26 May 2009

Celebrities who Tweet: Tips to keep them from ruining Twitter for us all

25 05 2009 - The idea came after reading Twitter messages between actors Steve Buscemi, Kirstie Alley and Melissa Gilbert — where a compliment from Buscemi (later unmasked as a fake), sparked a horrifying joke from the real Alley about group sex:

Celebrities must be taught how to use this thing.

Why? Because, as media scuffle for the next hot Twitter piece, boldfaced names have become the biggest ambassadors of this new medium — the first thing most newbies check when they fire up a new account.

And because so many of them are so awful, they’re giving the microblogging service a bad rap.

Twitter-spearsIt’s a sad fact: Celebrities on Twitter often live down to their stereotypes as self-absorbed, superficial figures (“twitwits,” one editor here called them). Much as I dig John Mayer’s music, if I read another tweet about what club he’s in or what T-shirt he’s wearing, I’ll break up with him, too.

In fact, I’m convinced celebrity abuse of Twitter has almost single-handedly led some to dismiss the service. Any columnist or crank with an iPhone can call up inane tweets from Ashton Kutcher (“I’m excited to go trap shooting today”) or Oprah Winfrey and conclude this is a fad worse than pet rocks and the Macarena combined.

But that’s like walking into the world’s biggest cocktail party and leaving after you’ve talked with five people. 

So here are a few tips for famous folks on Twitter. Look closely, and you may find a few hints that help you become a better Twitter citizen (Twitizen?), as well.

Remember: Everyone hates Twitter at first, until they don’t. “When I first looked at it, I said ‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life . . . but that’s what everyone says, at first,’” said Rodney Rumford, who wrote Twitter as a Business Tool and founded

“It’s a lifestyle hack; like cell phones or e-mail, (eventually) it becomes a part of who you are and how you communicate.”

For many Twitterati, there’s a cycle to how you sink into the service. First, you hate its limitations, then you gorge yourself on messaging and gathering followers, then you figure out how it all fits into your media life. Eventually, the way you use Twitter becomes as personal as your cell phone ringtone or the wallpaper on your home computer.

“The real turning point for people is purpose-based,” said Laura Fitton, author of Twitter for Dummies. “You have to find what Twitter does for you . . . Just tweeting into the vapors won’t ever make any sense.”

Which leads to:
Provide some value to your tweets.
We know you’re fabulous and cursed with hordes of photographers dogging your every trip to a trendy eatery or club. But every detail of your day is not compelling, whether you’re a freelance writer in Montana or rap mogul P Diddy.

Twitter-diablocody Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) always gets props for being witty, earthy and pop-culture savvy — like hanging with a West Coast version of Sex and the City’s catty columnist/protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, if she started out as a stripper.

Fitton praises Kutcher’s spouse, Demi Moore, for her honesty (“In watching Demi, Twitter seems a way for her to chat person to person and not be objectified”), while dinging Diddy for an exhaustive enthusiasm that makes every post sound like a life-changing event.

And remember, celebrities: Using the reply feature on Twitter shares your message with anyone who is following you; kind of like having a loud conversation at the center of a dinner party where everyone is watching you. So the group sex jokes might be better reserved for a direct message, which is private.

Don’t just speak; listen and respond. Rumford digs Twitter celebrities such as MC Hammer and Kathy Ireland, who actually respond to followers replying to their tweets. Presence is important, even in bursts of 140 characters.

“What most people find engaging is some insight into that person’s life . . . a peek behind the digital velvet rope,” Rumford said. “Celebrities are brands — they know their target audience. I tell people to think what matters most to your audience and give it to them.”

Social media expert J.D. Lasica tells stars to remember their place (“Understand that you’re not leading this parade, but we’re happy to have you in it”) and do more than tout their latest business ventures or showbiz product.

Now that Kutcher has beaten CNN Breaking News to 1 million followers, why not actually try to change the world?

“Twitter has the potential to be the greatest force for grass-roots charitable fundraising in history,” he said. “Use your celebrity to save lives and help worthy causes.”

Like many new-media companies, Twitter may find celebrities become a sword with a double edge: great for spreading word for the service, but a lousy example of what it actually does.

“I would argue Twitter is all about everything but celebrities,” said Rumford, who nevertheless talks excitedly about trading tweets with skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. “I tell people, go find a hobby you’re interested in, find people on Twitter who are talking about that and then start talking to them. Before long, you’ll be hooked forever.”


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