Social media becomes catalyst for rising celebrities

The power brokers of the world have heretofore had a number of methods for wielding influence over society at large. TV, radio and newspaper advertisements, speeches, rallies, etc. The lead-up to Super Tuesday’s primaries has seen the candidates utilize all of these in an effort to garner support.

This campaign has also seen an expansion of a trend started four years ago by Howard Dean: the effective use of the internet for everything from fund-raising to rallying the base to propagating a candidate’s message throughout the nation.

Candidates like Ron Paul and Barack Obama have been able to leverage the web community to exponentially increase awareness of their campaigns. Paul has gained particularly strong support from the most avid internet users, and the result has been a disproportionate amount of coverage related to his campaign on key social news sites like Digg.com and Reddit.com.

Despite widespread popularity, the internet hasn’t been enough to push Paul’s campaign over the top into success, but Obama has undoubtedly benefited: of the $32 million he raised for his campaign in January, 88 percent came from online donations. That’s hardly chump change.

The political candidates are far from the only ones to benefit from intelligent use of the power of social media. Perhaps the best example of using the movement effectively is illustrated by Kina Grannis, the winner of the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl“ contest.

The top prize of the contest, a record deal with Interscope and a 60-second clip from her music video aired during the Super Bowl, is perhaps the best kickoff to a career a singer could hope for. And the means by which Grannis achieved her victory? Leveraging the social aspects of the internet.

Grannis is certainly not lacking in talent; record company experts selected her as one of the top 10 entrants into the contest. But her musical style, with clean vocals accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar, is not exactly what one would expect to appeal most to the MySpace denizens voting in the contest.

Rather, I believe Grannis secured her victory with a very careful and intelligent grass roots publicity campaign that leveraged the power of the internet. When she made the top 10, Grannis launched a blog, twoweeksforkina.com, to gain support and followers.

On that blog, she recorded and posted YouTube videos of her performing a new song every day for two weeks (hence the “two weeks“ in the blog title). Some were covers, others original, but all were catchy and all included a note to go to her blog, where she asked people to vote for her in the contest.

This was already a much more proactive strategy than most of her competition employed, but Grannis hit the real jackpot when she recorded a catchy tune called “Gotta Digg,“ about the popular website Digg.com. With lyrics like “I always dig up apple and I bury Microsoft,“ the song showed a sincere understanding of the site’s culture and hit the bull’s eye in appealing to the Digg demographic.

Just as critically, Grannis released this video Dec. 23, when news was generally slow due to the holidays. With little else to cover (at least compared to a normal week), the video was written up on many of the most popular blogs on the web (and, obviously, hit the front page of Digg). The video went viral and, as of press time, reached 362,947 views.

Thanks to this success, Grannis was able to rely on her internet-savvy Digg and blog audience to vote her into first the top three, and ultimately into the Super Bowl advertisement. She parlayed a little bit of internet smarts into a record deal and an opportunity to show her music off to the biggest possible audience.

As Tech students, most of us should have a pretty decent understanding of the internet; now, we must stop underestimating its power. The success Grannis enjoyed should be instructive: What’s stopping each of us from capitalizing on the power of social media?

Grannis’s song, “Message from Your Heart“, is available via iTunes.