The Kardashian Effect: A Social Media Conundrum


kardashianWhat is the value of a Facebook “Friend?” What is the value of a Facebook “Like?” What is the value of a Twitter “Follower?” How do you calculate the ROI? What is the value of a fan engagement? How do you quantify time spent on your site, with your profile or on your fan page?

These questions are “Topic A” at almost every meeting I attend these days. Everyone knows you need to be doing something in social media, but it is increasingly hard to quantify its value.

As most of you know, I have a technology, media & entertainment business advisory practice, and I do a bunch of traditional and social media outreach. If you “like” me on Facebook, you will be one of 6,500ish fans who interact with me on a daily basis. If you follow me on Twitter, you are one of about 6,100 followers who I also interact with on a daily basis. On any given day, I post stories and links to things I find interesting. And, on any given day, a handful of people will post a comment or just press “like” on a post that resonates with them.

This social interaction is awesome. It keeps me in-touch with my most loyal brand ambassadors. It gives me instant feedback (both positive and negative) about the things I’m doing. And, most importantly, it gives me a way to learn about, and interact with, the people who are interested in the things that interest me. It’s win/win.

But wait! I’m supposed to be a social media “expert.” Social media is a huge focus of my consulting practice. How come I don’t have a zillion fans and two zillion followers? What’s wrong with me?

Actually … nothing. I’m doing just fine with the fans (“likes”) and followers I have. My fans and followers are growing organically each day, and it’s a great group of people.

That said, if I wanted a zillion fans and two zillion followers, I could obtain them in about a week. But I don’t really want them and neither do you.

To prove this theory, I decided to test the Kardashian Effect. It’s a term I use to describe the throngs of useless fans and followers that can be obtained by confusing the “famous for being famous” with actual people. Anyone who wants a zillion fans and two zillion followers need only look at the trending topics and create a well SEO’d, well SEM’d social and online presence focusing purely on them. The results are instant and obvious. You will get a ton of traffic. There’s only one problem – you won’t be able to keep it unless you do it everyday forever. If you’re not offering them the best place to get a full dose of the thing they crave (which is the hottest thing available) they won’t stay and they won’t be back.

On top of that, you must commit to finding ways to translate the value of transient Kardashianites into wealth. (Your wealth, not hers). Think this is easy? Think again. It’s very easy to create value online, but creating wealth (especially your wealth) is exceptionally hard.

Anyway, the test was simple. A friend of mine sent me this picture of Kim the other day. It is obviously “fun with Photoshop.” It is credited to from Los Angeles, CA. His description says: “Just in case this comedian thing doesn’t work out, I’m also studying to be a rockstar.” I don’t know @kelkulus, but I thought the image was pretty funny, so to prove the Kardashian Effect is real, I posted it on my Facebook wall and put it out on Twitter via my Yfrog account.

The results were instant and obvious. The highest number of likes, highest number of comments and highest engagement metrics of anything I’ve posted in 2011. People love to hate her, people think she’s a scam artist, people think she’s a genius – the nature of the responses are not important, what is important is that people responded – like crazy.

What does that mean for my business (or yours)? If I want tons of transient traffic and useless interactions, I can post more stuff about Kim or Lindsey Lohan or (substitute your tabloid star here) and put huge, but ultimately useless, metrics on the scoreboard. Or, I can just do what I do and continue to interact and profit from my loyal fans and followers.

The lure of the Kardashian Effect is overwhelming. I really want zillions of fans and two zillions of followers … but I also want to be respected for my work, keep my brand message clear and understandable and profit from my marketing efforts. What to do, what to do?

I know, I’ll trick my advertisers with these inflated numbers and make them think that my social media efforts are stellar. Oh wait, I don’t sell any advertising … hummm.

All kidding aside, the Kardashian Effect is real. Kim is a genius and we are all drinking the social media metrics Kool-Aid. Qualitative understanding of social interactions is key to unlocking their value. The goal is the target, not raw tonnage. And, most importantly, quality organic social touch points should never be sacrificed for scale – you can never sustainably profit from that kind of Pyrrhic victory.

In closing, I just want to say, Kim … your marketing machine is simply awe-inspiring. You can send my commission check for this post at your earliest convenience. I can’t believe that I’m actually getting you more well SEO’d, SEM’d coverage without accretive value. Oops! I forgot, this will be one of my most read columns ever. Thanks Kim!

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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