You can add Aishwarya Rai as a Facebook friend; tick off the Big B on Twitter; or even tell Sachin Tendulkar you don’t like his new hair colour. Social media is giving fans new powers and celebs a virtual red carpet, writes Rachna Bisht-Rawat

Do you wonder if Amitabh Bachchan gets up every morning and reaches for his cell phone first thing to check his Facebook and Twitter accounts? We shouldn’t be too surprised if he does. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the social web have together provided a glitzy red carpet to celebrities where they can pose for fans, give them a peep into their famous lives and grow the kind of followings that star fantasies are probably made of.

Though if Mr. Bachchan did check his twitter account earlier this month, it might have caused some more greying because tweeting about Mary Kom’s Olympic achievement, he had got his geography wrong. For which he received more than a few raps on the knuckles from vigilant twitterati. “Mary Kom!! wins boxing bout, insured (sic) a Bronze! What a story! A Mother of two from Assam creates moment of pride for India!!” read his Twitter message on the boxer from Manipur (and not Assam) who is lovingly called Magnificent Mary. Vinay Bavdekar was quick to reply “She’s from Manipur, sir!!” Rajkumar Sen was antsy enough to tell the star: “You need to increase your knowledge about NE India.” While Ratty Miller made a correction to the Big B’s English as well: “ensured, not insured.” The actor later apologised for his gaffe.

A fan getting a chance to tick off a favourite actor is a far cry from the days when we got delirious taping posters on bedroom cupboards, or sending them messages written in blood. The late Rajesh Khanna could have vouched for that. “From the days of writing letters to stars and celebrities, social media has made it rather easy to shoot off whatever one fancies and make a fan feel connected with a favourite idol,” says media watcher and teacher John Thomas. “The celeb-fan relationship has obviously changed from the days when a fan wrote postcards from Jhumri Talaiya requesting a favourite song on Vividh Bharati.”

In these golden days of social (media) equality, a fan can tick off Amitabh Bachchan; follow Sachin Tendulkar on Twitter; be Aishwarya Rai’s Facebook friend and snooty celebs who wouldn’t touch fans with a barge pole are willing to invite them to new book launches, restaurant openings and film promotions. Celebs need fans, writers need readers, singers need listeners and fans need a thrill. The social media are obligingly providing each with what they miss the most. “We use the social media all the time to promote new writers/ upcoming books/ organising chats/ quizzes to increase curiosity about books and authors,” admits Renu Agal, commissioning editor at Penguin Books India. “Penguin frequently does online chats with writers which help connect writers to their readers and it definitely works as a tool to improve sales. Writers who are active on social media also tweet or update their Facebook pages with their book covers and urge their friends to buy and read their works.”

A recent survey by Pinstorm India declared Priyanka Chopra as the top most influential Indian in social media with Shashi Tharoor coming in second and Bachchan following at third place. Priyanka has 22,28,363 followers on Twitter which is more than even Sachin Tendulkar.

A celebrity using an official website, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a hashtag to promote a book, a film or a business is getting to be the norm. Lady Gaga, who was number Five on Forbes most powerful celebrity list 2012, is one of the most popular celebrities on social media with 4,56,33,442 Facebook fans and 16,862,231 Twitter followers. Technology experts feel that celebrities cannot afford to remain isolated from networking sites which offer them a forum to publicise their works and connect with fans. “The accounts are set up for celebrities by their image managers,” Thomas comments. “They may not have time for one thing and they may not even know how to type. It's evident by watching the kind of posts they put up and also by studying whom they choose to follow back.”

If you take a look at Aishwarya Rai’s Facebook page (5,40,156 likes; with 1,22,351 talking about it) or even that of a relatively less popular celebs like Tina Ambani or Suchitra Krishnamurthy, it is obvious that they are just means of serving a business need and for whetting a fan’s appetite. Krishnamurthy is using hers to promote a new book and some new initiative called The Candlelight Company. Aishwarya has a picture of herself in a lacy grey outfit (nearly 3,000 likes) and has even reprimanded fans for posting “cheap comments” in one place. But she has also given out a picture with her baby daughter and one with Abhishek (from a professional shoot) for Valentine’s Day.

Enough fodder for fans to keep flocking. “It’s a great high to be part of the lives of these celebs. It seems you are part of this glittering world which you have always dreamt and aspired for, which is so far removed from your humdrum existence,” laughs Agal. “The celebs are the bigger beneficiaries because their livelihood is impacted by their public persona. They get the benefit of letting fans know of their programmes — be it a book release or a film release — and reap the commercial advantage,” says Thomas.

Celebs and fans seem to be developing a symbiotic social media relationship where the fan gets the kick that he/she is getting to know a celeb better while the celeb translates this into more reach (read more profits).