A Twitter Race to Nowhere

Fame Junkie Ashton Kutcher wants you to follow him.  Dont expect him to follow back.

Fame Junkie Ashton Kutcher wants you to follow him. Don't expect him to follow back.

Despite the fact that he can’t spell very well, B-movie actor Ashton Kutcher is on the verge of having one million followers on Twitter.

In a publicity stunt that is being breathlessly covered by the mainstream media, the blogosphere and on Twitter, Kutcher has been racing news cable station CNN to be the first one to hit the one million mark.

I’m not sure what it means other than tons of free publicity for Kutcher, CNN and Twitter.  But its clear that Kutcher, the star of “Dude, Where’s My Car” and “What Happens in Vegas,” is fast becoming the P.T. Barnum of social media.

I have the same problems with this stunt as I did last month when Ellen DeGeneres joined Twitter and immediately started begging people to follow her – and offering nothing in return (other than more fame for Ellen).

It’s clear that celebrities have invaded Twitter – from MC Hammer to Miley Cyrus.  Amazingly, Twitter has been praised as a communications tool that connects like-minded people – so you can interact, teach, learn and discover new ideas.  Companies are using it for customer relationship management, marketing and promotions, and building awareness for their products and services.

The power of Twitter is in its ability to micro-target audiences.  So if I’m Starbucks and someone follows me – I know they are interested in what I have to say.  They have opted in for the conversation.  Starbucks then returns the favor of following back that person to strengthen the ability to communicate together.  That’s why Starbucks has 141,341 followers and is following 131,505 people.

Twitter brings together all kinds of people and makes sharing information easy.  Key word – sharing.  We’ve recently  seen the power of Twitter and social media when people ban together on the web – from the protests against Amazon.com for allegedly making gay and lesbian literature “adult” content to Domino’s PR crisis from having two employees pretending to “violate” sandwiches.

That’s not the case with celebrities.  Just like the gated communities where they live – celebrities have already created an exclusive community on Twitter (call it Beverley Tweet or Tweeterwood).  They don’t follow regular people, they follow other celebrities.  They aren’t interested in one-on-one communication or interacting with their fans.  They are interested in using Twitter as a bullhorn to sell themselves and their products (be it music, movies or TV shows).

Kutcher follows 72 people and now has more then 962,000 followers.  He follows Michael Phelps, Larry King, Miley Cryrus, Ryan Seacrest and John Mayer.  And they follow him back.  A nice gated community where everyone else can peek in and gaze at them from the outside.  Typical Hollywood.  Typical celebrity mentality.  We are nothing but an audience to people like Kutcher.

That’s why its nearly laugh out loud funny when Kutcher tweets: “Today we decide if we want gatekeepers for social thought or democratization of media.”  Really?  Is that what Kutcher thinks is going on?  That his quest to beat CNN is about freedom of information and democracy (nevermind the fact that CNN is actually a symbol of a free press and democracy around the globe)?  He thinks he’s competing with CNN for expression?

If that is so then why is he offering gifts and donations to charity so people will follow him?  Isn’t that like rigging an election?

What would really send a message is for everyone to stop following people like Ashton Kutcher.  What if we followed people on Twitter – not because they were already famous – but of because of the what they offered?  Ideas, creativity, humor, insight?

Yeah, I know that’s not going to happen.  But it would be nice if it did.

UPDATE: Kutcher beats CNN to one million.

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