Look at me, I’m a true Belieber!

(this article has since been featured on The Huffington Post)

#5yearsJustinSigned was trending throughout the world on Twitter on Saturday, in celebration of the fact Justin Bieber was signed to Island Def Jam Records on 13 April 2008.

The hashtag was used more than 140,000 times to share ‘then and now’ photos of Bieber, alongside tens of thousands of emotional tweets from his passionate young fans.

For fans of Bieber, the illusion of accessibility has played a pivotal part in propelling the (still) teenage singer to global stardom.

While his tweets have provided daily fodder for the media, for his young fans, the ability to read what Bieber himself thinks has played a critical role in establishing his extraordinary level of fame.

With an increasing level of distrust in the media, the unmediated access to the ‘truth’, as reported by Bieber himself, helps to create a proximity to the star; in addition to maintaining the illusion of direct access to him.

In this context, it’s interesting to see Island Def Jam Records indicate they signed Bieber in October 2008, with fans appearing to have identified the 13 April 2008 date from old tweets. The few who pointed to this fact went ignored, indicating a greater level of trust in the ‘truth’ as established by the community through Twitter.

Follow me Justin!

Recent rumours that Twitter was making a change to the settings, which meant only @ mentions from people you follow would appear on your interactions, was met with howls of discontent from younger users whose tweets would, as a result, never be seen by their idol (unless the celebrity followed them back).

Despite the thousands of tweets sent to Bieber’s account every minute, the illusion he may one day read the tweet the fan has sent plays an important role in creating the perception he remains accessible.

This culminated in the #5yearsJustinSigned hashtag, with the date signifying an important milestone in the shared journey fans have been on with the young star.

Dedicated Bieber Twitter and Tumblr accounts abound and, because of his Twitter presence (and active use of the site), the Belieber community feel closer to the singer and perceive themselves to have played a personal role in helping to establish him.

Because of the metric driven nature of digital media, the increasing importance of dates and figures to younger users is also evident here, with anniversaries providing an opportunity to get a hashtag trending on a global level, before basking in the collective (and social) achievement.

This also functions at an individual level via quantitative ‘accomplishments’ that, quite literally, allow the user to measure their self-worth. Beyond the more obvious sense of triumph that comes via re-tweets and favourites, milestones such as the number of tweets sent are now celebrated as a personal achievement in and of themselves.

For a generation for whom documenting every aspect of their lives online has become second-nature, what escapes capture through social media is simply deemed irrelevant. This manifests itself in the need to photograph and share every ‘authentic’ moment to their social networks; ironically through ‘faux-authentic’ Instagrammed photos, which appear more dated and feel more ‘real’ as a result.

Authenticity is a particularly important concept when you’re one of millions of fans and need to stand out. There’s a pervasive feeling amongst his fans that, when the majority of a person’s tweets focus on one particular celebrity, the individual should be rewarded for their (quantifiable) dedication to the star ahead of those who are (measurably) ‘less deserving’.

The opportunity to rediscover and share old tweets, which prophesise something which subsequently came true, also provides a sense of satisfaction not too dissimilar to the rush to ‘break’ a news story to followers amongst older users on the site.

In the case of Bieber, his talent manager, Scooter Braun’s tweet from four years ago was widely re-tweeted and commented on again because of the anniversary.

The ability to see (and share) a snapshot of a history that’s been lived through and experienced on the very medium which has documented every step of that shared history between the fan and the idol is particularly powerful. It also encourages the teenager to forget there was a time before their fandom, with Twitter not there to document it and no immediately accessible record in existence (which also ties back to the digitally accelerated nostalgia trend we identified last year).

The Facebook fightback

With more and more younger people migrating from Facebook to Twitter, how does the social network respond?

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook would be introducing a small fee to contact celebrities, in the interest of reducing spam.

I suspect, however, part of this proposed move is to combat Twitter’s increased appeal to teenagers (and pre-teens).

One thing you’re unable to do on Twitter is to send a direct message to someone who doesn’t follow you and, even amongst the wildly optimistic, one would assume there’s at least some awareness Bieber, and stars like him, are unlikely to see your tweet amongst the many thousands that are directed at him every minute.

I wonder whether the real intention of Facebook is to create, what they hope will be perceived as, a more premium messaging service to the stars, where, for a ‘small’ fee of around £11, you can send a longer message to your idol.

Of course, the chance of the celebrity reading it remains low (and you can hardly blame Zuckerberg if they don’t), but it creates the perception there is a greater chance of it being seen than on Twitter.

However, part of the community driven appeal of Twitter, comes from the fact that, even if Bieber himself doesn’t see the @ message, fellow fans will.

If he does re-tweet or reply of course, the individual immediately has millions of followers bearing witness to Bieber’s personal affirmation of their status as the truest of fans.

Money aside, a private message on Facebook will always struggle to compete with that.

(In this related article, we examined what impact a celebrity tweet – in this case, Miley Cyrus – could have on a brand’s reputation)