Musings on social media influence in T&T, the diaspora and the world

I wrote the piece below back in December 2013, not too long after Tessanne Chin won The Voice. I was fascinated by the power of social media especially here in the Caribbean. Recently on the television news, I saw a piece on the Facebook polling by CNN Travel that places the Trini accent at number one for the sexiest accent. It was based on a 2011 article, updated in September 2014. The article cites the Italian accent as #1 but makes the observation: “So we decided to hold a vote of our own — a Facebook poll to ask which accents you prefer. (Trinidadian has charged to the front at the time of writing…)” Trinis not joking when an opportunity to rank us and our own comes our way.

Source: MTV Iggy

The music industry in the last week got a wake-up call by a couple of news items with global impact. Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology” was in the running for MTV Iggy’s Song of the Year via an online poll. (MTV Iggy, a division of Viacom Media Networks, is focused on bringing cutting-edge global music and pop-culture to the U.S.) It came down in the final hours between that song and platinum blonde Korean rapper G-Dragon’s “Crooked”. The system crashed once, and then votes swayed back and forth depending on the time zones daylight hours. It ended in a draw, a hollow victory for Bunji all the same.

The power of the social media presence here had an impact on decisions in Korea; there were protests from there that the deadline gave an advantage to T&T because of daylight hours! Someone was concerned enough! The impact of the social vote even with a 50-to-1 advantage in population size to the Koreans was still enough to make waves.

We need to flash back to October 2011, when “our” Anya Ayoung-Chee was in a battle with Texas/Louisiana fashion designer, Anthony Ryan Auld, for the Fan Favourites prize on Project Runway. At that time, a Twitter vote count decided the winner. Anya won with the comeback of the ages; she overcame a 50,000 vote deficit in less than 24 hours and won on a canter. Again, there were complaints or maybe just wide-eyed concern that “the whole of Trinidad must be voting” while Anthony Ryan could only muster votes from his hometown, and not the whole USA!

tessanne-chin-winning-the-voice-650-430More recently, Jamaican Tessanne Chin won NBC Television’s reality singing competition “The Voice” in which the winner is decided by phone, Internet and SMS text, votes, and iTunes chart action. Ostensibly, voting is limited to the US, but the wall-less social media allows for diaspora voting and purchasing. This extends the concept of “a local competition” outside into the bigger world, and solidifies the idea that a diaspora is a necessary element to any artist’s market thrust.

We are experiencing a mini-revolution in the exploitation of modern technology to satisfy a “need” that is seen as grand. A win for Bunji, Anya or Tessanne in a competition abroad, is seen as a plus for us as a nation, a region and a people. Heck, if we could have voted for Barack Obama in 2008, the outcome would have been solidified further!

These polls/voting competitions are free unlike some local competitions which charge a small surcharge regardless if the “prize” is a tangible like a car or money or the intangible “pride!”

One of the results of this democratic and universal polling is that the idea of a free contest has merit and more importantly, consistency in numbers. What does not translate in the data is the lack of buy-in in the real sense. When competitions are cost-based as some are here with sometimes a $2 surcharge for SMS voting, the numbers are down and voting limited. A tangible prize, money for instance, may generatate some buzz for a cost-based competition, but pride is put aside if voters had to vote for a winner and still get charged.

25 December 2013.

Imagine if national elections were decided by social media polling! And Digicel and bMobile didn’t charge you! Trinidad and Tobago is social media savvy, with over 450,000 Facebook users, according to Internet World Stats. We may just be able to influence the sound of music and who can be a star.

© 2014, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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