Well, they say that sex sells, and I guess sex can sell social media as well as anything else. That must have been what the editors at Vanity Fair had in mind when they commissioned the article on “America’s Tweethearts,” which is running in the February issue.
For those of us who are serious about social media, this puff piece is a disservice to the power of Twitter. You should read it, if for no other reason than to see what kind of treatment social media is getting in the mainstream media. The article is about six successful entrepreneurs who have built a following on Twitter to support their personal brands. These women, social strategist Julia Roy, PR professional Sarah Evans, travel journalist Stefanie Michaels, actress Felicia Day, lifecaster Sarah Austin, and marketing pro Amy Jo Martin, have figured out how to harness Twitter to gain a following of thousands, or millions. I follow some of these ladies online, and I know they are not vapid or brainless, but that is how they are portrayed in this article. To quote from Felicity Day’s blog:
“Well, despite the overwhelming insinuation, these women ALL of them are self-made, business entrepreneurs. They aren’t skating by on their good looks, they have businesses. In some of their cases, with professional sports teams and major brands, they help steer the online presence of empires. They are a new kind of savvy business person, cutting the middle man out. Carving and creating new professions. Most importantly, in this celebrity culture of “Jersey Shore” fame, they aren’t just “famous” for being “famous” as the article implies. They have influence in an emerging and important arena. I guess that just wasn’t an interesting angle? I mean, we’re practically naked in trench coats, who needs MORE zing?!
That’s the point. Sex sells, and the image of six attractive women dressed in suggestive attire will trump whatever they might want to say that is important. They could be advocating en end to terrorism or selling snow cones – it wouldn’t matter, the message would be lost. And as Mark Drapeau points out, “These ladies were the focus of an article published in a print magazine about people and vanity. The magazine doesn’t have a track record of understanding technology very well, or using it themselves.”
So no matter what your level of outrage about this article, whether you are offended that it seems racist or because it is sexist, remember that it’s the media that is the message. If these attractive entrepreneurs are going to be blinded by the flashbulbs and pose for this photo, then the outcome is a foregone conclusion. You can’t be too offended because this is, after all, Vanity Fair, and not a technical or business journal. Twitter is for the masses, and as Drapeau points out, it even has a silly name so why should we take it so seriously?
Twitter, like any publishing medium, is only as serious as you want to make it. It can be a serious marketing and branding tool, or it can be just for fun, like this article. If nothing else, the article raises awareness for Twitter and highlights its popularity. Who knows, maybe this kind of exposure will turn that $1 billion valuation for Twitter the company into real revenue.
So where do you stand on this article? Amused? Annoyed? Ambivalent? Let me know.