Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't confuse celebrity with influence

The cult of celebrity has gripped the 21st Century pretty firmly. You only have to plot the appearances of reality television participants and the webpages devoted to talent-less hotel empire heiresses, to see how much this phenomenon has grown.

(Hint: if you actually do want to plot the popularity of those in the public eye, see sites such as http://qdos.com/ and MSN's xRank service)

Celebrity is also not just a traditional media focus, it affects digital media as well. 4 of the top 10 entertainment sites are blogs and actors, (soda) pop stars & others take up a significant amount of the top search engine places, with some stars' search results very likely to infect your PC from dodgy downloads such as screensavers.

So, are these pop-stars, footballers, models and other media darlings true influencers?

Not necessarily!

The relationship between a celebrity and their fan base is often termed 'Parasocial', meaning:

“the seeming face-to-face relationship that develops between a viewer and a
mediated personality”
This one-sided affair, increased thanks to 24 hour coverage of cultural icons, creates false / insecure relationships that are not an exact replica of the day-to-day relationships that normal people have. If influence is the ability of an individual to affect another's behaviour, then technically celebrties do have influence. For example in research by Cole & Letts in 1999 they found that 9% of the young people in their study stated that their idols had influenced some aspect of their attitudes and beliefs.

However, don't confuse the two. Just because a celebrity looks attractive or has something to say (most do), it doesn't make them automatic influencers. Others (Boon & Lomore 2001) has shown that while some participants in a Canadian study indicated strong attractions to their celebrity idols, the participants did not feel they were inspired to change their own behaviour based on those celebrities’ lives, choices or accomplishments.
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