December 05, 2008

Exclusive Interview With the Woman Behind @BritneySpears

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

I once mentioned that the moment Britney Spears joined Twitter and other social networks, her image and reputation would turn around and people would begin to see her for who she is again.  The controversial @britneyspears Twitter account (formerly @therealbritney) was recently launched, and my theory was put to the test.  I had the opportunity to interview the person behind this account today, Lauren Kozak, to see how these efforts were going.  The results were astounding, and I really got the impression Lauren knows what she's doing.  Here are the results of my interview:

The Woman Behind the Message

Lauren Kozak was introduced to Britney through a friend of a friend, and now works directly for Britney as her Social Media Director in charge of Britney's Twitter account, her Web site, her Facebook and MySpace accounts, her Circus VIP Ning Community, and her very successful YouTube campaign.  She has been leading Social Media for Britney for just 6 months, and has already seen very successful results from the efforts she has put forth.  Lauren is the former Social Media Marketing director for Fanscape.

Lauren can be found on Twitter under the handle, @tofuchica. She was very open to allowing people contact her and even gave me permission to hand out her e-mail address for those interested in talking to her.

What's it like to work with Britney?

"It's every marketer's dream!  So many marketers are trying to focus on traffic and users and engagement, but with Britney these things come easy."

"Britney's fans are 3-times more active than the average internet user, according to our studies.  Most marketers are trying to do user-generated initiatives and they really suffer in their campaigns.  We're getting user-generated content without even asking for it!  It has been a pleasure working with Britney's loyal fan base.  Everybody cares at least a little bit about Britney."

"It's really fun to run a website where you don't have to worry about traffic or engagement.  These areas which are normally a struggle come easy with Britney."

Is the Twitter Account the Real Britney Spears?

"The Twitter account was very controversial at first.  I will admit that we took the feedback from the various blogs that were criticizing the account and we have changed our strategy around the account."

"Yes, we do get Twitters directly from Britney.  We also get Twitters directly from Britney's Entourage.  We provide announcement and tour information.  We also have messages which are designed to drive traffic around Britney Spears' properties when we have something cool go on."

"Some people have suggested we should break it up into different accounts.  I don't think that's necessarily the best strategy because we're trying not to split up our followers in any way.  Britney's Twitter account is the whole world of Britney - whether it's her assistant that tells me what's going on with them or we know that we're going to release exclusive pictures or we have a big announcement.  We try to use it in a way where it's either directly from Britney or someone around her or in a way that has to do with very current content.  We're trying to keep the actual marketing messages very very low, because I don't think that's a good use for Twitter."

What inspired Britney and your team to put her on Twitter?

"We picked the 5 biggest Social Media properties.  People are obsessed with everything Britney does.  When Britney sneezes people want to know.  It was a no-brainer to post these little updates about what it's like to be with Britney or be Britney.  People are really curious about that!"

Are the messages signed with "~Britney" really coming from Britney?

"Basically, I talked to Britney about Twitter, and she totally got it and was excited about it.  She and her assistant work together on what they want to Tweet, and then they text me and I post it.  They're traveling all the time, but I'm in front of a computer, so it's just easier that way.  Britney's Tweets are her words.  I only edit it if it's more than 140 characters.  I try to put a name on it as well so you know who it's coming from."

"The Mashable article was titled something like 'Searching for the Real Britney'.  My response to the spin on authenticity is, well, we're going to tell you when it's the real Britney - it's not going to be all the time because Britney's a really busy person, but when it is the real Britney we're going to tell you.  When it comes from marketing people or social media people or her Entourage we're going to tell you that too."

Are Fans going to be able to ask Britney questions and will she answer back, or is this intended to be a one-way publish about Britney's life and career?

"A lot of the critique that we got in the beginning was from people that have a very set culture for Twitter.  I went and responded to people, talked to Gary V., responded to the Mashable and TechCrunch articles.  I responded, just because Britney isn't sitting at a computer retweeting people or responding to every message, who says you have to use the tool in a way that is the main culture of Twitter?  Think about how the L.A. Fire Department, or Obama, or CNN use Twitter.  There are lots of different ways to use Twitter.  I love the conversational element, but who's to say that the tool does other things too?"

"I think that response was a little bit close-minded as a community and I really like to think, after talking to Biz at Twitter and others, that this is really going to help celebrities.  I've looked at just about every single celebrity Twitter account and she's definitely the biggest one on there.  There are some other really cool ones that are doing it themselves such as Dave Matthews, Lance Armstrong, but it just takes awhile.  Whenever companies move onto Social Media it's a little bit awkward.  They all catch on eventually though, just like how blogs, Facebook, Myspace, and others came to be.  This is a process which takes awhile.

Twitter's audience tends to be those 25 and older - does the Twitter account still help Britney with that age group?

"The active updating of one's status is very old on the internet.  People have been doing this on AIM and other services for years.  People get status updates, whether they get Twitter or not.  We feed our Twitter account to the little box on our website and even people who have never heard of Twitter get that."

Which social network has Britney seen the most success from?

"We're also doing YouTube.  YouTube is definitely the most successful.  We're putting all our videos on YouTube and we're seeing tremendous results.  I put a video up on Saturday night and we already have over 500,000 views in just 4 days.  People love her videos.  They want to see her and see her blowing out her birthday candles in Europe and other things - they think that stuff is interesting.  Video and Britney are such a great combination."

"We have people on the ground taking video of her all the time.  We have exclusive content and access that nobody else has.  People are really, really fascinated with that content."

"Beyond that the Ning community, which is, is also quite successful.  The users there are so engaged.  We have had more photos uploaded than we have members there.  They're uploading hundreds and hundreds of photos, every photo that has ever been taken of Britney.  They're making so many different mashup videos and remake videos and dance videos and have captured every single performance she has ever done there.  The dedication of these fans has been tremendous."


Interviewing Lauren was a joy - she has some excellent points, and I think we have to realize that when it comes down to it, every person on Twitter has their own reason for being there.  This was a smart move on the part of the Britney campaign to get her on Twitter, and there's no doubt we're seeing results from it.

In just the last week, Britney's new album, "Circus" was released.  Britney celebrated her birthday.  Her new documentary debuted on MTV.  Her world tour was announced.  They have sold over 400,000 copies in just 3 days after launch.  And you have to admit - each one of these events was celebrated, and discussed on the Social Media outlets that the Britney campaign has established.

The beauty of this all is we now know who Britney is.  We know what she does on a day-to-day basis.  Whether she talks back to us or not, she no longer has to rely on the Paparazzi to tell her story.  From here on out, this is her story to tell, thanks to Social Media.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.