The Power of Celebrity: Emotion, Authenticity, and Engagement


Did you know that One Direction star Harry Styles is the happiest celebrity on Twitter? I have to confess that was news to me too. Data scientists at the semantics analytics firm Adoreboard used the text analysis methodology Toneapi ?to detect and interpret emotions in tweets from 100 celebrities, highlighting feelings such as joy, anger, surprise, trust, and annoyance. It found that Styles was the most chipper during an 8-month period.

Styles, at the time of this writing, has more than 27 ?million Twitter followers. Adele came in second place, with Indian film actor Aamir Khan coming in third. Styles' tweets do seem cheery-his timeline reveals a polite young man who sends regular shoutouts to fans, expresses concern for those caught up in natural disasters and world events, and gives thanks a lot.

This may sound as if it's a trivial addition to celebrity "news," but a closer look at the research suggests some broader implications for content marketers and social media communicators. As Chris Johnston, Adoreboard's founder and CEO points out, "[T]hose celebrities that express strong emotions like joy or rage on Twitter are more likely to receive retweets or favourites. We found that the strength of each emotion expressed by a celebrity-known as their ‘activation levels'-provides a good indicator as to how often they will be retweeted."

Gary McKeown, senior lecturer for the school of psychology at Queen's University-Belfast, puts this into context: "We are emotionally curious beings. ... This translates to online and broadcast worlds in which we pay attention to celebrities who are, in some ways, virtual social group members that we value. More intense emotions are likely to attract more attention and can prime action tendencies in an observer. In an online setting this would typically mean an increased likelihood of a retweet, a favourite or a like."

As McKeown points out, people constantly try to align themselves with others they value in their social group. And, of course, social media provides the perfect hunting ground for identifying ever-larger groups of people with ever-more specific shared interests. The British band The 1975 released their second album in February of this year. In anticipation, I revisited their music on Spotify. I discovered that the band had more than 6 million listeners on the platform-with 231,373 based in London; 92,941 in Manhattan; 76,443 in Los Angeles; and 61,293 in Mexico City.

Famously, at the end of 2015, Spotify placed outdoor advertising in neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to highlight the most popular artists streamed in each area, with Justin Bieber's "Sorry" winning out in Brooklyn's trendy Williamsburg neighborhood. But this sort of detailed user data has a lot more potential than just creating attention-grabbing publicity stunts.

Speaking at Social Media Week in February, Spotify's creative director, Richard Frankel, explained the importance of data for the streaming site's ongoing engagement with customers and potential customers. In Frankel's view, "context is God."

No amount of celebrity input or in-depth data analysis will capture customer interest if the engagement doesn't bring with it a sense of authenticity and trust. Also making it into the top 10 happiest celebrites on Twitter list is actress Emma Watson, who is building a considerable profile as a committed and energetic UN (United Nations) Women Goodwill Ambassador. In early 2015, Watson tweeted that she was considering launching an online feminist book club and asked for input and ideas from her 21 million Twitter followers. From that small seed, the club-Our Shared Shelf-was up and running on the book recommendation website Goodreads in a matter of days and had more than 117,000 members by the start of March. As a result, sales of the club's first book selection, Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road, soared.  

It is no surprise that Watson's sphere of influence is growing. Her social media presence is open, knowledgeable, and unmistakably her voice. While data and sentiment analysis can reveal important insights into customer engagement, there is no substitute for authenticity.