Snaps on the red carpet aren’t just restricted to the step and repeat. Historically sidelined fans now eagerly await their favorite celebrities at award-show arrivals, concert exits and, especially, film premiere red carpets. The goal? A rare and elusive Celebrity & Me selfie.
This has been on the rise in recent years and, most noticeably, in the cinema industry this year including the Spider-Man: Homecoming premiere in Los Angeles, Baby Driver’s premiere in London, and The Mummy premiere in New York City. Sometimes the celebrity uses their phone. Oftentimes the fan holds out their phone to nonverbally signal their hope. Both lean in the frame, smile, and overlook the barriers between them — both the figurative ones and the literal steel crowd-control barriers that line the red carpet.
In realistic terms, what was previously off limits — that is, being close to a celebrity — is now acceptable. “The beauty of social media is that there are no boundaries. The once very apparent barrier between fans and celebrities has been taken down. These selfies are living proof that this barrier no longer exists,” says Amanda Boyce, director of social media at Giorgio Armani Beauty for L’Oréal.
It’s the new autograph, according to Taylor Swift. In her 2014 editorial for The Wall Street Journal, she says that the fan selfie holds the weight that the autograph used to have: “There are a few things I have witnessed becoming obsolete in the past few years, the first being autographs. I haven’t been asked for an autograph since the invention of the iPhone with a front-facing camera. The only memento ‘kids these days’ want is a selfie. It’s part of the new currency, which seems to be ‘how many followers you have on Instagram.'”
This new era of one-on-one interactions are “validations on steroids,” according to Krishna Purohit, an LA-based social media consultant. After writing social content for top European football club players and actresses such as Kristen Bell, she knows that fandom is a two-way street. “[Fans] expect and love a celebrity who’s happy to be part of their community on social.”
The truth is, an intimate fan/celebrity moment is a win-win experience.
Fans want to feel intimacy with, and access to, their favorite celebrity and their world — that’s why they follow them on Snapchat and Instagram. But having a lens into the celeb’s aspirational life isn’t the same as actually being a part of their life. That’s why when a celebrity takes a selfie with a fan, it’s a powerful moment. Even briefly, the monumental gap between the two parties is contracted. For one mighty minute, the fan shares in the celebrity’s world — and, best of all, it’s documented for all time.
Esquire’s Luke O’Neil said it best in his 2015 article: “Instead of proving the existence of the celebrity in our world, it proves our existence in theirs… It’s a performative assumption of the role of minor-celebrity in our own personalized entertainment microcosm.”
While taking a photo together offers fans validation, it also has benefits for the celeb. Namely, it invites follower engagement and a warm perception of their personal brand. In the digital age, nothing is quite as universally shareable as a picture. With a simple snap, celebs can share how they connect authentically with fans at large and, in effect, build loyalty and perception.
According to a report by social marketing software company Spredfast, this can dramatically impact their social media. The report noted that entertainer Justin Timberlake’s Instagram posts that included him with fans received 12 percent more Likes than his average posts. Pretty Little Liars actor Keegan Allen knows this social strategy well. There’s even a distinct hashtag for getting a selfie with him: #WhenIMetKeegan.
According to social-media management tool Sprout Social, this type of engagement is key to an effective celebrity marketing strategy. In a 2016 blog post Sprout Social wrote, “One of the main reasons why celebrity social media accounts are so popular is due to engagement… If this tells you anything, it’s that engagement builds audiences and again, keeps viewers coming back for more content.”
Boyce and Purohit have both seen this strategy work firsthand.
“These selfies help celebs hit both social media and PR objectives: Selfies drive chatter, chatter drives interest, interest drives a celebrity’s star, even if it is just a short-term boost,” says Boyce.
The rise in fan/celeb selfies has no end in sight. After all, we live in a culture of selfies; it was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, and there’s a National Selfie Day (June 21). There are even apps designed solely for this use; iPhone app Csnaps was built to let fans and celebrities monetize their joint selfies for charity.
This overall trend feeds into what Purohit calls our “face-first culture” and the constant desire for accessibility. “It’s what social’s all about. To succeed as a brand, you need to have a reason why people should care, engage and stay tuned.”
So whether the two strangers ham it up with silly faces, grin for the camera, or bunch together to recreate Ellen DeGeneres’ famous Oscar group selfie, the sheer sway of these one-night-only memorabilia is too potent to walk away from for good.
Top photo by Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterstock – Anna Kendrick at “Trolls” film premiere, Los Angeles, October 2016 – This editorial image is available on Premier as part of our Enterprise plans. Find out more here.