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Celebrities on Twitter: Four Rules for Looking Marvelous

This post first appeared on The Marketing Week Blog

The hour was early, but Martin Clarke, online publisher of The Daily Mail, drew several hundred jet-lagged attendees Sunday morning to the first celebrity session of the 60th International Festival of Creativity—the Cannes Lions.

The attendees came to see Martha Stewart, Mel B, and Nick Cannon discuss the changing relationship between celebrities and media. What they came away with, though, was a primer on the proper use of Twitter by celebrities. That the three stars wanted to talk hashtags rather than old-line journalism may tell you something about the state of the relationship right there.

Traditional media, the stars offered, has been shunted out of the conversation, except as occasional moderators and amplifiers. Twitter, on the other hand, provides the direct connection between stars and their fans—and, if these three celebrities are any guide, that connection is carefully scrutinized.

“It used to be all about privacy,” said Nick Cannon, the American actor, rapper and comedian, “but now it’s all about control.” And about attention, too. While seemingly out of character for her, media goddess Martha Stewart ruefully admitted she gets a bit jealous when she sees the wealth of followers celebs like Justin Bieber have accumulated.

No matter what it is that drives them, these celebrities have mastered the art of attracting and retaining followers. Here’s how these stars stay large and in charge in a Twitter-ized world:

Be authentic

Have the good taste to tweet for yourself. Your followers can tell if you’re too self-important to type on your own phone, and they won’t like it one bit. Such authenticity extends to product endorsements. There may not be a church/state divide in the Twitter sphere as there is in traditional media, but celebrities should disclose if they’re being paid to talk something up. The public isn’t stupid and can tell if a promotion is sponsored or not. And if you like something, talk about it, even if you aren’t cashing checks. As Cannon said, “When Diddy posts a picture of himself holding a couple of vodka bottles, that’s real. I believe Diddy really does like vodka.”

Use social to promote the brand of “you”

Social media should serve your needs. Mel B, the former Spice Girl, said she uses Twitter for more than just fan connection. It’s become a business tool. She explained that after posting a picture of herself in a bikini, she was later approached to endorse a lingerie line. Cannon said he’s learned to defang the paparazzi by openly sharing pictures of his family online.

Inform appropriately

Use Twitter to spread information that is of interest to your followers, but consider how your opinions may be interpreted. Stewart happily raved about the tomatoes Provençal she had last night, but said she avoids frothing about hot-button issues such as politics. She sees herself as an editorial figure and manages her twitter feed with the same editorial sensibility. Cannon, as a comedian, said he “has no discretion on line,” an appropriate stance considering his line of work.

Be a grown-up

Don’t get into Twitter fights, as Cannon knows all to well. He told attendees of how he used to get into tweet battles, responding to snarky comments and escalating the war. Once the heat died down, he began to realize that was probably fighting with 13-year-old kids. “Isn’t there a more productive use of my time?” Cannon finally asked himself. Stewart said she refuses to respond to antagonizing posters, while Mel B, who “has been called every name there is,” just dismissed the haters as being unworthy of her attention.