Not all Twitter accounts are created equal. As Twitter has gained popularity, more and more people of note have started disseminating messages in 140 characters or less. Some of these people were already extremely well known before they took to Twitter, but some gain credit just by being on the site. “Twitter-famous” is one term for this status. Comedy producer, director, and writer Judd Apatow is an example of this, as a successful and influential member of the entertainment industry who found a way to connect with his existing fans and gained some more by virtue of his tweets after joining the site. He joined Twitter about two years ago, and he’s still going strong at an average of about 6 tweets per day. His 670,000 followers are evidence of his fame and his fan base. Obviously he is a popular Twitter presence; an academic analysis of how his tweets accomplish this hopefully will shed light on why.
Not all Twitter presences are constructed in the same way. In the article “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances,” Hugo Liu discusses the various ways that social media profiles can be distinguished based on our tastes and our online personas, separating them into four different, easily classifiable “taste statements.” The taste statement that conveys authenticity seems to be the one that most aptly fits Apatow’s social media performance. Liu explains that authenticity “is associated with a relaxed style and the display of slight imperfection” (p. 13). In the midst of Twitter, a community full of celebrities who are promoting glamorous lifestyles and non-celebrities who unabashedly aspire to those lifestyles, Judd Apatow is relentlessly down to earth. In this way, he breaks from form – if not differentiating himself from the Twitter community, his self-deprecation and humility certainly set him apart from his fellow Tweeters who are entrenched in the entertainment industry. When asked to retweet posts that have to do with charitable causes, he often complies, and he will answer genuinely interesting questions from Twitter users about his work and about comedy, regardless of their fame level. He also tends to write his tweets in a way that Liu characterizes as “moderately coherent” (p. 12). Not always using capital letters, making spelling mistakes, and using numerous sentence fragments enforce the fact that Judd Apatow himself is creating these posts, and this lack of a filter makes him authentic in his audience’s mind. Authenticity itself is “important in the eyes of some sub-cultures” (p. 13), Liu says, and this makes sense for Apatow’s fan base as well. Besides general fans of his work, his followers consist of comedy aficionados who might be fans of his cult-hit TV show Freaks and Geeks in addition to higher-grossing projects like Bridesmaids and Knocked Up. This more niche audience appreciates his respect for older or more involved fans, and everyone else might be confused about references to projects they haven’t seen, but will appreciate the rest of his tweets – but sometimes the consequences are more complicated.
This leads me to the issue of what happens when one’s “imagined audience” does not align with the actual audience in reality. This means that not all the tweets are going to have their intended effect. Judd Apatow’s Twitter highlights this phenomenon, described by Alice Marwick and danah boyd as “context collapse” in “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience.” The imagined audience that Apatow might be aiming his tweets at is not always the same as the audience who is actually reading those tweets. Oftentimes, Twitter users who are fans of his movies will follow him, expecting a stream of tweets exclusively about his professional life and the entertainment industry. His tweets don’t necessarily fit this profile. While he does certainly talk about his new movies and field questions about the old ones, he also tweets about doctor’s appointments, writer’s block, and his wife and kids, who are also on Twitter – sometimes to their annoyance or embarrassment, which they also express on Twitter, rounding out the authenticity of Apatow’s profile. He will sometimes retweet and reply to people who are disappointed in his tweets for whatever reason and say they will unfollow or even block him. The fact that he is willing to bring this to light, and to laugh at the imperfection of his own profile, further solidifies his status as an authentic Twitter. As Marwick & boyd point out, “we think we are speaking only to the people in front of us or on the other end of the telephone, but this is in many ways a fantasy” (p. 115).