You don't need to be a star to get celeb perks

I don’t normally draw inspiration from Lady Gaga, but I was intrigued last week when she announced she had become “a student of the sociology of fame.”

Her timing is spot on. The “sociology of fame” is undergoing some fascinating convulsions of late. Indeed, several studies have prompted me to ask myself some basic questions: Am I fulfilling my potential as an “influencer”? Should I aspire to become the biggest twit on Twitalizer??

Let me explain: It seems there’s a growing herd of overcaffeinated people who are becoming instant celebrities through their activity on the social media. And companies are rewarding these so-called “influencers” with free products and exotic vacations.

The lesson: If you can’t star in a reality show, at least you can build your “personal brand” by tweeting every hour, stuffing your Facebook page with trivia and otherwise convincing marketers that you are “in traffic.”

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the array of social scorekeepers with names like Klout, PeerIndex and Twitalizer that rate influencers based on their activity on LinkedIn, Facebook and other sources, thus producing a sort of Standard & Poors rating of networking.

All this is further motivating the growing fraternity of networkers desperately building their personal brands. Insecure celebrities also are diving in — witness that mega-tweeter Britney Spears or the multitasking Ashton Kutcher. According to the Journal, Klout gave Spears an 87 rating and Lady Gaga a 90 (President Obama matched the 90 score).

None of these scores, to be sure, reflect such things as talent or affluence, but they curry favor among marketers trying to build buzz around their products.

That goes for movie tickets and more. A 28-year-old from Toronto named Casie Stewart earned a free flight to New Zealand fashion week as a result of her hyperactive blogging, according to the Journal. I’m not yearning for a glimpse of Auckland fashion but other social-media junkies are scoring free weekends in Las Vegas.

It’s easy to be snooty about all this, but the emergence of social scorekeepers on one level reflects the democratization of the new media. Anyone can aspire to be an influencer.

And if you really score big, you can even be like George W. Bush and become a “decider.”

Or a pop culture dynamo like Lady Gaga.

* * *

Talk about good timing: In the heat of the Oscar season there’s a new book that critiques the proliferation of awards in all sectors of our culture — even schools.

In “Everyone’s a Winner.” sociologist Joel Best suggests that the “self-congratulatory culture” may be getting carried away with itself.

It all starts in school, Best argues. Being a valedictorian was once unique, but now some high schools have multiple valedictorians.

Every type of award seems to have been subdivided: There are 12 distinct kinds of detective fiction awards handed out by the Mystery Writers of America.

In Hollywood, of course, five best picture nominees have now become 10 and there were more than 100 Grammys dispensed at that interminable kudos orgy.

Hollywood always wins, it seems, in the arena of self-congratulation.

Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email peter.bart@variety.com

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