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Microcelebrity Is the Key To Success In Today’s Freebie World

"How would you make money if you owned Twitter?" Venture capitalist and CEO of Alltop Guy Kawasaki asked Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson at the closing keynote of SXSW.

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When Anderson admitted he didn’t want to talk about The New York Times, it was no surprise. The future of newspaper content or even the country’s economic state weren’t top of mind at SXSW
this year. Twitter, on the other hand, a free service with no business plan, was the unofficial official
sponsor of the event, with most speakers announcing their usernames and tags at the
beginning of their sessions to corral chatter and gather real-time
feedback. (The the tag for Kawasaki and Anderson’s session was of
course #free.)

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Twitter, Anderson reasoned, had two options: Start selling banner ads or start charging to use it. The only problem is that neither really fits with the company’s ethos. However, “if a company wants to have a voice, being able to raise their visibility [on Twitter] would really be worth something,” said Anderson, citing Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis‘ idea to charge companies up to $250,000 to be one of Twitter’s top ten recommendations. Kawasaki agreed with Anderson that it has been a really effective tool for promoting their ideas to a passionate audience; it had, in essence, helped make him famous: “I couldn’t not have Twitter.” Even though he was disheartened that Britney Spears has “blown past him” in number of followers.

chris-anderson

If books are basically a condensed form of information, which you expand upon in person or on your blog for the right audience, mused Anderson, publishers who help you get your book out there will also be responsible for representing you as a blogger or a speaker–like an agent but for your entire brand. (Anderson’s start up, BookTour, matches authors with audiences in this way.) The future of success will be achieving “microcelebrity” status. But in the Twitter-tastic, free-for-all universe, getting famous is easy:  It’s making money off fame that’s difficult.

“Create microcelebrity and then monetize it,” was Anderson’s advice to content creators, using the
pop music industry as an example. Fans now procure music by whatever
means necessary, yet artists are always paid for public appearances,
commercial gigs and concerts. If getting to that point means giving
away a little bit of your content for free, or allowing it to be
stolen, that’s fine, said Anderson: “Use piracy to create celebrity.”

bruce-sterling

But he gave Twitter an interesting twist. “There’s a lot of you in here,” Sterling addressed the audience. “But my Twitter audience is bigger than you. And they’re a better audience than you,” noting that they’re more diverse and geographically dispersed and can help disseminate his message faster and give him feedback more effectively. But when it comes to making money off them? Well…

Twitter proved itself exceptionally effective for one thing, at least: real-time one-liners (or two-liners, depending on the character count). Back in Kawasaki and Anderson’s session, Kawasaki ended the session by reading feedback off the Twitter feed tagged for their session. From user kdc: “I was hoping that this would be like the Oprah show and we get a free copy of Free under our seats.” Anderson quipped, cryptically, “You’ll all get a free copy…under your mouse.”

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.

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