Today such bragging earns, at best, a polite smile.
That's because celebrities now connect directly to their fans through social media. A few words posted on Twitter instantly delights their hordes of followers.
"Hordes" is not hyperbole. Lady Gaga recently bested 20 million Twitter followers, making Ashton Kutcher’s 2009 push to reach a million seem quaint. (He’s well past 10 million now.) Zooey Deschanel shares her latest nail art on Facebook while Steve Martin responds to fans’ posts. Jessica Alba and Martha Stewart are all over Pinterest, and you’ll find Taylor Swift’s cat and Justin Bieber’s dog mugging for the camera on Instagram.
A few celebrities caught the wave of online fever early. The first I encountered was John Wetton, legendary bassist and vocalist for the bands King Crimson, UK and Asia. I’m an unabashed fan of his music—Wetton’s group and solo work are equally amazing—so when I discovered his guestbook in 2007, I eagerly signed up.
Wetton is an almost daily fixture there. He posts views and anecdotes, responds to queries, jokes with fans and raves about his favorite soccer team.
It’s not like Wetton has a lot of free time to surf the web. He has toured heavily with Asia since the original band reconvened in 2006, he recently completed a UK reunion, plus he records new music regularly for Asia, iCon (with Asia bandmate Geoff Downes) and for a variety of other projects. Naturally, I wondered how he finds the time to connect with his fan base.
A couple of years ago, I shared coffee with Kim Dancha, who was Wetton’s webmaster at the time. A delightful person, she authored Wetton’s biography, My Own Time, and served as an American contact for fans.
Dancha acknowledged that, when the guestbook was launched, personally connecting with fans was still out of the ordinary. Online tools make it easier for stalkers to lurk, and the occasional argument among guestbook users could make things awkward.
But Dancha was pleased by Wetton’s willingness to remain engaged with the guestbook. His online presence, genuine and jovial, created personal connections that built awareness and excitement for his work. People on the guestbook feel as if they are his personal friends, and Wetton seems to value those connections sincerely.
Organizations, too, can build such a presence. The trick is to understand which medium connects with your audience, and then to stay personally involved.
Before jumping into social media, ask yourself some questions. Whom are you targeting? What is your message? Is the medium the right tool for what you're trying to accomplish? Are you willing to use it to engage in dialogue on an ongoing basis, not just post items now and then?
Social media opens many doors to create relationships, share directly with your audience, and listen and learn from them. How well it works—always as part of a robust, strategic communication plan—depends on your commitment to it.
As for the results ... John Wetton might say only time will tell.