According to recent statistics, more than
175 million tweets are sent daily, and 11 accounts are created every second on
Twitter. One celebrity who boasts the highest amount of global subscribers is
singer Lady Gaga who enjoys more than 40 million Twitter followers.
Now, University of Missouri communication
researchers have found that online social media gives users an outlet to
embrace their differences and provide emotional support to others while
deepening perceived relationships they feel they have with celebrities.
“Our work tends to focus on studying
audiences who are maligned or consider themselves awkward,” said Melissa Click,
assistant professor of communication in the MU College of Arts & Science.
“In our study of Lady Gaga followers, we found that she uses social media not
for promotion but rather as a communication tool with her fans.
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She shares personal and ‘insider’
information through social media and develops feelings of intimacy with her
followers. By revealing her embrace of her own differences and unusual behaviours
she allows her followers to embrace their own differences.”
Click and her team found in some cases
emotional support was a matter of life or death. Researchers interviewed
several fans who identified as gay, who had eating disorders, who considered
themselves different or who were taunted relentlessly.
They reported that Gaga instilled strength
in them through her acceptance of their differences, which gave them a reason
to live. In addition, the social support network Lady Gaga fosters encourages
her followers to be more charitable to each other, Click said.
Often fans create support communities that
allow her followers to encourage and inspire others in times of difficulty.
“We found that among the more salient
themes that emerged from our research was that participants’ perceived
relationships with Gaga affected how close they felt to her,” Click said. “They
felt that she is the voice who celebrates their differences instead of mocking
them, and this was a very positive thing.”
Researchers conducted one-on-one interviews
with 45 self-identified “Little Monsters", or followers of Lady Gaga, who
ranged in ages from 14 to 53, were equally male and female and who equally
identified as gay or straight.
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Using software including Skype and Google
Chat to communicate with followers from the US, Australia, Europe, Asia and
Africa, among others, researchers asked how social media impacted their
interest in and relationship to Lady Gaga. Researchers also asked interviewees
about their feelings toward Lady Gaga’s social activism.
The research, “Making monsters: Lady Gaga,
fan identification, and social media", was conducted by Click and graduate
students, Hyunji Lee and Holly Willson Holladay, both in the Department of
Their work was published in the journal
Popular Music and Society, a peer-reviewed social scientific journal. Click and
her team are working on a second piece that examines Lady Gaga’s political
activism and how she encourages her Facebook and Twitter followers to be more
active in the political system.
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