An Internet celebrity (also known as an influencer, cyber star, wanghong, key opinion leader (KOL), Internet personality, online celebrity, blogebrity, or micro-celebrity) is a celebrity who has acquired or developed their fame and notability through the Internet. The rise of social media has helped people increase their outreach to a global audience. Internet celebrities may be recruited by companies for influencer marketing to advertise products to their fans and followers on their platforms. Internet celebrities often function as lifestyle gurus who promote a particular lifestyle or attitude. In this role, they may be crucial influencers or multipliers for trends in genres including fashion, technology, video games, politics, and entertainment.
In 1991 with the wide public availability of the Internet and the World Wide Web, numerous websites were created to serve as forums for topics of shared interest. In some topic areas, this allowed users to get advice and help from experienced users in that field, the type of information that was typically lacking in mainstream print media or corporate websites. Dedicated social media sites arose from these, where users could create profiles and make friends with other users; the first such social media site was SixDegrees.com in 1997. Similarly, websites that supported blogging arose around 1997, and gave a means for users to post long-form articles and stories of their own. Since then, forums, social media, and blogging have become a central part of communication, social life, businesses, and news publishing. Popular social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, WeChat, WhatsApp, and YouTube.
Influencers and marketing networks
A 2001 study from Rutgers University had found that people were using "internet forums as influential sources of consumer information". This study suggested that consumers were using Internet forums and social media to make purchasing decisions over traditional advertising and print sources. The early 2000s saw corporate attempts to use the Internet for influencing with some companies engaged with forums for promotion or to offer bloggers free products in exchange for positive reviews. Some of these practices were considered unethical. The Blogstar Network, launched in 2004 by Ted Murphy of MindComet, invited bloggers to a email list to receive paid offers from corporations based on the type of posts they made, such as being paid a few dollars for reviewing a fast-food meal in their blog. Blogstar is considered the first influencer marketing network. Murphy followed Blogstar with PayPerPost, launched in 2006, which paid influential posters at the larger forum and social media sides for each post about a corporate product, with payment rates based on the influencer status of the individual. PayPerPost, while popular and creating a number of other similar programs from other companies, received a great deal of criticism as these influencers were not required to disclose their involvement with PayPerPost as traditional journalism would have, and made the public aware that there was a drive by corporate interests to influence what some people were posting to these sites. Despite concerns, influencing marketing networks continued to grow through the rest of the 2000s and into the 2010s. By 2019, the influencer marketing network sector was estimated as a multibillion dollar industry.
Self-branding, also known as personal branding, describes the development of a public image for commercial gain or social or cultural capital. The rise of social media has been exploited by individuals seeking personal fame and product sales. Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, VSCO, and YouTube are the most common social media outlets on which online influencers attempt to build a following. Fame can be attained through different avenues and media forms, including art, humor, modeling, and podcasts. Marketing experts have concluded that "[people no longer] need to be familiar with complex coding languages or other technicalities to build websites because virtually anyone can upload text, pictures, and video instantly to a site from a personal computer or phone. With technological barriers crumbling and its near ubiquity, the web has become the perfect platform for personal branding".
Depending on their rise to fame, Internet celebrities may reach their audiences in different ways. Millions of people write online journals or blogs, but most fail to become Internet celebrities. In many cases, content does not reach a large audience and may be intended for a smaller, niche audience. If a creator has or develops a distinctive personality, it may bring them more notoriety than their content does.
In some cases, people might rise to fame through a single viral event or viral video. The Internet allows videos, news articles, and jokes to circulate rapidly. Depending on its reach, the content may become an Internet meme. For example, Zach Anner, a comedian from Austin, Texas, gained worldwide attention after submitting a video to Oprah Winfrey's "Search for the Next TV Star" competition.
The Internet celebrity concept echoes Andy Warhol's famous quote about 15 minutes of fame. A more recent adaptation of Warhol's quote—possibly prompted by the rise of online social networking, blogging, and similar online phenomena—is the claim that "In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people" or, in some renditions, "On the Web, everyone will be famous to fifteen people." This quote, though attributed to David Weinberger, was said to have originated from the Scottish artist Momus.
The YouTube phenomenon and "vlogging"
YouTube has risen as one of the biggest platforms for launching Internet celebrities. Individual users can record videos of their daily lives and upload them online through YouTube. This activity is known as video blogging, or vlogging. YouTube creators (known as YouTubers), regardless of the genres or types of videos they make, have created an industry that can generate revenue from video views and online popularity. For example, Swedish Internet celebrity PewDiePie uploads gaming and comedy videos on YouTube. As of September 2019[update], he has around 100 million subscribers and is the most-subscribed non-corporation YouTuber.
Every minute, 300 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube, and 5 billion videos are watched every day. Individuals can create videos and upload them onto YouTube and other platforms in return for income. In August 2014, Variety wrote that YouTubers are more popular than mainstream celebrities among U.S. teens. Advertisers, in an effort to reach teenagers and millennials who do not watch regular television and movies, have started contacting YouTubers and other Internet celebrities. As of 2017[update], YouTube has 1.5 billion monthly active users, and many YouTubers have millions of subscribers.
YouTubers appear to have a greater influence on millennials than traditional celebrities. One of the main reasons is that the majority of millennials do not watch TV, but instead prefer to use platforms they can access from their mobile devices. 70% of YouTube users have said that YouTubers change and shape pop culture, and 60% of them have said they would make buying decisions based on the recommendations of their favorite YouTuber over those of a TV or movie star.
A micro-celebrity is a person famous within a niche group of users on a social media platform. Micro-celebrities often present themselves as public figures. The concept of the micro-celebrity was originally developed by Theresa Senft in her 2008 book, Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks. According to Senft, the concept of the micro-celebrity "is best understood as a new style of online performance that involves people 'amping up' their popularity over the Web using technologies like video, blogs and social networking sites".
Other individuals who have researched micro-celebrities include Crystal Abidin, Anne Jerslev, Alice Marwick  and Tobias Raun. According to Raun, a micro-celebrity is "a form of identity linked almost exclusively to the Internet, characterizing a process by which people express, create and share their identities online". According to Senft and Marwick, micro-celebrities differ from more traditional forms of celebrities associated with Hollywood stars because a micro-celebrity's popularity is often directly linked to their audience, and the audience comes to expect a certain degree of authenticity and transparency.
The Internet allows the masses to wrest control of fame from traditional media, creating micro-celebrities with the click of a mouse
Wanghong (Chinese: 网红; pinyin: wǎnghóng; literally: 'Internet fame') is the Chinese version of Internet stardom. The Wanghong economy is a Chinese digital economy based on influencer marketing in social media. Wanghong have been predominantly used to generate profits via retail or e-commerce, through attracting the attention of celebrities' followers. Internet celebrities have also become a popular phenomenon in China. For example, Sister Furong (Furong Jiejie) received worldwide notoriety and fame for her self-promotion efforts through online posts. According to CBN Data, a commercial data company affiliated with Alibaba Group, the Internet celebrities economy was estimated to be worth CN¥58 billion (US$8.4 billion) in 2016, which was more than China's total cinema box office revenue in 2015.
There are two main business models in the Wanghong economy: Social Media Advertising, and Online Retailing. In the online retailing business model, e-commerce-based Wanghong involves the use of social media platforms to sell self-branded products to potential buyers among followers via Chinese customer-to-customer (C2C) websites, such as Taobao. Internet celebrities work as the models of their own shops by posting pictures or videos of themselves, wearing the clothes or accessories they sell, or giving distinctive makeup or fashion tips. They serve as key opinion leaders for their followers, who either aspire to be like them or look up to them.
Zhang Dayi—one of China's best-known Wanghong according to BBC News, with 4.9 million followers on Sina Weibo—has an online shop on Taobao, reportedly earning CN¥300 million (US$46 million) per year. This is comparable to the US$21 million made by Fan Bingbing, a top Chinese actress. Li Ziqi, a celebrity food blogger with more than 16 million followers on Weibo, has inspired many bloggers to post similar content on traditional Chinese cooking and crafts.
Censorship in China has created an entire social media ecosystem that has become wildly successful in its own way. For every Western social media platform, there is a Chinese version that can be equally successful. Chinese social media platforms can be used differently from those in the West, but the results are the same—the platforms generate revenue. The greatest difference between Chinese Internet celebrities and their Western counterparts is that the profits generated by Chinese celebrities can be immense. Unlike YouTube, which takes 45% of advertising revenue, Weibo, one of the largest Chinese social media platforms, is not involved in advertising, which allows Internet celebrities to be more independent. The monthly income of Chinese influencers can exceed CN¥10 million (US$1.5 million).
Different types of Internet celebrities can make money in various ways, but most of them earn money from endorsements. Internet celebrities can use their fame to promote products or experiences to their followers, and are believed to provide credibility to products. In social media advertising, Internet celebrities can be paid to advertise products. When they have garnered sufficient attention and following, they can be approached by advertising companies to help advertise products and reach a wider audience.
YouTubers can make money directly through their YouTube channels by using ads or sponsoring products. YouTube's AdSense program allows YouTubers to earn revenue from ads and views. AdSense has certain requirements—a YouTuber must have more than 1,000 subscribers, live in an eligible country, and have more than 4,000 hours of watchtime within a year to be eligible. YouTube can be a lucrative platform for Internet celebrities like PewDiePie, who made US$15.5 million in 2018.
YouTubers can also expand their source of revenue by creating their own products or merchandise to sell. Similarly, fashion bloggers and Instagram celebrities can earn money by promoting brands on their platforms or developing their own brands. Bloggers can feature sponsored posts in social media to make profits. For instance, fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni started off as an online blogger, and then gained millions of followers on Instagram. She later created her own brand, the Chiara Ferragni Collection. Like many other Instagram celebrities, Ferragni started off by charging money per post for promoting brands. She now earns revenue from promotional Instagram posts and the sale of her own products.
Interacting with fans
Meetups are often a way Internet celebrities interact with fans in real life. Occasionally, an Internet celebrity might organize a meetup and invite fans to meet them at a certain place and time without proper organization. This can attract crowds of fans, causing disorderly or even unsafe situations. For example, Tanacon was an organization involving a group of Internet celebrities who were set to meet paying fans, but did not follow through. Because of the disorganized setup, the meetup resulted in chaos.
Alternatively, events can be organized at a venue with security personnel. VidCon is an annual organized video conference designed for people interested in online videos. It invites Internet content creators to participate in events for paying fans, such as performances, panels, and meet-and-greets.
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