Web Community Expert Talks MJ, Motherhood

Ten years ago this week, John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash. Dotcoms may have been booming but the lion’s share of media coverage on the Camelot heir’s sad and sudden death came by way of television.

Two years earlier, in 1997, Princess Diana met her shocking and untimely demise. The media covered every angle of her tragic passing. Television, radio and newspapers were the principal ways people kept up with the coverage. People shared their grief by phoning family and friends.

Fast forward 12 years. Today, in 2009, news of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon spread like wildfire on the Internet. Individuals communicated their grief and shock about the passing of MJ by tweeting about it on Twitter. Pop culture and the social web had undeniably collided head on.

As TV networks were gathering information verifying the King of Pop’s passing, online news sites like TMZ.com were already confirming his death. Meanwhile, Google – bombarded by “Michael Jackson” search terms – reportedly had their servers go into protection mode.

Social networking expert Bridget Zeuner knows all about the power of social media and becoming, what she calls, “Web-ified” and Socialized”. She runs a company helping artists and businesses, rock stars and road warriors, to propagate their messages via the social web.

Zeuner, a wife and mother of two young children, has cut her teeth working with music industry power players, pop music icons and would-be icons.

Expressing herself in non-techno-geek terms, Bridget talks about how Michael Jackson’s passing led her to educating her children about the late gloved one’s storied career, utilizing such sites as You Tube. In this interview, she provides an insider’s view of how social media is impacting pop culture.

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Chris Yandek: How did the online media play a role in the death of Michael Jackson as well as social networking?

Bridget Zeuner: “Well as far as highlighting and giving us information about Michael Jackson ,that was the first place that a lot of people found out about all three of these deaths. For example, sites like Twitter…Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett were both trending topics on Twitter and the minute you see it on that list of trending topics, typically, the Twitter user will then go ‘Google’ that person and get their facts from their favorite online source like a TMZ.com and a CNN.com, which we all did. We mourned those deaths online getting our information and then of course talking about it to our friends, colleagues on our respective social networks.

Same as when I heard about Ed and Farrah, I, like millions of people, tuned into the internet to search Michael Jackson when it became a trending topic on Twitter. As a lot of people know when they went to search the term Michael Jackson, Google wasn’t able to process the search. The servers went into protection mode. You can find more information about that on http://www.wired.com.”

CY: What’s interesting is the fact that Michael Jackson almost took the internet with him. Let’s look back 12 years ago, the death of Princess Diana…that was probably the biggest death of the time, unexpected…since this one. We didn’t have Google News back then. We didn’t have Twitter. We did not have all these social networking sites. Yes the internet was existent. People had AOL in 1997. But how did you get your information 12 years ago compared to today? What would you do if you didn’t have a You Tube, if you didn’t have a Twitter, if you didn’t have a Facebook?

BZ: “Well, I’m sure the phones were ringing a lot. I personally saw it in New York on a ticker tape and could not wait to get back to my apartment and turn on CNN and the news networks that were talking about Diana. I mean it became the thing to just learn more and more. Learn everything that we could about and understand about how she was taken from us. And then after the fact, after understanding what happened, you went into mourning mode. We watched tribute documentaries and tribute shows featured on our favorite television networks. Basically we were on the couch glued to our television sets.”

CY: Looking forward at that, kids are very curious and you’re a mother. Now we have all these different tools like You Tube where you can go back in time in 10 seconds. 12 Years ago people would have thought, “Oh my God! Are you serious? I can go watch something from the 1960s on You Tube? You can’t be serious.” Most people would have to put in an old VHS tape into their VCR. How does a mom like you use different social networking tools to educate your children on who Michael Jackson was?

BZ: “If you could just hang out in our kitchen that’s been the hot spot. First of all, personally like a lot of people, wasn’t paying so much attention to Michael Jackson. He was basically shelved by our society over the last 20 years with some of the focus on his personal life and a more controversial way.

My first desire was to go look at some of these sources and seek to understand exactly what happened to this man. After I felt like I really had all the information from credible sources that proved a lot of things personally that I needed to prove basically about Michael and then it became the time to share him with my family and share him with my children and let them see what my husband and I as people in our late 30s – we grew up with Michael Jackson so I was able to go back in time to the Off The Wall album and even before that ABC, the Jackson Five.

It’s been like the chronicles of Michael Jackson in my house. We are rejuvenated Michael Jackson fans and to see my kids celebrating his life, they just can’t get enough of him. It makes me really hope that he’s in heaven and smiling down on all these families that are able to share his legacy and all that he brought to us in entertainment. We’re able to share that and pass that down to our four and six year olds and that generation will know Michael how we did.”

CY: What can a young child get from this? What are they taking away from watching these things from so many years ago?

BZ: “In the case of Michael Jackson, I now can’t turn on the radio and hear any of the current folks like Justin Timberlake or anybody. You cannot hear anybody now without hearing Michael Jackson in the current material. Black Eyed Peas, all of them. You hear Michael’s influence so it gives them the taste of history to know where this influence came from, the origin of the music as we listen to today. Going back to social networks as an educational tool, I turn to You Tube a lot with my kids to go find pop culture, educational pieces and just information, how-to videos.
Sometimes we go to YouTube just to find chords on the guitar.”

CY: The music industry, there’s just so much stuff out there. Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing that all this music is accessible on My Space pages for example? You can go on to an artist’s page and you can hear their whole album. Some people say, “Why do I even do an album?” Or you can go on to Itunes and for 99 cents buy that one song where 10 years ago you had to buy the whole damn album if you wanted that one song.

BZ: “Well, there are companies right now like http://www.republicproject.com who are trying to remedy the situation where music is considered an experience rather than a physical product. You can actually go direct to artists and pay a fee that would cover the album and pay a fee to say get a preorder covered and you get access to that artist. That’s one model that they’re doing. Other models are popping up left and right. I know that the music companies and labels are trying to figure this out and have been kind of in scramble mode.

One thing I have to say about is the music industry, Gerd Leonhard, inventor of Music 2.0 (the term) who writes on this topic, has said that music is more vibrant now than ever because now all these much more niche types of music we otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to with our radio stations and mainstream media, now it’s all at our finger tips. So we’re breaking into segmented groups of specialties, so…more alternatives and even oldies groups, they’re all getting exposure. Maybe not in the sense of like a Madonna or a Michael Jackson, but they’re finding their niche and finding their fans and audience members.”

Bridget’s official website is at http://www.bridgetz.com