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A Serious Study of Two Tweets

One of the most frustrating things about understanding new media is that you don’t get really smart about who’s using it, how and why until it becomes … well … old media. As one of the first to use podcasts for PR purposes, I found the experience comparable to hitting a piñata while blindfolded in […]

One of the most frustrating things about understanding new media is that you don’t get really smart about who’s using it, how and why until it becomes … well … old media.

As one of the first to use podcasts for PR purposes, I found the experience comparable to hitting a piñata while blindfolded in the Staples Center. One day I got a research study claiming podcast users were 19-year-old boys, and a second definitively ID’ing them as 60-year-old moms.

When data’s not available (and even when it is, it can usually be spun into whatever the executive office wants to hear), we look for real-life examples. Recently, we learned something new about what works and what doesn’t on Twitter, courtesy of Paula Abdul and Kirstie Alley.

Each took an age-old Hollywood strategy — rallying the fan base with calls for action — and applied it to social media. And here’s what we learned: Twitter to help negotiate a new contract? Eh, not so useful. To digitally fire-bomb a tabloid reporter? Bingo.

Alley and Abdul are both strong personalities in a business where talent can be pretty bland. In turn, their career and personal highs and lows are publicly chronicled. Both have passionate fan bases that’ve stayed loyal through it all, and both have successfully transferred and grown those bases through Twitter.

It’s not just that they tweet often. (And does anyone else find it odd that Oprah, despite her First Army-sized support team, has only posted 56 tweets since her ceremonious debut in April, most recently July 18? Wonder what her 2 million followers are waiting for.) They tweet in authentic voices and connect constantly with followers.

Abdul tweets sweet. Hers are filled with endless “I love you guys xoP,” “thank you THANK YOU” and birthday wishes. It’s easy to mock until you see she’s kind to even the freakiest fans who probably spend their days making Bedazzler portraits.

Alley is either the James Joyce or James Boswell of the silliness of Hollywood celebrity. Her tweets — packed with CAPITAL LETTERS and obscenities — offer a wry take on her daily life, encounters and dates. She mocks her foibles, takes shots at adversaries. And cajoles followers to weigh in on it all.  Following her is the digital equivalent of kicking back with your most fun girlfriend over a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s and one spoon.
 
One reason Abdul’s tweet-heard-‘round-the-world that she was quitting “American Idol” got the attention it did is that she was using the service to express her disappointment with the negotiations. Whether part of her manager’s strategy or her own decision, she made her unhappiness public and sought their support — even adding the #Idol hashtag to her comments to ensure they reached the massive Idol fan community.

If we’re to believe that Abdul really wanted to stay at Idol, just with lots more money, this tactic failed. The reason is simple. Those of us on the corporate side usually knew when a campaign was staged – why else would writers all spell Moonves correctly? — but we could never be certain. But with Twitter, the curtain is pulled back and we’re able to see who’s yanking the strings. What should look spontaneous and independent no longer does.

Alley, often the target of the tabloids, put one of them in the crosshairs thanks to the very same immediacy and connection of social media.

Yesterday’s new issue of the National Enquirer claims “Kirstie Alley: Only 4 Years to Live!” While Alley’s a fixture in the paper’s pages, I’ll bet the editors are going to have a tough time finding a reporter to write the next story.

On Aug. 7, Alley tweeted “The NATIONAL ENQUIRER just sent a text asking me to confirm ‘I am so fat I am DYING’… guess I won’t be tweeting as much after all … lol.” For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, this is SOP for the old-school Hollywood rags: concoct a story claiming a celebrity has a fatal illness or is carrying Bat Boy’s child, then contact the subject last-minute to get a denial or no comment.

But while Alley tweeted endless jokes — “Yes, yes, I am actually dying because alien butt babies artificially inseminated me with alien fat cells … it was sooooo painful”–  she also rallied the troops. She posted reporter Sarah Cordes’ office phone, email and personal cell number and hilariously encouraged Team Kirstie to take action.

Over and over and over again.

It didn’t stop the article but unquestionably made Cordes’ life difficult. And not just temporarily, since her personal details — if they haven’t been changed already — are now burned into Alley’s Twitter account as well as in Google Search for eternity.

What Alley did was certainly inappropriate. Over-the-top. Probably in violation of Twitterquette. But to all of us publicists and talent who’ve had to waste time dealing with such offenses, it was beautiful.

Flackback will explore the art and artifice of entertainment PR.  The author has 25 years' corporate experience and has finessed everything from a celebrity's drunken surprise marriage to his best friend's 16-year-old daughter to a 20-minute advance warning that her company's president was being fired. And she sees little difference between these scenarios.  She's chosen candor over a byline.