by Julius WiedemannJun 15, 2021
The conversation at a dinner party goes like this: “I found this guy on YouTube and he has 64 million followers (Kondzilla). It is quite unbelievable. He started as a video maker producing clips for funk singers from the favelas in Brazil, and now has become one of the most celebrated screenwriters in the country”. It is not that the concept of popularity has changed so much over the last 20 years. It is more that the ways to achieve it have become multi-channel, multimedia, and multi-skills. There are also no boundaries whatsoever regarding the field of expertise. It goes from arts and crafts to music, from engineering to 3-D animation, poetry to illustration, and on and on.
A personal brand has never been so important. Whereas in the past people have built companies so that they could become a brand (like Carnegie and Rockefeller), now people are able to build personal brands to become a company. The Kardashians are a good example of that. In September 2020, Forbes magazine estimated their combined wealth to around $2 billion. And almost anyone can actually do that. For most part, the media tools available to millionaires and billionaires are now available in shantytowns all over the world. Accessibility is not the problem anymore. The issue is really about understanding who is around you, and whom you are likable to. Personal brands are often guided by a very acute sense of awareness of one’s personality. Because these things can only be measured at a certain point, they have to be built on intuition, simply because most people cannot afford any other tool. Companies can, but individuals cannot. And that is the key to authenticity.
The concept of popularity used to play a lot more with global characters in the past. These phenomena still exist, but it is becoming increasingly clear that influencers have to work in niche markets to strive real engagement. Niche can obviously mean markets that are significant in numbers, but sometimes completely unknown to different worlds. Take the cake decorating scene as an example. The Instagram accounts of @isabellasuplicyofficial and @thekingcake have over a half million followers combined. In Brazil, it is all about cake design and cake decoration. Certainly all the followers are not chefs. But all these people are interested in cakes, and more than that they are also interested in other niche subjects.
Views and likes used to be the currencies. Now it is engagement. There is no popularity if one has followers, but people do not engage with them. A real audience means real interaction between the spectator and the show. Old media like TV didn’t offer this possibility. The history of the development of computing is also the history of interaction. It is the core, and it is the future of every relationship. What we can now do with digital means is that we are able to discover new preferences and tastes. Social media without any sort of control or regulation can become this place that is not only lawless, but a place where there’s no moral compass as well. When we discover preferences, and we dig a little deeper, we usually find out why these audiences have certain preferences. And the why is very important. The question becomes what to do with that knowledge.
With some videos now reaching over one billion views, what matters is why people talk about them. Just watching videos makes almost no difference anymore. The first video to reach one billion views was the South Korean popstar video named Gangnam Style, in 2012. In 2015 that golden list had 10 videos with over one billion views. By 2018 the same list had grown to over 100 videos. The number of followers on YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks will keep growing. But the world is demanding more interaction to anyone wanting to achieve a status of popularity. In a study published by Neliti, it shows “that social media marketing has a positive and significant impact on customer engagement, on brand loyalty, and on customer engagement, and its impact on brand loyalty where customer engagement has a greater influence on brand loyalty than social media marketing”.
The way popularity can be gained and acquired quickly, it can also be lost, very, very fast. It is not just about cancellation, it is about reputation. The digital universe is very volatile and to play this game you need to know the rules of engagement. One of them is that the higher you are, the faster you can go down. That happens because the level of attention and the level of demands that one has when one reaches the top can become indeed unbearable. I happen to have quite a few friends who profit a lot from social networking, and the feeling I get from most of them is that they are constantly scared of not being able to perform tomorrow. They have to parcel every single word and every single message that they post. They have to carefully craft every single message that they want to convey.
It is actually as if all marketing tools are now on an open platform, available for everyone to learn about and profit from them. All it takes is the effort to make it work for yourself.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.