Nike , Starbucks, Disney and Whole Foods. These are four category-leading brands that all represent quality and leadership. They are four brands that are committed to properly cultivating and maintaining well-respected images. As such, would it surprise you to hear that these four brands COMBINED have fewer Twitter followers than singer Chris Brown's 8.2 million total? Yes, we're talking about the same Chris Brown who, in 2009, pled guilty to felony assault of then girlfriend, Grammy Award-winning singer Rihanna.
Suspend for a second your personal feelings for Brown and consider what has to have occurred to enable him and his "Team Breezy" base to grow to such a staggering number. In spring of 2011, in support of his fourth studio album, "FAME," Brown and his management group set out to create buzz around the project with the establishment of a digital-age fan club. Team Breezy was given a producer credit on his album, but more importantly was given access to Brown and his music through private listening parties orchestrated by more than 80 street teams across the globe.
Brown, the artist, delivered premium content in the form of a single available only through a more expensive digital version of his FAME album while including an opportunity to view an exclusive video of the song as a subscriber. But Team Breezy has extended beyond Brown's produced/owned content to also include the lifestyle site mechanicaldummy.com, which serves as an earned media culture gateway for fans.
TV host and journalist Toure' recently sparked a heated Twitter confrontation with Team Breezy supporters by commenting on the release of a new Rihanna and Chris Brown music collaboration. The unwavering support and defense of Brown's past actions were eye-opening, but they also demonstrated the "us against the world" mentality that has been bred inside Team Breezy. This "conflict" between protagonists seems to be a key piece of the Brown digital success. From Team Aniston to Team Jolie of today, to past faux-battles such as the Nike Dan and Dave Olympics campaign, the ability to pick a side seems essential for viral growth.
Twitter, in particular, seems to be a medium that enables individuals to gravitate towards celebrity over company. Twitter is not alone in this as Facebook also shows similar tendencies. Consider that Vin Diesel, the action star from the "Fast & the Furious" movie franchise, has more Facebook Likes (30 million plus ) than Starbucks (28 million).
It is awkward to suggest Chris Brown as a guide for corporate success. Organizations that eat, sleep and breathe image would rightfully be challenged to accept a role model with such dubious public relations and brand exposure. But, nonetheless, the following takeaways remain:
- Social media remains a medium that rewards premium and exclusivity.
- Conflict, whether real or created, can be a growth strategy.
- Social media fans/followers gravitate in much larger numbers to people over companies. No matter how human a company may be, it cannot compete consistently with celebrities on a scale basis.
Andre Agassi, tennis hall of famer and one-time bad boy, once opined for Canon that "Image is Everything." In today's social media space, brands must consider how to craft their images differently to better position themselves (the brands) as celebrities. Brands need a real face and voice, not a logo or caricature, for consumers to engage with and to activate the loyalty and behavior that human celebrities motivate. That, married with an on-going, meaningful content strategy that brings together both brand owned and community earned elements is required for the volume of success that celebrities are able to generate today.