Going Gaga over Rihanna: How Facebook Fandom Is Revolutionizing the Way We Connect

The big news (in some circles) the other day was that Rihanna ousted Lady Gaga as the most popular person on Facebook. (It’s not all bad news for Gaga – she’s still queen of the Twitterverse.) Which raises one big question:

Who Cares?

This is a rather flippant way of asking “Why do stories like this make the news?” The simple answer is that a lot of people care. 40 million—or 80 million really, which is roughly the combined figure of the two singers’ total Facebook fans. Of course many of these are likely duplicates, but even if we take the lower figure, it’s a sizable chunk of the US population.

In a Way, We All Care

But why Facebook fans, or Twitter followers  for that matter? Why not record sales or downloads or concert attendance, the old ways of measuring the popularity of a performer? Why is this important at all?

The answer’s pretty easy. Connections. Social media has changed the experience of being a fan. Buying a record or CD and listening to it is a relatively solitary act. Going to a concert is more social, to be sure, but is also an infrequent occurrence. But being a Facebook fan or a Twitter follower gives us, in however small a way, a direct connection with the artist. On top of that, it connects us to other fans around the world with whom we can interact and share whenever we want.

Why Do We Care?

The liking of things, at least in our Western consumer-oriented culture, functions on two levels. The first is on a personal, even esoteric level. We don’t always consciously choose what we like; it just sort of happens. It’s not something we rationalize or think about too deeply. We like what we like. Why? Because we like it.

But the other level is about self-expression. Here, we do consciously choose to share certain things we like (and to hide other things we like) in order to send a message to others about who we are. And an important part of this process is finding other people who are like us.

With the advent of social media, sharing the things we like and making connections with others has become easier than ever before. It’s a very empowering change in the way we interact in that it gives us a good jolt of the positive feedback inherent in making such connections with very little of the consequences or energy-expenditure that accompanied making connections in the past.

Why do we care? Because it’s not about Rhianna or Lady Gaga. It’s about us.