George Takei has earned his place in pop history as Lt. Sulu of the Starship Enterprise, but he’s still going where few of his generation have gone before as a cultural icon in the Twitterverse and on Facebook.
“Very few of my generation are even sending emails,” says Takei, 77.
Takei, meanwhile, has 6 million Facebook fans and more than 1 million Twitter followers. He took to the medium for a very specific reason—and carefully plotted how he could use social networking to achieve his goal.
Takei wanted to create greater awareness of a dark chapter of U.S. history when some 110,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly interned during World War II. Takei and his family were among those detained.
“The best way to [create more awareness] back in 2010 was social media, so I began by trial and error,” Takei says. “[But] my audience base was not social-justice oriented.” Takei identified his audience as “sci-fi geeks and nerds,” which he sought to grow into a larger group interested in subjects he wanted to tackle.
“I found humor was the thing that got the most likes, so I started concentrating on that area,” Takei says, posting funny observations like “Overheard: Wanna freak out your neighbors? Name your Wi-Fi ‘FBI Surveillance Van.’ Or ‘Social media is like ancient Egypt: writing things on walls and worshipping cats.’ "
“Once it started to grow, I introduced a relevant subject of our times: Equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people.”
His audience exploded, so he circled back to his original goal, and the response was overwhelming.
Takei launched a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo and solicited donations through his Facebook and Twitter accounts, ultimately raising more than $158,000 to produce the musical Allegiance, about an interned Japanese-American family. The show was sold out in its 2012–2013 San Diego run. Takei hopes to take it to Broadway this year.