Being a Micro-Celebrity Means You Walk the Line

walk_the_line.jpgYesterday, there was an interesting conversation that took place on Twitter. While I’m still waiting to hear the full story (Twitter is still rather limited in understanding scope, depth and breadth of conversations), I figured it had inspired me enough to write about my recent experiences with knowing and being a micro-celebrity*.

First, what’s a micro-celebrity?

First there are world-renown celebrities. People, characters and companies who are recognizable in any country they visit. McDonalds, Mickey Mouse, Michael Jordon are probably some of the top names in this category.

Then there are A-list celebrities. These are people who are famous in their area of the world – multiple countries, but maybe not the entire world. B- and C- lists are shortly after. People who are well-known, but not walking every red carpet that ever occurs. In my mind, these are the people who have TV, radio and/or newspaper interviews done about their life, their accomplishments, etc.

Then, there are mini-celebrities – the people who are somewhat famous. Enough to draw a bit of a crowd when they appear and/or speak somewhere. These are the famous bloggers of the world, the web series stars, some reality TV show people, top podcasters. They’re people that a large group of people know, but not the man on the street (unless the man on the street belongs to that group). You can also add some TV writers in this group – because while they may be famous – most people don’t know their names and wouldn’t beg for their autograph when they sit down to eat at a resturant.

Then, there’s micro-celebrities, which I’ve labeled myself as. People are who are well known to a small group of people, but aren’t famous enough to draw a huge crowd. I think the test of moving to mini-celebrity is when someone asks for your autograph.

Now, micro-celebrities (and mini- for that matter) hang on to their celebrity status by one thing – and one thing only: their fans. You make or break your success by your relationship to and your attitude around your fans. In this stage having a strong fan base can propell you quickly out of the micro-/mini-stage and on the A-list. This group of core fans will go out of their way to buy your book/CD/art/whatever, tell their friends about you, convince others to listen to your podcast/music/poetry reading/whatever. They are your street team, your PR team, your pit crew. These early adopters are really the only way you (with your budget of nothing carry the 0) can succeed.

It’s very easy therefore, for micro-/mini- celebrities to get cocky once they start tasting success. Why wouldn’t you? Most “normal” people don’t have more than 10 people listening to their ideas all of the sudden you Mr./Ms. Micro-Celebrity have 5,000 – 30,000. You can start to get overwhelmed by your fans. Maybe spend less time interacting with them, close down some of the open communication you had at the beginning and start focusing on your “true passion” (whatever it is their consuming that makes you famous – your blog, your writing, your books, your podcast, etc).

Which, again, is fine. Your loyal listeners will still love you and understand, because they want more of the content you produce.

But then, something else can happen. Something that has turned me off to a lot of former mini/micro celebs I loved. Your ego gets too big for your status. Somewhere along the line you have decided you’re the expert. And the tone of your conversation moves from thankful to god-like. No longer do you treasure the comments you get from fans, or display them prominently, or even take the time to answer them. You’re too busy, too involved, too (insert answer here). Fans begin to notice, but being the loyal people they are, they don’t say much. But they don’t have the same enthusiasm that they once did for your work and drift away. They no longer feel like “a part” of your creation process.

Do you lose them entirely? No, not really. They’ll still stay subscribed, still listen, still pick up the things you’re selling, but you’ve lost the street team mentality. If you start asking things of them, they might actually start resenting you.

Then you commit the unpardonable sin – you treat fans like they’re dumb, less than you, or just worthless. This sin will probably only lose you a couple fans, but if repeated soon enough you’ll lose your comitted core. Of course, you can always gain more fans. New people will find your work on their own, or through your PR campaigns or through other new fans, but some of your original supporters are probably whispering behind the scenes about your attitude and ego.

Now, are your fans always right? No, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to bow to every demand they make of you. In one of my favorite Strong Bad emails, Strong Bad rants about how every email he gets now is someone demanding he do something. Please be honest with your fans if you can’t do something – but be nice about it. There’s enough shock-jocks in the world, I personally don’t need any more.

Are fans always preceiving you correctly? No, there’s plenty of great micro-celebs that I know that have personas when they’re talking. I made a joke at my father’s 50th birthday that I am smart, well-read, sacracstic and if people didn’t already think I was egotisitcal enough – I owned a MAC. I can say things often that SOUND extremely egotistical, self-centered and hurtful to other people – but I don’t really mean it. One person was very offended that I am nicknamed ‘the Joss’ of Buffy Between the Lines, when in reality I don’t equate myself with Joss Whedon at all – it’s just a joke to explain to people what my role is.

People can also feel extremely loyal to mini/micro celebrities [and actually celebrities in general] that they have bonded with or spent face-to-face time with. So loyal in fact, that they will start to tear down other celebrities in the same small arena to make their ‘buddy’ celeb look better. Case in point is the on-going [and in my opinion] stupid fight over who is better – Angel or Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Clearly there’s no real ‘better’ – just preferences. I personally love Angel, my good friend and co-producer Kim loves Spike. Do we argue over who is better? No, unless we’re joking. Do I need to rip Spike down to make Angel look better? No, Kim’s just stupid (just kidding).

But mini-/micro- celebs need to realize that they can create this feeling of exclusivity in their fans to a point where it becomes unhealthy. Case in point is the huge fued between Moby fans and Eminem fans. These people were beating each other up because of music? Uncalled for, immature and dumb.

Also, fans need to realize that one incident does not a person make. One harsh word or post can easily be someone having a bad day rather than your favorite celeb turning evil.

So, what’s this all mean? Cliche but true, don’t step on the little people on your way to the top. Walk the fine line between being true to yourself and true to your fans. Also remember that you’ve pushed yourself into the limelight. While most of the time it’s a good thing – you’ve also opened yourself up to criticsm, scrutiny and obessive/weird fans, some of whom will never be satisfied.

For fans, remember that close proximity to a mini-/micro- celebrity doesn’t make you more special. You’re special to begin with because you’ve helped make that mini-/micro- celebrity what they are. Also, remember to give your mini-/micro-celebs a break sometimes and cut them some slack. After all, most of us also have a day job, family and real life – we can’t perform at 100% ALL the time (except if you’re PG Holyfield, ‘cuz he’s just evil).

(*Micro-celebrity, or as  @0zymandias calls me a “Shuffle Celebrity“)

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9 Comments

  1. Posted August 13, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting blog post. Very on point, and I’ve seen the good and the bad. I’ve probably BEEN the good and the bad. I wonder whether we deserve any bit of ‘celebrity’ that we get, but then again I don’t think mega-celebrities deserve the attention they get either.

    What do you see as your purpose for doing this thing that you do that has brought you micro-celebrity status?

  2. Posted August 13, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Would love to see this get some play.

  3. Tabitha Grace Smith
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I think the point is we don’t deserve it, but we’ve gotten it/earned it/received it because of those who enjoy what we produce. So we owe them big time.

    For my fancasts – I’ve said from the get-go that I do them as a service to other fans. Because I enjoyed the fancasts I listened to when I first started in the Joss Whedon fandom. I enjoyed Old Wounds and said we should do a Buffy audio drama. Etc. Because I like being creative, and I have the ability and the resources and I think I hve something worthwhile to say.

  4. Posted August 13, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    It’s such a simple motivation. What it lacks is greed. Some people do this to make people love them, or make people listen to them. They hunger for that celebrity because they want to feel important. They want people to listen to their podcasts and listen to their podiobooks because they want to get “the big deal,” or what not. Nothing wrong with getting a book deal, but to establish yourself in this community strictly for the purpose of financial gain? Crazy.

    You’re also a very good pod-friend to people.

  5. 0zymandias
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Even without knowing you and not having fans of my own, I’d still argue that there really *isn’t* a fine line between being true to one’s self and true to one’s fans.

    You’ve acquired your fan base by producing excellent content. Fans keep coming back for more – among other reasons – because you’re not just erm – “going through the motions” so to speak. The quality of the podcasts reflect just how much you love what you do.

    If doing what you love isn’t being true to one’s self then I’m certainly doing it wrong. 🙂

    Just 2 cents from a non shuffle celebrity.

  6. Tabitha Grace Smith
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I can see that – people will love you for who you are (as long as who you’re giving them isn’t fake).

    I guess what I meant was the idea of being professional, which some people view as a form of censorship – they’d rather just “be themselves” and say whatever comes to them. I believe it’s important to keep at least a semi-professional filter on what you say in public places.

  7. Posted September 26, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    The attitude you take towards fans makes all the difference. We can narrow it down to three approaches.

    1. *You*, the fan, are a bit smarter, hipper, and cooler than the rest of the world, including me. I am, therefore, honored and humbled that you’re a fan.

    2. *We* are a bit smarter, hipper, and cooler than the rest of the world.

    3. *I* am a bit smarter, hipper, and cooler than the rest of the world, including you.

    #1 and/or #2 keeps your fans happy and coming back for more. I find combining them, leaning a bit more toward #1, works well for me.

    #3 is death. If you really feel that way fans will pick it up no matter how hard you try to hide it. You’ll be perceived (correctly) as being arrogant and pompous and your fans will abandon you, no matter how great your talent. Ask Yngwie Malmsteen. (“Who?” you ask. “Exactly,” I answer.)

    This has got to be real, not an act. If you can’t really enjoy your fans and consider them as equals (or superiors) find something else to do, because you’re not going to get many, and they won’t be around for long.

  8. Tabitha Grace Smith
    Posted September 26, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I love it, totally spot on Hittman.

  9. Posted January 5, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Hm … that’s really interesting to think of. I might hit micro-celebrity someday! I’ve already signed some autographs. And when I am, I’ll continue to be good friends with any fan who pays me.

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