

    Jason K: Thanks for the compliment! And hey, at least you’re at “garage band” status, rather than “Guitar Hero.”

    Mack: Back to our musical metaphor, people may think of Eric Clapton as a rock star, but I’m betting he thinks of himself as a musician. If you do great work that you love, and share your love of it, people will be drawn to you. When that happens, it feels great and it can be tempting to chase that feeling. (Which leads to the kissing up and the “scary inbred” thing J mentioned).

    My original intent for the post was to talk about personal ambition, and how it applies to how well we serve our employers and/or clients in social media.

    Unchecked ego and ambition, in any field or specialty, is a quick route to a “Behind the Music”-style crash and burn.

    But on the other hand, this is new territory and there is a lot of ground-breaking work to be done, and that requires people with a lot of personal drive and the ability to self-motivate–basically “rockstar” material.

    When you keep it about the work, then you can accept the kudos and admiration that come your way graciously, and not get caught up in chasing that “icing on the cake.”

  • http://www.socialmediawiz.com Shailesh Ghimire

    Very good point. They may not be celebrities in the sense we think of celebrities, but every industry has their leaders and rock stars. I also will admit, I want to be known and live the life of a social media rock star (whatever that may mean).

    There was one time when I was in a newtorking meeting and one guy walked upto me and said “you’re so and so aren’t you?”. I was stunned. He said I read your blog every day. Wow. That made my day.

    Sure. I’m a bit vain. But who isn’t! :-)

  • http://www.austin30.org Kristine Gloria

    Spot on with this post. Not sure if you were at SXSWi this year, but it was the epitome of idolization in regards to the Internet famous.

    I agree with a number of the comments posted above as well as your cautionary statement about the influence these people have. In some weird, wacky alternative universe, these “celebs” are just like pro-athletes and actors. Only they’re measured not by box office numbers or multi-million dollar endorsements, just the number of twitter followers, blogs hits and feed subscribers.

    Have to love the power of the internet.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Shailesh: I remember the first time someone IRL recognized me from my blog. “Stunned” is definitely the right word. “Slightly freaked out” is another good phrase…

    Kristine: Didn’t make SXSWi this year. May be going next year. Despite the “American Web Idol” factor, I think there’s definitely some value there.

    It all sort of reminds me of that movie with Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon and Joaquin Phoenix from several years ago, “To Die For.”

  • http://siddey.wordpress.com Siddey

    It’s not a bad thing that the social web is creating a new genre of techie rockstars. Other industries have theirs and historically the tech heads have been too busy “do-ing” rather than blowing sunshine.

    Clearly there are people making money out of promoting their involvement in the evolution of web 2/3.0 strategies across a range of contributing industries, so I expect that’s a good sign for the market and for those involved in it. We must be onto something good here!

    Perhaps this will finally start to encourage more people to move into all the industries supporting the social web, especially the IT sector. We need all the help we can get to improve the appeal of IT and if the “rockstars” help this, I’m all for it! :)

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