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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Blogstar Delusion: We're Not As Famous As We Think We Are

Twitter wasn't the only story from SXSW. There was a second thing I noticed at the show that far fewer people are writing about.  It is a topic that I have wanted to write about for some time now, and it always comes up after I have the chance to attend another interactive or social media event.  It is a growing phenomenon that I call the Blogstar Delusion.  This is the too common situation where a semi-famous blogger assumes that everyone has heard of him or her because they have legions of followers at events like SXSW and online.  This is not a criticism of any single person, just a note about a trend that I have seen with increasing frequency.  Of course, meeting people who have an outsized view of themselves is not unique to bloggers.  So what is causing this rise of blogstar delusions?

In part, it is the growing popularity of blogs ... but the real culprit is each one of us. Every time you treat a blogger that you admire like a rockstar, you are encouraging the rise of the blogstar delusion. As any parent will tell you, if you want to discourage a certain kind of behaviour, don't unintentionally reward it.  So, to do my part - I am making a pledge to help reduce the number of blogstar delusions in the world by doing the following:

  1. Do not allow myself to suffer from blogstar delusions.
  2. Treat any blogger like a real person rather than a movie star.
  3. Interact with bloggers, regardless of Technorati rank, as peers.
  4. Avoid joining any group engaging in idolatry towards bloggers.

Any other pledges you would add to this list?  Join me and help curb the spread of the blogstar delusion ... it is taking over the world of social media far too fast, and we all need to do our part to help fight it.

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Comments

I think you're right to point this out. Unchecked, the blogosphere wil become an echo chamber...doing little good!

Does this mean I can't have a lock of your hair to add to my Rohit Bhargava scrapbook?

Thanks for making me stop and think. I do see this tendency in social media circles. We blog about blogging and celebrate the A-listers while the vast majority of those outside the fishbowl still don't read blogs, let alone write one.

Good words to live by. I'm curious about point #4, though....does that mean no Digg, Sphinn, Reddit, etc?

#5 Be sure to think long and hard about going on tirades about another blogger's opinions, thinking that yours is superior.

Ah...thank you so much Rohit.

*Stands up slowly clapping in the back of the room*

I just hate not being able to go to restaurant without some sort of a disguise, the paparazzi camped outside my door and the way it's so hard to tell if someone is being friendly to me because they like me or because I'm Tangerine Toad.

Seriously though, you make an excellent point. It's easy to get trapped inside our digital worlds and forget that the vast majority of people- even in our business- do not read a single blog.

I think most of us begin blogging hoping to grab our own tiny piece of the "spotlight" and the transition of such bloggers as Perez Hilton and Tila Tequila to the mainstream do their part of fueling our blog star fantasies.

A compelling counter note is to recognize the almost immediate failure of the television series Quarterlife. The lesson there: nobody in the 'real world' cares about blogging nearly as much as we bloggers do... and we're so glued to our computers that we're not watching television with the rest of the world.

Hi Rohit! You did such an excellent job of containing your excitement at meeting moi. Thank you for letting me experience normalcy again.

Yeah, I can't even pull a diva without laughing to myself.

Seriously, the girl that sits next to me in the community college chorus is way more famous than I am because she auditioned for American Idol and has really long hair.

I was actually surprised at how few of the blogstars I knew of at SXSW. If they don't write what I read, I don't give them much attention anyway. I remember people piling into a few panels to see someone I assume was famous. Meanwhile, I was trying to find the quickest, easiest path to the door because they must have been way better writers than speakers.

Hi Rohit,

You really are a rockstar :) Just kidding . I like point no 3 above thats what Social Media is all about, treating novices and experts the same. On the flip side at SXSW I was surprised by the friendliness of bloggers with or without a following.

You are absolutely right we should not hold anyone to a pedestal and spoil them to delusionment.

Shashi

This happens in every industry, not just blogging. I refer to these folks as "Niche-ly Famous."

In their industry or circle of influence they are the rockstars, but outside of that group of folks no one knows who they are.

Measuring a blogger by their Technorati ranking is like measuring a movie by its box office earnings. Some bloggers are too busy promoting themselves to actually have something valuable to say. Some people are too busy actually making things happen to blog or Twitter every time they step out of bed. Focusing on the message rather than the Technorati rating of the messenger seems key.

When it comes to empty blogstars, just like poorly made but heavily promoted movies, just say no! There are too many valuable bloggers out there to waste your time.

It's good to see this out there.

One of the things I liked is that big name bloggers were very approachable and chill at SXSW. And I met some people who are HUGE to me, but probably don't have immense followings. In the future everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

The broader issue might be that the geek niche is encouraging a kind of clique behavior.
Self-aggrandizement is merely funny, from the outside. And people who think they can change the world occasionally do help shape the social system in their image. But there's a kind of myopia involved in the blogcentric world.

Actually, it was quite fun to walk around Austin during SXSWi. Most of the city was largely unaffected by the interactive conference.

Ok. So what does make a blogger a rockstar? Just curious. ;)

Wow! I think you lit off a corker on this one. And so true.

I mean an audience of hundreds daily? Who don't buy anything? Enough to make you take drugs, OD and have everyone buy your book? I don't think so ;)

Rohit
There is actually a cartoon in the current issue of the New orker, with that rock star delusion. A husband hunkered down in his chair declaring to his bored-looking wife something like, "Do I have to remind you i have a large following online?"

Rohit
There is actually a cartoon in the current issue of the New Yorker, with that rock star delusion.

A husband hunkered down in his chair declaring to his bored-looking wife something like,
"Do I have to remind you I have a large online following?"

I wrote a post about this last year after SXSW. I wish I was a cool kid :)

Great post, really made me think - I do think it's interesting how some "super" bloggers are so revered, when judging by the amount of time they spend on blogs, forums and Twitter etc, they aren't necessarily doing very much apart from talking about social media.

A great writer is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but I don't think it makes you a rock star. Besides, I'm a journalist, we don't *do* deference.

Not that I'd ever qualify as a blogstar, but, nonetheless, we really do need to get over ourselves. Let me add this to the list: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Not that I'd ever qualify as a blogstar, but, nonetheless, we really do need to get over ourselves. Let me add this to the list: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Wow, I don't think there's anything to day that hasn't been said, but thanks for posting!

Have you seen any studies that link cross channel behavior between social media and real purchases?

Rohit this is a great point and a reminder to we bloggers that have begun to see our audience and influence increase. We cannot forget that we owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to anyone that willingly decides to spend time with the content we create. That is HUGE, and if we ever take that for granted, we are screwed.

And it doesn't have to be that way, there were incredibly popular bloggers at SXSW, such as yourself, Chris Brogan, and Shel Israel, that were very approachable and making a point to talk to everyone that they could.

But as others have said already, a lot of it is simply about getting over ourselves. The real celebrities are the people that are great enough to read our blogs.

I love this post. Completely, and not just because Mack Collier just said nice things about me in the comments. I saw the link from Geoff Livingston's site, fell in love with the sentiment, subscribed to your blog, and am ready to buy your book.

So there.

And yet, I have a habit of calling people rockstars and superheroes. I even have a rockstars page, which is my blogroll of sorts. Why? I have a method to my madness. When *I* use the term, I apply it to anyone who chooses to use these tools to voice their opinion and give light to their passions. In that way, I think there are TONS more blogstars out there. In THAT way.

To your point, I'm forever grateful to meet people at events, and sometimes it's a little weird when they treat me differently because of some perceived status thing, because believe me, I'm just a dude who can type fast, and who makes occasional audio and video. I'm no better/different/whatever than anyone.

And I'll tell you what else, the folks I look up to in the space? They're just regular people, too. In fact, the precious few folks I run across who act all rockstar-like and MEAN IT? (because sometimes people just like to be funny about that). Oddly, they have a habit of becoming yesterday's news, I think. Do you agree?

Thanks for a killer post.

This is such an interesting function of the 'attention economy' where we gravitate towards sources that other people have validated to spend our precious attention currency.

But, the blogger doesn't have time to give attention to everyone following them. Even this post, can you respond individually to each comment?

So, you end up with bloggers that are knowledgeable seeming inaccessible (probably not true). Fortunately, with a little effort, most readers can get engaged with bloggers. There's nothing to be afraid of, they are people too. ;)

I've said it at my place, at other places, at MediaPost and all the time offline.

Do not focus on rankings. Focus on the relationships you can cultivate through this amazing medium.

Rankings come and go--but friends and colleagues stick...if you treat them with care. That's why we need to be mindful of your points above and hold events like Blogger Social where no one is on a pedestal...everyone is equally valuable and only expected to be down-to-earth and keeping it real.

Wow, it looks like this post sparked lots of latent thoughts from people! I'm not used to this many comments to be honest, so it's been tough to keep up with them and comment back. Especially when blogging isn't my day job ... but here it goes:

Nedra - If only I had the hair to spare! But hopefully we can connect in LA when I'm there next week.

Paul - I would position Digg, Sphinn and the like as being all about promoting great content (if they work) and not individuals. You could easily disagree, though ... as none of those tools work as they are ideally supposed to because of folks that game the system.

Meg - It was a thrill to meet you, and I think you had a really interesting perspective because you came from a different world as you noted. When I went recently to speak in the only marketing panel of a day long event at a top business school, I met MBAs in finance who not only had never heard of me, they hadn't heard of Ogilvy and were even somewhat skeptical of the power of the Internet! Talk about a reality check.

Kim - You're right that this isn't limited to bloggers. Perhaps it's just the visible nature of blogs that makes it more noticeable ... or more likely the fact that this is the world I work and live in, so I'm more in tuned to it.

Kare - That is a great cartoon, we should all keep it on our desks to remind ourselves that blog fame is not absolute.

Sally - Interesting point about journalists not "doing deference." If that's true, perhaps we all need to take a few lessons from this. I remember living in Australia and listening to Will Smith do an interview several years ago for one of his movies that was filmed in Australia. He was asked about the difference between American and Australia and told a story of how in America, he was once driving and was nearly ridden off the road by an over zealous fan who just wanted his autograph. In Australia, he was working out on an exercise machine next to someone for 40 minutes who never said a word. After their workout, the person simply said "see you later, Will" and left. Perhaps it is a cultural thing for people to go overboard when they have a small taste of fame. I wonder if Darren from ProBlogger is such as "rockstar" in Australia.

Jon - I think there are likely studies pointing to the use of social media as a big influencing factor. We have those kinds of results for several of our clients. Not to say it is the only thing, but it does have a big impact if used correctly.

Mack - You're right that the real people we should thank are those who are kind enough to read our words and interact with us. It was great to meet you in person too and looking forward to spending more time with you at Blogger Social.

Chris - Thanks for your kind words and for giving me a clear revenue model for the site. See, Jon? There's an example of the return on social media! Coincidentally, Chris' comment reminded me of an old post that Guy Kawasaki did on his blog about a month after he started blogging. It was a really interesting look at his book sales and how they had a big spike on Amazon which he directly attributed to his blogging. Clearly there is a value here worth paying attention to.

John - You raise a great point, it has taken me too long even to go through all these comments, but it is an important thing to remember because it raises the question of scale.

Thanks to everyone for all your great comments so far!

TV, movies, rock concerts...they're all modeled on the notion of making people larger than life. And so, the "stars" get treated as such - much to their detriment, I'm convinced.

Since blogging is such a ground-up endeavor, we have the chance to simply live life with and before one another, and treat each other as those with equal value and dignity.

How's that for changing the world...!

I love this blogpost. Kudos to you.

Good stuff Rohit. I agree that it's something all of us should be aware of to not fall into the traps you bring up.

From my perspective--a corporate blog point of view--it seems a bit easier. While the semi-celebrity status may be part of what we walk into, it's pretty easy for me to remember that I'm just a small part of a larger team that's committed to getting the work done.

That, and the fact that it's not about us (and the company we happen to represent)... it's about our customers. Nothing like that reality to keep things in perspective.

That said, it looks like you have some rockstar commenters gathering here. :)

Thanks for the post.

Rohit,
Thanks for your comments, your post rings true to many of our clients who have the perception that bloggers are ego centric, want to listen to what will make them bigger, and are acting like some journalists in the early days of PR - prima donnas.
Let's make a pledge to not be condescending when a client, partner, blogger approaches us with honest issues, concerns and questions about what the blogsphere means to the bottom line versus what it means to be ranked as a top blogger or known in navel-gazing events.
William

Thanks, Rohit! I certainly enjoyed meeting you. I hope we get to meet up again sometime because it's rare to come across people like you that are so insightful. I'm so sick of people who just throw around shallow references to new technologies without providing any real ideas.

And yes, I guess I do have a different perspective/background (on many accounts). To be honest, sometimes I feel a bit like a poser when I get around "real" business people or "real" computer nerds or "real" writers or "real" fashionistas, but then I appreciate that I can see things differently because I'm coming at things with a fresh perspective. Still, it can be intimidating when the so-called expert innovators poo-poo ideas because they are outside of their experience.

'Blogstar', and the more generic 'star' applied to any high achiever, is an interesting appellation.

Think about it. There are billions of stars. Most are very dim.

Rohit; Wow, I just got to this string, and your sentiment is clearly resonating. The truth is that none of us are famous, we are just lucky that people choose to read our stuff at all. When people say that kind of thing about myself or others, I always push back. As one of my friends says, these are people that are "Internet" famous.

I remember a few years ago, someone made a list of all of the "famous" bloggers that they had met and one of the comments said something like, "Well, maybe these people are famous in the US, but I have never heard of them."

I realize I'm late to this thread, but I couldn't help cheering as I read the post. I'll add the following pledge:

Don't name-drop about semi-famous blogstars that you may have Twittered with once. Blogstars are bad enough without groupies.

hi Rohit! man this is unique and very much different written post by you,thats great

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