One-in-three Millennials want to be famous, according to a survey by YouGov. They should be careful what they wish for. “When you become famous, being famous becomes your profession”, warns James Carville. When someone unexpectedly has a post go viral on social media, they start to post more, and make their future posts more like the post that went viral, in an attempte to recapture the glory. Unfortunately fame is a fickle friend: attention usually fades rapidly. For 50% of those who experience a popularity shock, the effect fades away within the first 5 days, and for 90% it ends within 39 days of the shock. Behavioral economics tells us people feel loss worse than an equivalent gain, so after their 15 minutes of fame dies down, they’re left more miserable than before. Not to mention you’re now Googleable to future employers, colleagues, partners, with little to no pay off to show for it.
Of course some people do make it, 0.0086% to be exact, if you divide the number of ‘notable’ people on WIkipedia and divide it by the global population. Fame can bring fortune, but it comes at a price. In order to maintain and grow your audience, you need to give them what they want. Being data-driven and using audience feedback as your sole source of truth can lead down a dark path. Celebrities get death threats. In some cases they have to pay millions of dollars for insurance and protection. At best their privacy gets invaded constantly. They’re robbed of ever making a first impression again: people already know you, and often it’s as a distorted one-dimensional character. Human beings have a multitude of interests and idiosyncrasies, however a brand has to be clear and distinct to keep its place in memory. "Specialization is for insects", the science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein famously wrote. We aren’t comfortable being constrained to one shape for long, and it can be difficult to escape once we’ve been pigeon-holed. Only by pandering to the crowd can you still keep getting the likes, comments, shares you need to stay influential, so its the crowd that influences you. Your brand image — who the audience expects you to be — rarely stays in alignment with your ideal image — the person you want to be. By chasing the approval of others, you may, in the end, lose the approval of yourself.
This phenomenon is called audience capture, and it can have dire consequences. Take the case of Nicholas Perry, an amateur violinist and vegan when he first joined YouTube, now morbidly obese at 350 pounds, after feeding his six million subscriber’s demand for ever more spectacularly grotesque eating challenges. We’ve seen the polarization of the mainstream media into far right and far left due to the same phenomenon. When your media organization is dying and you find you’re getting millions of views for positively or negatively coverage of Donald Trump, you have no choice but to follow the money. On an individual level, audience capture also can explain why some people expouse conspiracy theories, or other socially shunned topics. When they’re online in a filter bubble they can get the impression everyone agrees, only to become rejected and socially isolated when they encounter normal people. That forces them underground, deeper into the realms of irrationality, radicalising them further, causing them to lash out.
If you do manage to pull off back to back miracles — 1. get famous, 2. avoid polorization — your absolute best case scenario is to become mediocre. The only way to appeal to everybody, is to inspire passion from nobody: you have to get rid of the rough edges that make you interesting. If you tell a joke that only 1 in 1,000 people find offensive, you could tell that joke your whole life without ever offending anyone. Elon Musk, with his 100 million Twitter followers, could tell the same joke and offend 100,000 people (especially the bots)! That’s without even taking into account that as your fame rises you become the most prominent representation of groups people dislike. If you hate billionaires, you’re going to especially hate the richest one. Or more likely you don’t really hate billionaires, but your social cache will increase by attacking them, or it’ll motivate your political base, or it’ll serve the narrative that you’re “one of us” to a group you’re aspiring to. Sometimes maybe you’re just trolling them because you can’t stand feeling so small and powerless all the time. Just pray that you don’t accidentally get famous in doling out that sweet social justice, or the target will be on your back soon enough.
Polls Say We’re a Generation Seeking Fame. Here’s Where That Will Lead Us
'Specialization Is for Insects'
Don't feed the trolls: never take unconstructive criticism personally
James Carville Quote
The Perils of Audience Capture
The whole sad story of audience capture in a paper.