/// Are Celebrity Accounts on Private Social Media an Oxymoron? Ask Chinese Pop Star Wang Leehom.
The value of a celebrity user on a social media service is often more than an endorsement. It’s not just “drink Gatorade because I say so” — but rather “follow me, and I’ll let you into my life.” But that doesn’t exactly work on a private social network, where the whole point is intimacy and reciprocity. For instance, despite her recent endorsement of Path , Britney Spears — someone who almost everyone knows a little and very few people know well — is not necessarily a natural fit for the personal network. In order to keep within Path’s limit of 150 friends, Spears’s team is reportedly planning to rotate fans through the available slots. Another way private social tools might handle this weirdness is to effectively “break” themselves for celebrities — to let super users have super powers to communicate with lots of people. This week, the private mobile social network Weixin did exactly that, with one of the biggest celebrities in China, pop artist Wang Leehom. For background, the American-born singer has released 25 albums since 1995, with an eclectic musical style that’s heavy on romantic ballads (see below). He’s a spokesman for Coke, Nikon, Nike and others. Meanwhile, Weixin is a mobile messaging app from Tencent that has seen explosive growth in the past year , with more than 100 million users. Users can send voice, text, pictures and video updates in one-on-one or group conversations. Almost everything is private; users are limited to 20 friends, and there are no public posts. Wang Leehom is one of the most popular users of Sina Weibo, with 16 million followers , and he just performed the first solo pop concert at the Beijing Olympics venue the Bird’s Nest on Saturday — for an audience of 90,000. On the occasion of the concert, Tencent expanded Weixin to allow Wang to connect to his millions of fans in a more personal way. Through a custom integration, Wang Leehom’s voice, video and text updates arrive in users’ inboxes, in line with their private conversations. A sample Weixin screenshot That way, when users send replies to Wang within the app, they go directly to him. Tencent had to design a Web interface for the product so Wang Leehom could deal with the volume. There’s actually a Silicon Valley angle here — the whole arrangement was brokered by Andreessen Horowitz partner Connie Chan, who is a personal friend of Wang Leehom’s. For now, it’s exclusively available to him. This isn’t a totally new idea; I’ve written a bit about a “voice Twitter” with celebrity users called Bubbly that’s big in India and elsewhere, and is backed by Sequoia Capital. But it’s particularly interesting in the recent context of the rise of mobile social apps and more private alternatives to Facebook