Last week, @aplusk beat @CNNbrk in the race for one million followers. In plain English, Ashton Kutcher, an actor, challenged CNN on Larry King Live – who would get to a million followers first – to prove a point that an individual could have a reach equal to a large network on Twitter. Twitter joined in the fun, because unlike the norm, users couldn’t unfollow either of the parties, of course smart tweeps found a way out anyway.  Point taken, AsKu, though the irony was that until a  week back, the CNN account was not run by them, though for sometime they’ve been managing the account through the person who created it.

For more than two years, the CNNBrk account (for breaking news) had been created, maintained and run by a 25-year-old British Web developer who just wanted a way to beam short news alerts to his cellphone.

And that’s the beauty of this user driven service. Something that I fear might change with the ‘mainstream’ spotlight and the rush of real celebrities. Its only a matter of time before a new celebrity thinks of a new stunt. But it is to be noted that  Kutcher is donating 10000 mosquito nets worth $100000 to a charity. In fact, one week before that, I’d read about Hugh Jackman’s donating AUS $100,000 to charity via Twitter, the charity to be selected via Twitter pitches.

Now, I’ve always maintained that users should figure their own comfort levels and use the service accordingly. But I also feel that a sudden influx of people with no intent other than rooting for a celebrity might be the kind of inorganic growth that will work against the service and its more regular users. This could range from a disruption of the service due to the load to a change in the ‘culture’ of the service.

Kutcher’s point was about getting a reach higher than a media giant. I’ve always had a problem with numbers – followers, updates etc as a means of measurement on Twitter. I find it a paradox for a place which became popular because of a qualitative measure – conversations. CNN will deliver breaking news regularly, and (as someone suggested on Twitter) Kutcher followers will just have to wait for those occasional Demi photos. Reach has been an index to sell traditional media space, is that the benchmark Twitter wants to take forward?

There was a very interesting post on Tech Crunch on whether Twitter should remove its follower count. Like I tweeted, I’d agree. Once upon a time, it was a medium to share an instant – something you thought/read/saw/felt to make others smile/think/share their own expressions. With growth came the ‘how a tweet might cost you a job’ and ‘5 ways to increase sales with Twitter’ theses, and the instant was lost. Perhaps you will ignore that as a subjective grumble. But think of the times you see the ‘need 5 more followers to get 500. please RT’ and what you feel then. What happens when that’s the norm and the service changes to accommodate and encourage that culture because that’s what helps them make money. [Note: I’d love for Twitter to make money, but I’m sure they’ll find better ways]

While on celebrities and Twitter, closer home Gul Panag has been quite active on Twitter the last few days. The Twitterverse has had its share of imposters and has been trying to ensure there’s no ‘identity crisis’ this time, so much that poor GulP might have one soon. This tweet of hers caught my attention. (Oh, okay the dimples too!!)

gulp1

Spicy Jet news. Poor them. It reminded me of a post I’d written sometime back on ‘Social Ambassadors‘ – what would happen when the transparency of social media met celebrity bloggers? In this case, micro bloggers. In fact, micro blogging is even more ‘dangerous’ since the interaction is real time, and not like a PR draft that can be posted on ths site, and replies given in a few hours or even days. This becomes all the more important if celebrities use social media as a personal broadcast medium to their fans. Of course, brands can use the media to their benefit too – for example, create conversations between celebrities (a Twitter conversation between Aamir and Gul basis their Tata Sky TVC would be fun), use celebrities to communicate beyond the obvious advertisement etc.

The challenge is for celebrities too. Perhaps it will also make celebrities more responsible when making endorsement choices. (It would be fun to ask SRK/Aamir why they switched soft drink brands in between.) Also, can celebrities retain their ‘interestingness’ when they are in touch with the fans all the time, unlike a traditional system when news about them was less abundant?

On an aside, when celebrities move to direct-to-crowd platforms, what happens to the go-between media for whom they were the news makers, and we were the news consumers? And what happens to the micro celebrities on Twitter? :)

until next time, when twitter streams meet mainstream