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Khaby Lame, an Internet celebrity, with a Tik Tok background.
Internet celebrity Khaby Lame in 2021

An internet celebrity (also referred to as a social media influencer, social media personality, internet personality, or influencer) is an individual who has acquired or developed their fame and notability on the Internet. The growing popularity of social media provides a means for people to reach a large, global audience. Internet celebrities are often found on large online platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok,[1] which primarily rely on user-generated content.

Certain internet celebrities may function as lifestyle gurus promoting a particular lifestyle or attitude. In this capacity they act as key amplifiers of trends across various genres including fashion, cooking, technology, travel, video games, movies, esports, politics, music, sports, and entertainment.[2] As part of influencer marketing, companies and organizations may enlist internet celebrities to advertise their products to their fan base and followers on their respective platforms.


In 1991, the Internet and the World Wide Web became widely available, leading to the creation of numerous websites dedicated to shared interests. These forums allowed users to seek advice and help from experienced individuals in their field, increasing the availability of information beyond mainstream print media and corporate websites.[3] Dedicated social media platforms emerged from these developments, providing users with the ability to create profiles and connect with others. SixDegrees.com pioneered this concept in 1997.[4] Additionally, websites supporting blogging emerged around the same time, allowing users to publish long-form articles and stories.[3] Since then forums, social media and blogging have transformed into integral components of communication, social interaction, business and journalism. Popular social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, Twitch, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Discord, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp.[5]

The origins of online influencing can be traced back to the emergence of digital blogs and platforms in the early 2000s. Nevertheless recent studies demonstrate that Instagram, an application with more than one billion users, harbors the majority of the influencer demographic.[6] These individuals are sometimes referred to as "Instagrammers" or "Instafamous." A crucial aspect of influencing lies in their association with sponsors. The 2015 debut of Vamp, a company that links influencers with sponsorships, transformed the landscape of influencing.[7][8]

There is much debate about whether social media influencers can be considered celebrities, as their path to fame is often less traditional and arguably easier. Melody Nouri[9] addresses the differences between the two types in her article "The Power of Influence: Traditional Celebrities vs Social Media Influencer".[10] Nouri asserts that social media platforms have a greater negative impact on young, impressionable audiences compared to traditional media like magazines, billboards, advertisements, and tabloids featuring celebrities. Online it is thought to be simpler to manipulate an image and lifestyle in such a way that viewers are more susceptible to believing it.

Influencers and marketing networks[edit]

The early 2000s showed corporate endeavors to leverage the internet for influence, with some companies participating in forums for promotions or providing bloggers with complimentary products in return for favorable reviews. A few of these practices were viewed as unethical for taking advantage of the labor of young individuals without providing remuneration.[3] The Blogstar Network was established in 2004 by Ted Murphy of MindComet. Bloggers were encouraged to join an email list and receive remunerated offers from corporations in exchange for creating specific posts. For instance, bloggers were compensated for writing reviews of fast-food meals on their blogs. Blogstar is widely regarded as the first influencer marketing network.[3] Murphy succeeded Blogstar with PayPerPost, which was introduced in 2006. This platform compensated significant posters on prominent forums and social media platforms for every post made about a corporate product. Payment rates were determined by the influencer's status.[3] Though very popular, PayPerPost, received a great deal of criticism as these influencers were not required to disclose their involvement with PayPerPost as traditional journalism would have.[11] With the success of PayPerPost, the public became aware that there was a drive for corporate interests to influence what some people were posting to these sites.[3] The platform also incentivized other firms to establish comparable programs. Despite concerns, marketing networks with influencers continued to grow throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s. The influencer marketing industry is expected to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022, up from as much as $8 billion in 2019, according to estimates from Business Insider Intelligence, which are based on Mediakix data.[12] Evan Asano, the Former CEO and founder of the agency Mediakix, previously spoke with Business Insider and said he believed influencer marketing on Instagram would continue to grow despite likes being hidden.[13]

By the 2010s, the term "influencer" described digital content creators with a large following, distinctive brand persona, and a patterned relationship with commercial sponsors.[14] Consumers often mistakenly view celebrities as reliable, leading to trust and confidence in the products being promoted.[15] A 2001 study from Rutgers University discovered that individuals were using "internet forums as influential sources of consumer information." The study proposes that consumers preferred internet forums and social media when making purchasing decisions over conventional advertising and print sources. An influencer's personality strongly impacts their audience's purchasing decision, with those who engage with their audience being more persuasive in encouraging product purchases. Companies today place great importance on feedback and comments received through social media platforms as consumers trust other consumers. Reviews are often relied on to persuade consumers to make a purchase, highlighting the impact of a negative review on a business's revenue.[16] A typical method of marketing between the influencer and the audience is "B2C marketing". B2C marketing, meaning Business to Consumer marketing, entails the strategies which a business would undertake to promote themselves and their services directly to their target audiences. This is typically through advertising and creating content through the influencer themselves. The intention is that their followers, who relate or look up to certain influencers, will be more inclined to purchase an item because their favorite "Internet celebrity" recommended it.[17] Internet celebrities typically promote a lifestyle of beauty and luxury fashion and foster consumer–brand relationships, while selling their own lines of merchandise.[18]

"Digital Branding: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to Strategy, Tactics, Tools, and Metrics" by David Rowles explains the methods online influencers employ to increase their audience and brand visibility. Digital branding encompasses all online experiences and necessitates value provision."[19] It is suggested that users are already familiar with the lives of their influencers as devoted followers. This makes it easy for them to promote companies as their followers feel as though they know the celebrities they follow, despite the reality being different.


Self-branding, also known as personal branding, describes the development of a public image for commercial gain or social or cultural capital.[20] The rise of social media has been exploited by individuals seeking personal fame and product sales. Platforms such as Instagram, Twitch, Snapchat, VSCO, and TikTok, 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 anyone can build websites easily without any technical knowledge or complex coding languages. They can upload text, pictures, and videos instantly from personal computers or phones. With technological barriers diminishing, the web has become the ideal platform for personal branding.[21]


Depending on their rise to fame, internet celebrities may reach their audiences in different ways. Some people write journals or blogs, some make YouTube or TikTok videos, others post frequently on Instagram or Twitter (X). The Internet has made fame accessible to and attainable for the general public.[22]

In some cases, people might rise to fame through a single viral event or viral video, and 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.[23] Viral videos from internet celebrities could entail a funny event happening in the moment, a popular new dance, or even a post on Twitter, such as the "Alex from Target" tweet in 2014.[24][25]

Many other people build their followings slowly over time, sharing their daily life and passions with people. Families such as the LaBrant Family and The Bucket List Family share their children, life experiences, and travels with their followers. Individuals such as MrBeast and David Dobrik post content about their lifestyle and host challenges and giveaways.

Although multiple studies offer slightly differing views, internet celebrities, or influencers, can be broken into five or six different categories: Nano, Micro, Mid-tier, Macro, Mega, and Celebrity.[26][27]

  • Nano influencers: 1,000 – 10,000 followers
  • Micro influencers: 10,000 – 50,000 followers
  • Mid-tier influencers: 50,000 – 500,000 followers
  • Macro influencers: 500,000 – 1,000,000 followers
  • Mega influencers: 1,000,000 – 5,000,000 followers
  • Celebrities: Above 5,000,000 followers[28]

YouTubers and vloggers[edit]

PewDiePie is an internet celebrity and the fourth most subscribed individual YouTuber. Overall, he has the eighth most subscribed YouTube channel.

YouTube has risen as one of the biggest platforms for launching internet celebrities. 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, he has around 100 million subscribers and is the second most-subscribed non-corporation YouTuber.

Every minute, 300 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube, and 5 billion videos are watched every day.[29] In August 2014, Variety wrote that YouTubers are more popular than mainstream celebrities among U.S. teens.[30] 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.[31]

YouTube's AdSense program enables creators to earn money from advertisements. 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 watch time within a year to be eligible.[32]


A micro-celebrity, also known as a micro-influencer, is a person famous within a niche group of users on a social media platform. Micro-celebrities often present themselves as public figures.[33] The concept of the micro-celebrity was originally developed by Theresa Senft and P. A. Poitier in their 2008 book, Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks.[34] According to Senft and Poitier, 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".[35] A number of other researchers have published papers on micro-celebrities.[36][37][38][39] According to Tobias 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".[40] 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.[35]

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; lit. 'Internet fame') is the Chinese version of Internet stardom. The wanghong economy is a Chinese digital economy based on influencer marketing in social media.[42] Some wanghong celebrities generate profits via retail or e-commerce, through attracting the attention of their followers. Internet celebrities have become a popular phenomenon in China. For example, Sister Furong (Fúróng Jiějiě, 芙蓉姐姐) received worldwide notoriety and fame for her self-promotion efforts through online posts.[43] According to CBN Data, a commercial data company affiliated with Alibaba Group, the Chinese internet celebrity economy was estimated to be worth CN¥58 billion (US$8.4 billion) in 2016, more than China's total cinema box office revenue in 2015.[44]

There are two main business models in the wanghong economy: social media advertising, and online retail. In the online retailing business model, e-commerce-based wanghong use 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 may promote their products by modeling for their shops by posting pictures or videos of themselves wearing the clothes or accessories they sell, or giving makeup or fashion tips.[45] They serve as key opinion leaders for their followers, who either aspire to be like them or look up to them.

Zhang Dayi (张大奕)—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.[46] This is comparable to the US$21 million made by Fan Bingbing (范冰冰), a top Chinese actress. Li Ziqi (李子柒), 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.[47]

Censorship in China has created an independent social media ecosystem that has become successful in its own way.[48] For every Western social media platform, there is a comparable Chinese version; Chinese social media platforms, however, generate revenue differently. 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,[49] Sina 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).[50]

Net idols[edit]

In Japan, a specific type of internet celebrity is known as a net idol (ネットアイドル, Netto aidoru), a sub-category of the idol industry in Japan. Net idols first emerged in the 1990s through personal websites and blogs when internet became more accessible, with some selling personal merchandise such as photo books through their websites.[51] Around March 2007, dance covers (known as odottemita (踊ってみた, lit. "I tried dancing")) became popular in video-sharing websites such as Niconico, which in turn led people into performing choreographed dances from anime series and idol groups.[52] Notable creators of dance covers, known as odorite (踊り手), who later debuted as idols include Kozue Aikawa from Danceroid,[53] Beckii Cruel,[54] and Keekihime.[55]


VTubers or virtual Youtubers are entertainers that use digital 3D model avatars that are computer generated. VTubers originated from Japan, beginning in the early 2010s, and have risen in popularity in the 2020s. The first virtual Youtuber was Ami Yamato,[56] who debuted on May 18, 2011; the first VTuber who had used the phrase "virtual Youtuber" is Kizuna AI,[57] who began entertaining in 2016. The appeal of VTubers is similar to a real person, except the entertainer may choose to remain anonymous through their VTuber persona. The 2D anime virtual avatars appealed to many Japanese fans and popularity began to spread internationally. In October 2021, there has been reported to be 16,000[58] VTubers around the world.

VTubers function in a similar fashion to YouTubers and streamers, with some VTubers being music artists. These VTubers that were music artists or broadcast their musical talent would be dubbed "VSinger" (virtual singer).[59] Agencies such as Hololive and VShojo, scout and hire these VTubers to aid in marketing and build popularity. Their trademark character being the VTuber avatar or a 2D anime form of that character on the album covers, allowing recognition of the avatar and for the agency.[60]


Chiara Ferragni is a fashion influencer and blogger known for her sponsored fashion posts.

Different types of internet celebrities can make money in various ways, but most of them earn money from endorsements or sponsorships. Internet celebrities can use their fame to promote products or experiences to their followers, as a method of providing credibility to products.[61] 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. Endorsements for fashion and cosmetic products are common for Instagram internet influencers. YouTubers tend to advertise a wider array of products, regardless of relevance to their genre of content.

Influencers can also expand their source of revenue by creating their own products or merchandise to sell.[62] By doing this, and by using their platform to promote their products to an established audience, influencers can earn money by developing their own reputable brands. Bloggers can feature sponsored posts in social media to make profits.[63] For instance, fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni started as an online blogger, and then gained millions of followers on Instagram. She later created her brand, the Chiara Ferragni Collection. Like many other Instagram celebrities, Ferragni started by charging money per post for promoting brands. She earns revenue from promotional Instagram posts and the sale of her own products.[64]

In 2020, a report by venture-capital firm SignalFire stated that the economy spawned by internet creators was the "fastest-growing type of small business".[65]

Advertising regulations[edit]

Despite the recent emergence of influencer culture, influencer marketing and advertising it is left highly unregulated by existing legislation. This became a prevalent concern when users on social media platforms were finding it difficult to distinguish any differences between advertisements and sponsorships with personal posts. This was evident with the mismanagement of Fyre Festival, where numerous Instagram influencers were sanctioned for their lack of transparency.[66] This led to a massive backlash from the public, who felt the promotion of the event deliberately misled and confused target audiences. As a result, numerous advertising bodies sought to introduce strict regulations and guidelines around influencer marketing. This includes the AANA (Australian Associations of National Advertisers), who states that influencer advertising must be "clearly distinguishable".[67]

Cancel culture[edit]

Cancel culture is a form of ostracism where an individual is excluded from social or professional circles because of certain past or present actions or allegations. The act may occur on social media platforms or in person. Cancel culture is a common term among internet celebrities where they may lose their source of income, fans, or reputation because of their controversial actions. For example, Beauty Guru YouTuber Jeffree Star has faced many allegations of misconduct in his career, which include cyberbullying and vocally expressing racist remarks. On July 10, 2020, the makeup brand Morphe cut ties and ceased all makeup collaborations with Jeffree Star because his problematic past had resurfaced.[68] The year before that, Kuwaiti celebrity Sondos Alqattan was "cancelled" for criticising Filipinos. As a result of this, some brands cut ties with her.[69]

Interacting with fans[edit]

VidCon 2017

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 produced in collaboration with talent manager Michael Weist[70] 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.[71]

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.[72]

Effect on fans[edit]

Internet celebrities can draw in a devoted crowd of fans whether their reach is small or wide. A scholarly article published from Thammasat University in Thailand explains that the younger generation is becoming more attracted to the path of fame compared to the typical intellectual development and financial security route.[15] The appearance of the ease and simplicity of the life of internet celebrities obstructs the reality of what this life often really entails. Seeing influencers display the highlights of their lives has shown to produce some unintended effects on fans.[citation needed]

Fans at the 2014 VidCon event where hundreds of individuals wait to see their favorite internet celebrity YouTubers

Those who closely follow the lives of internet celebrities are more likely to develop psychological difficulties such as anxiety, depression, and dissociation.[73] Although many internet celebrities appreciate the support and loyalty of their viewers and fans, the dedication to their lives can sometimes be intense. Fans may develop extreme behaviors or attitudes towards their favorite celebrities that can be identified as obsessive or may sometimes result to criminal behavior.[73] The younger crowd are also being impacted through seeing their internet celebrities on different social media platforms. The Journal of Behavioral Addictions published by Akademiai Kiado evaluates a study that was done on Hungarian adolescents demonstrate these effects. The research found that the desire for fame on the internet was negatively associated with self-acceptance and potentially result to materialism and the desire for social recognition.[73]

Internet celebrities are also able to influence fans through creating parasocial relationships with their audiences. For example, Kim Kardashian frequently creates the appearance of authenticity through harnessing the emotions of her audience. In Lueck's (2012) study they find that 60% of her Facebook advertising contains an "embedded emotional/transformational story".[74] Her social media posts blur the boundaries between commercial promotion and personal storytelling, making it more difficult for followers to distinguish between authentic messages and promotional material. This motivates the followers to engage in particular purchasing behaviours which reflects her parasocial influence.

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Further reading[edit]