How Jay-Z reinvented the art of the Twitter Q&A

jay-z-album-magna-carta-holy-grailJay-Z is known for many things. Rapping. Beyonce-domesticating. Being a titan of commerce. Aggressively repping Brooklyn. Accumulating massive wealth. He is not a business man; he’s a business, man. He’s good at life (though less adept at modesty). And now he can add another feather to his most certainly diamond-encrusted cap: He is amazing at Twitter.

Yesterday, Jay-Z took Twitter by storm, breaking his self-imposed digital reticence to engage in an impromptu question-and-answer session with fans that didn’t follow any of the standard rules of Twitter but was extremely captivating to watch and remarkably thorough – I’m surprised that he didn’t get stuck in Twitter jail, since he unleashed an impressive torrent of over 150 tweets, answering fan questions and perfecting a number of instantly quotable hashtags.

His first response started around 1 PM Eastern time, seemingly randomly. He responded to a man named Brian Fagioli who sent him a rather sarcastic tweet.

 Jay-Z soon tweaked the expression to #mylaugh, which can be assumed to mean you’re supposed to pretend to hear his laugh after you read his remarks. Soon Jay-Z began re-tweeting fans who asked him questions, but adding his answers to their questions in brackets, often with #mylaugh or #factsonly or #newrules added at the end. This is the first time someone has tried this format for questions and answers on Twitter, and as Buzzfeed’s John Hermann put it, “A famous rapper who doesn’t care about Twitter just logged in and invented a better Twitter in, like, five minutes.” Taking part of Twitter Q&A is tough – but Hova, with just a smidgen of Twitter experience, just totally upped the ante on us all and made Twitter conversation make far more damn sense. 

Jay-Z showed you can engage with people on Twitter without following every arbitrary convention. If you’re used to scrolling through your Twitter feed but you haven’t seen these replies, you may be confused about how weird they look, since Jay-Z didn’t follow the format that everyone is used to – sometimes he answers in those brackets, but not always, and sometimes he puts stuff both in and out of brackets. It was an unpredictable, exciting roller coaster!

The questions Jay-Z chose veered from lighthearted to quite serious. For instance, he addressed one fan that asked about charges against the app Samsung rolled out to hear Jay-Z’s newest record, Magna Carta Holy Grail. Critics say the app was poorly designed because it asked for too many permissions from its users. It’s unusual to see an artist directly address this type of criticism, even if he didn’t exactly go into specifics:

Jay-Z is against superfluous digital surveillance!

Hova also answered questions about Miley Cyrus (he’s pro), Ireland (also pro), and what inspired him to rap (life did). He wasn’t particularly revealing about anything other than his general good nature, but it was fascinating to see such a big, somewhat closed-off celebrity have a rapid-fire interaction with his fans, especially one with some pretty witty jokes.

Jay spent a big chunk of the day crafting replies to his fans, starting around noon and ending at exactly 7:09. And what was he doing afterwards? His tweet was … cryptic.

Since Kanye often joins Jay on outings, we can only hope he’ll follow in his footsteps and do a similar session, because he’s substantially much more bonkers than the certainly bombastic but generally reasonable Mr. Carter. And hopefully other big-league stars see how excited and appreciative fans were about this approach to Twitter; many times major celebrities use Twitter as a transparent PR tool rather than an actual chance to communicate in a less filtered way with their fans.

Yesterday’s experiment was entertaining in many ways, but it also speaks some truth about the state of Twitter conversations. A lot of things about Twitter work and work well and simple – but others don’t. It’s a platform for celebrities and leaders to reach out and speak to people from a massive platform, but when the functionality and form of that conversation is ugly and confusing and easy to miss, then it’s doing something wrong. It’s actually sort of surprising that Twitter doesn’t have some sort of Q&A feature for this very purpose, or at the very least that replies aren’t highlighted to signify and answer or retort. I say this with complete seriousness: Twitter could learn a thing or two from Jay-Z.

He may have come and gone all too fast, but Jay-Z left a tweeted legacy in the form of brackets and insta-hashtag material. 

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