Chris Brown’s comeback performance at the Grammys on Sunday set off an immediate firestorm of disapproval on Twitter this week. Notably, country singer Miranda Lambert took issue with the fact that Brown, convicted of felony assault against his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, was invited to perform at music’s most prestigious award show. She tweeted, “Twice? I don’t get it. He beat on a girl… Not cool that we act like that didn’t happen. He needs to listen to Gunpowder and lead and be put back in his place. Not at the Grammys.” “Gunpowder & Lead” is Lambert’s song about a woman confronting her physically abusive husband with a shotgun. Yikes. And the Twitter feud was on.
Aside from the obvious (and obviously important) “who’s right, who’s wrong” debate that’s ensued, what are we to make of this recent Twitter feud in terms of social media influence? Most everyone has heard the axiom, “all publicity is good publicity,” but how does it hold up in the social media world? It’s difficult to say anywhere near certainty in this particular case, but the social media excoriation (mostly) of Brown may have slowed his Twitter follower mojo since in the five days after his publicly-watched Grammy performance and win, and in the heat of the anti-Brown social media brouhaha that followed, he gained only 149 thousand followers in comparison to the same five day period in the previous week when he gained 191 thousand followers. So it is here that we could perhaps make the case that bad publicity was indeed bad publicity for Brown.
For new media artists, however, it may still be a different answer. The case for even the biggest new media artists being as famous and influential as Chris Brown, or even Miranda Lambert, is a pretty untenable one. As a burgeoning new media artist with a somewhat sizeable amount of followers, you’re better off looking to someone much less famous, like Farrah Abraham, one of the stars of MTV’s teen mom. In early December of last year she tweeted, “I’m shocked Kourtney Kardashian is pregnant again, did she not learn anything from TEEN MOM? Maybe it’s a fake pregnancy like kims wedding SAD.” Oh, snap. And the feud between Abraham and Kardashian was on – even Scott Disick, Kourtney’s baby daddy chimed in on Twitter, saying, “We’re not teenagers, ya f*cking moron.” Abraham, of course, gained press and followers, most of which were uncritical because they disliked anything Kardashian-related.
The loose rule is: if you’re not very famous, bad publicity is good publicity in terms of social media attention and followers because you can only go up. At the same time, be aware of the difference between quantity and quality. Let’s look at someone even less famous than Abraham – Kenneth Tong. Kenneth who? Exactly. Tong was a cast member of the UK’s “Big Brother” reality show for five days in 2009. In early 2011, Tong opened a Twitter account and began to charm the Twitter world with tweets promoting a weight loss program that centered around a “size zero pill.” His “managed anorexia” Twitter campaign included tweets like “get thin, or die trying,” and “Go look in the mirror and hate yourself.” He got the Twitter attentions of people like Rihanna, Simon Cowell and Katy Perry, and boom, he had over ten thousand followers in a week’s time. Of course, Tong later went on to reveal that he was really just trolling Twitter, but by then he had already gotten the attention and followers he had aimed for.
So as a new media artist, keep in mind that trolling or feuding for followers is not always a winning strategy in terms of quality, even if it is in terms of quantity. Generally, you don’t want to feud with anyone you can’t win against – someone who is beloved, someone who will troll you harder, someone who you have no ammunition against. Try taking a page from rappers – beef with a peer, drum up publicity and make up. Everyone wins.