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Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 9:02:48 AM
by amy kaufman
Fame game in the digital age: LaQuishe Wright is a social media manager for a handful of young celebrities including Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan and Zac Efron. She advises them on what to, and what not to, post to social media sites.
For Hollywood’s social media managers, tweeting is a living.
She knew they were waiting to hear from her – Channing Tatum’s millions of fans.
It had been more than an hour since LaQuishe Wright had posted a photo of the actor on his Twitter account, dressed in a suit “Headed to the Zeigfield.” Now she and Tatum had arrived at the White House Down premiere, and Wright needed to give his followers another update.
So as he began walking down the red carpet, posing for photographs and greeting reporters, she stayed close by. Glued to her iPhone, she was barely noticeable among the melee, a diminutive 38-year-old in an airy halter dress flanked by hulking bodyguards, publicists, studio handlers.
But Wright was one of the most important members of Tatum’s entourage that evening: she was his social media manager, paid to make sure his fans (8.2 million on Facebook, 5.3 million on Twitter and 2.6 million on Instagram) are aware of what he’s up to on a sometimes near-hourly basis.
As studio executives and casting directors increasingly factor in a celebrity’s digital fan base, maintaining a healthy online presence has become vital for Hollywood stars. That’s where Wright and a generation of her tech-savvy peers come in, helping to amplify and control the reputations of public figures via social media.
For social media buffs, it sounds like a dream job: Tweeting for a living. But Wright – whose client roster includes Zac Efron, Nicholas Sparks and movie studios like Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox – is constantly on-guard, making sure her clients sustain an appropriate tone and share the right content.
“A lot of celebrities have an aversion to Twitter, and I get it – they’re scheduled every four minutes of their life, and they don’t want to have to worry about it,” said Wright, who goes by “Q.” “But if you have a great social presence, that is a 100% benefit. Fans are more prone to go see Channing Tatum’s movie if he’s telling them about it – not a studio. And Hollywood is paying attention to that now.”
That’s partly because any tool that tracks online sentiment about a movie is important to studios. In recent months, traditional pre-release audience surveys intended to help predict a film’s box office opening have often proved to be unreliable. When one of Wright’s client’s projects is generating a lot of buzz online – as was the case for Tatum’s Dear John and Magic Mike, she clues studios in.
“As a studio, if we see a fanbase tweeting about our movies leading up to a release, we get excited – and often that’s the result of someone like Q helping to engage people online by giving them an inside view,” said Liz Jones, senior vice president of digital marketing at Relativity Media, which hired Wright to run the social media campaign for its release Safe Haven.
Many studios have their own in-house digital teams but will hire consultants like Wright to work on specific projects. The messages she sends out are conversational in tone – encouraging fans to check out a behind-the-scenes photo or sending out good wishes on certain holidays.
Even if there’s an anodyne way to approach social media, there are plenty of Twitter holdouts – mostly high-profile stars like George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Jennifer Lawrence who for reasons of privacy or mystery have chosen to stay out of the digital limelight. That can prove frustrating to executives like Jones, who says “it’d be a dream for all of our actors to have a big social media following.”
“Honestly, though, I do think it’s really hard for a celebrity to run all of their accounts by themselves,” she added. “The smart ones understand they need someone to help.”
That was the realisation that Tatum had early on after his mother, Kay, stumbled across “Channing Tatum Unwrapped,” a fan site Wright had created.
It was 2006, and Wright was dealing with personal struggles. Her son had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and one day, after months of stressful doctor’s appointments, she decided to take an afternoon for herself.
She headed to a local multiplex near her home in Katy, Texas, in the United States and bought a ticket to Step Up, Tatum’s lighthearted dance flick. At the time, she had never heard of the then-fledgling actor. But she was taken with his performance and rushed home to scour the Internet to learn more about him.
“He had a really great spirit, and I thought, ‘What other movies is he going to be in?’” she said.
So when she was unable to find much information about Tatum online, she decided to put her Web design skills to use and founded “Channing Tatum Unwrapped.” Within a month, 30,000 visitors had visited the fan site – one of them was Tatum’s mum.
“As a mother, you’re interested in what’s being said about your son, so I started noticing her site,” recalled Kay Tatum. “She had updates and news that others didn’t, and I thought it was well done, so I mentioned it to Chan.”
Soon, Channing Tatum sent an e-mail to Wright saying how appreciative he was of the site, even attaching a picture of himself sitting at his home computer to prove his identity. He asked if Wright’s fan page could become his official site, and two months later he invited her to the set of his movie Fighting to hash out the details.
“I couldn’t believe it – obviously, I could have just been a crazed fan. But he has a good gut,” Wright said. “Being on that set in New York, waiting to meet someone I’d been writing about forever. But he walked up to me and tickled me in the ribs and broke the ice right away.”
Six years after founding Tatum’s site, Wright’s passion project has turned into a full-blown business, Q Social Media, Ltd. She has five employees who mostly work remotely, reporting to her at her home base in Texas, though Wright makes at least a dozen trips to Los Angeles a year.
For celebrity clients, her rates vary from US$500 (RM1,500) to US$6,000 (RM19,000) per month – but studios typically pony up at least double that, according to a source close to one distribution company. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune International Services
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