Reggae Sumfest Tweets & The Power of Social Media

Marcia Forbes PhD

POWER of New Media
Reggae Sumfest 2010, renamed ‘mudfest’ by some, has come and gone but remains indelibly etched in my memory for bringing clearly and resoundingly home to me the POWER of social media. At the event I wrote 24 tweets about Chris Brown, many with picture attached. A tweet is a microblog comprised on a short sentence of 140 characters (about 17 words).

My Chris Brown tweets were retweeted (passing the message on to one’s followers) 356 times. The description of what Breezy was wearing as he entered the stage secured the most retweets (29). That of his dancing was next with 28. The majority of my tweets each received almost 20 retweets. In total over the 3 nights of Sumfest my tweets were retweeted almost 450 times.

From the start to the end of Sumfest my Twitter followers moved from 295 just before the 1st Sumfest tweet, to 455 at the end of the music festival. These 160 new followers were mostly members of Chris Brown’s Fan Club and were from all over the world, including Africa, Hawaii, Mexico, Indonesia, Japan, France, Holland, USA, UK and of course, Jamaica.

Chris Brown is the epitome of music and sexuality and someone who uses media to maximum advantage! Plus at 21 years of age he is barely out of adolescence. His fans could definitely relate to a book on Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, the title of my soon to be released book. Interestingly and to my delight, they have largely remained with me on Twitter, some with plans to visit Jamaica.

Viral Media
In the post-event analysis (a part of my virtual ethnography research methodology), it was noted that many of the primary retweets were secondarily retweeted. Meaning, the followers of my followers retweeted my tweets. Since some followers had tens of thousands of followers, my Sumfest tweets have travelled all over the world. This is the viral nature of social media. Your message spreads rapidly and widely!

Many of my tweeps (twitter followers) had all sorts of questions. One asked if that was really me in my avatar (the image used to represent one’s self online). She thought my tweets didn’t match my picture. I guess she didn’t expect an older person to tweet in such a ‘colourful’ way. My response was that I’m Jamaica’s geriatric twitterer but took her cue and subsequently changed the avatar from a stern-faced Marcia in white to a smiling picture in red which, though still ‘old’, is at least warm.

Businesses & Governments Wising Up
Social media offer useful and free marketing tools that local businesses are now wising up to. About a week before Sumfest I noticed that its organizers were on Twitter. They requested retweets to get the word out. I dutifully complied. For me tweeting up Reggae Sumfest was not just about garnering research material. I genuinely wanted the festival to succeed. Beyond selfish reasons (Phase Three Productions, the business I co-own, provides multi-camera coverage), is that the festival showcases our musical talents on a large scale and is good for Jamaica. I refuse to be drawn into arguments about Chris Brown and Usher (neither Reggae nor Dancehall artistes) as the main acts.

Even Government is getting in on social media to enhance its marketing efforts. The Tourism Ministry recently hosted several international and local bloggers to talk-up the island. From all reports it was quite successful. They are also on Twitter, with not just one but two twitter accounts, @AskJamaica and @VisitJamaicaNow. I was amused when they asked me to promote these accounts, but did as requested, asking my tweeps to “plz support n follow”. So my Chris Brown fans, some of whom have expressed interest in visiting Jamaica, can see even more about this island and what it has to offer the tourist.

The savvy new Prime Minister of Trinidad is now on Twitter @KamlaUNC, so too is an aspiring Presidential candidate for Haiti, Dr Eddy Delaleu @delalauforhaiti, who I only learnt about after he started following me. The Trinidad Guardian piqued my interest when they joined my list of followers but have never responded to tweets directed at them.

Social Media Requires Dialogue
Those who only listen in or simply dole out information about their products are not using social media technologies to best advantage. Media ‘audiences’ have changed; we expect engagement and dialogue, not just to be fed ‘media messages’ via a one-way process. After seeing several unfavourable comments about one of the Spanish hotels, I wondered via twitter whether that hotel had a twitter presence. In a matter of hours they tweeted me their address, inviting me to follow. They entirely missed the point. Instead of requesting to be followed, they should have responded to the complaints about disgusting food, shoddy customer service, even to the point of charges of racism by one tweep.

Coming out of the Reggae Sumfest tweet-up, ably captured in blogs by, my new self-coined and self-appointed designation is Tweet Jock (TJ for short). Although she was derailed by rain and did not attend, Annie didn’t let that stop her from participating in Sumfest. She did so via Twitter. Culling entirely from tweets but properly attributing each tweeter’s effort, she was first out of the blocks with a Sumfest blog about Dancehall night. That was quickly followed by another blog when the curtains came down. By the way, after Sumfest, as informed by a kind tweep, my klout and influence increased as measured by, “the standard for online and internet influence”. Yours can too, if you are able to harness the power of new media. I’m still learning (slowly).