Photo by Jason Howie / Flickr
By Lauren Fetter
Emily Deppermann sat in her high school cafeteria on March 25 as she normally did every day during lunch with her friends, pulled out her cell phone and scrolled through her social media feeds for the first time in several hours. Expecting to see nothing out of the ordinary, the 17-year-old Illinois native and die-hard One Direction fan was shocked to find out that Zayn Malik, a member of the chart-topping British-Irish boy band, had announced he was leaving the group.
“I was off social media for a few hours because I was in class, and then when I checked it, suddenly there were only four members of One Direction,” Deppermann said in an email. “It just goes to show that if you leave your phone or computer for even an hour, you can miss so much.”
For many people like Deppermann, social media closes the geographical gap between fan and celebrity. Information about actors and musicians that was, in decades past, only available in a magazine article or through a single, “can’t-miss” television appearance is now accessible on any device whenever a person desires.
The creation of status-updating social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, along with multimedia-based Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr, have changed the way fans interact with their favorite celebrities, music icons and role models, as well as each other.
More than two billion people worldwide actively use social media, according to a 2014 study performed by Ad Week, a magazine and website that specializes in media news. Fans now utilize social media to get closer than ever to their favorite stars, connecting with them on what feels like a personal level, though they may be no where near them in actuality.
Jake de Grazia, an Innovation Lab Project Manager at the University of Southern California Annenberg who researches sports and music fans, said that social media gives fans new means to learn more about public figures.
“Celebrities have the power to shape culture,” de Grazia said in an email. “The more their supporters know about them, the more likely the supporters are to hold the celebs accountable for how they conduct themselves and the examples they set.”
He added that social media platforms allow fans to speak directly to public figures, giving them the opportunity to send “fan mail” quickly, whenever they want.
“Even when artists and athletes don’t respond, fans can believe that their idols are seeing and enjoying their posts,” de Grazia said.
Musicians like Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas use Twitter to post personal content and update their fan bases on projects they are working on. These posts may garner thousands of tweets in response — though most go unreplied.
Just arrived at Jones Beach for the @1061BLI summer jam lot of good memories in this venue. Pumped for the show!
— Nick Jonas (@nickjonas) June 13, 2015
As a result, celebrities and other public figures, like Taylor Swift, New York Times best-selling author John Green and YouTube star Tyler Oakley, have now turned to social media sites like Tumblr to interact with fans on a more personal level.
Created in 2007 by David Karp, a high school dropout and then-20-year-old, Tumblr is a “microblogging platform and social media website that allows users to post multimedia and other content to a short-form blog,” according to a 2009 New York Times article.
Home to more than 243 million blogs and 114 billion posts, according to the site’s information page, Tumblr has become a place for fans of different musicians, television shows and movies to come together and form new-age fanclubs and subcultures known as “fandoms.”
Celebrities now have the chance to get a glimpse of how their fans interact with each other in these fandoms, even reblogging pictures or posts made by fans, as well as replying or commenting on posts made about themselves.
This kind of activity, which is unique to Tumblr, creates a meaningful experience for users and deepens fan engagement.
Samantha Grodsky, a 20-year-old college student, said that social media, including Tumblr, allows fans to share things like concert experiences with people who may not get the opportunity to go to a band’s concert, or have missed something special at a show played across the country.
“It helps to see the fun stuff from different places,” Grodsky said. “If your favorite band does something really awesome on stage at one place, you can go to YouTube or Tumblr to be able to experience it for yourself.”
Grodsky, a fan of the Australian pop-punk band 5 Seconds of Summer, added that social media has helped her connect with and befriend fans living in other states who also like the band.
Social media has made it possible to talk to musicians, athletes and actors all with just a few simple strokes on a keyboard. Fans now have the opportunity to have experiences and interactions that people could only dream about just a few decades ago.
“With social media, artists know first-hand what their fans think, and can interact with them in the most convenient way possible,” Deppermann said, adding that the social media accounts celebrities use are overall beneficial and helpful for fans. “I mean, how else would I know that Harry Styles learned how to say ‘walkie-talkie’ in French?”
Just learned how to say walkie talkie in French. — Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) May 1, 2015