In this paper, I will discuss content creator and influencer Brittany Broski, focusing on how she presents herself as authentic.
Who is Brittany Broski?
Brittany's real last name is Tomlinson, but she goes by her catchy handle, Brittany Broski. She is a 23-year-old content creator and influencer. Over the several years she has become popular online and can now be considered a micro-celebrity. She first went viral due to a TikTok video in which she tried kombucha for the first time, and two frames were made into a meme that went viral. People still recognize her as 'Kombucha Girl' today.
Since then, she has built a large community of loyal followers. She has 6.1 million followers on TikTok, 834k subscribers on her YouTube channel, and 757k followers on her Instagram (as of 04/03/2021). She has made content for Comedy Central and MTV's YouTube channels and is frequently featured in other YouTubers' videos. In 2019, she won the ‘break the internet' award in the 'TikToker of the year' category and was nominated for a Shorty Award. She also presented an award at the Streamys in both 2019 and 2020.
Going viral overnight
Broski's rise to popularity is bizarre, as she went viral overnight by accident, as she explained in a 2020 interview with Buzzfeed. Brittany is originally from Dallas, Texas and had an ordinary life. She graduated from college and worked as a banker in trust and investment services. She downloaded TikTok as a joke in August 2019, when it was not yet the same popular platform it is today.
During this time, she made a TikTok of her trying kombucha for the first time. She had a very genuine reaction to it and pulled funny facial expressions. What is interesting is that the video did not do well at first. The next day, she saw that two screenshots of the video were uploaded to Twitter in the form of a sexually oriented meme. She messaged the user that uploaded it with the intention of having it taken down. Instead, the opposite happened: she got tagged in the post.
Up until that point, her Twitter account was private and only had a few followers. She decided to make her Twitter account public and suddenly gained 96.000 followers in a single day. After that, she became recognized as 'Kombucha Girl' and her TikTok went viral. She tried to explain to her boss that it was taken out of context and that she had no control over it, but was eventually fired as the meme made her and the company look unprofessional. Soon after, however, multiple agencies approached her for work and she moved to Los Angeles.
The Kombucha meme
Frames from Brittany's viral kombucha video were made into a meme that spread all over the internet in lots of variations and languages. She saw her face even appear on protest signs in Hong Kong and New Zealand. Figure 1 is one variant of the kombucha meme.
Shifman (2013) presents a method for analyzing memes through three dimensions: content, form and stance. Beginning with form, a meme's form usually stays the same, although the layout of the frames can differ. The content, on the other hand, is always different. The meaning of the two facial expressions is not really up for interpretation: the left one communicates disgust and the right one communicates possible approval. The text or caption that goes with the meme determines what is conveyed and has endless possibilities.
Stance describes what the meme communicates. Memes are often used as a popular and easy way to reflect on events and connect with others (Shifman, 2013). Figure 1 in particular has a referential function, as it reflects on the current pandemic. Most people are at more often at home or self-quarantined, so many people can relate to it. It makes the situation lighter by bringing comedy into it. While no one likes quarantine, a lot of people like fast food. McDonald's drive-throughs stayed open during this time, so this meme also refers to people’s need for a little trip to get out of the house. A 'quarter pounder with cheese' was chosen as the caption on the right, because it fits well with the word quarantine and makes it a funny combination.
Social media platforms as content shapers
As Broski gained popularity due to the kombucha meme, she also gained more and more followers on social media. She now makes different content across multiple platforms. As van Dijck (2013) points out, platforms work as mediators. Each platform has a different interface and features that shape people's behaviour. Indeed, these platforms are revenue-oriented and need to keep both users and creators engaged. Brittany therefore bases her content on what works well on each platform, but also simply what she wants to make. I will be discussing TikTok and YouTube to illustrate this.
TikTok is the platform where Brittany has the most followers. She uploads multiple short videos a day and currently has a main verified account as well as a private ‘spam account’. On her private account, @losingmymarblesagain, her 1.8 million followers are used to 'exclusive' videos of her expressing what is on her mind. These are more intimate videos where she shares things seemingly without much consideration. On her main account, she makes more ‘prepared’ content like sketches, stories, singing or doing impressions. She also posts reaction videos where she responds to content from other TikTokers or comments from followers. Notably, intimate content or videos of her just talking also sometimes appear on her main channel.
Apart from her two TikTok accounts, she also has a YouTube channel where she makes longer content like make-up and hairstyle tutorials, DIY’s and painting videos, cooking videos, and discussions about art and music. However, her followers click mostly for her funny personality. She can quote any popular cultural phenomenon. Yet, she is more than just funny. She is well-educated and talks about informative topics in an attempt to educate her community. For example, in a makeup tutorial video she addresses racism and criticizes celebrities for ‘performative activism’, i.e. only showing that they care about certain issues to work on their reputation.
For Brittany to make a living from the content she makes, she needs to present herself as authentic and make interactive, audience-centred content.
To make a living from being a content creator, she sometimes collaborates with brands and makes paid content. On YouTube she makes sponsored videos where she promotes a certain product or service before, after, or in between her usual content. On TikTok, her paid content is different in the sense that she more often does a funny sketch about the brand. Figure 2 is one example of this - she pretends to be held hostage by the doll Annabelle to promote the HBO film 'Annabelle Comes Home.' A hashtag marks the video as paid content. She does not force or mislead people into buying an HBO subscription, but she is still an influencer. She influences, even though it might be to a small extent, people's purchasing behaviour.
Brittany makes content on both YouTube and TikTok involving style tutorials and sketches. Her style tutorials in particular fall under the category of Social Media Entertainment (SME). Cunningham and Craig (2017) describe SME as a commercialized place in which creators are expected to honour certain norms. For Brittany to make a living from the content she makes, she needs to present herself as authentic and make interactive, audience-centred content.
She is a micro-celebrity and a fan herself, which makes her look both relatable and unrelatable
As García-Rapp & Roca-Cuberes (2017) discuss, doing this means putting forward an edited self. This does not mean fake; it is about living up to the behavioural rules that come with creating SME. Brittany needs to maintain an appealing online persona so that her followers find her deserving of her popularity and subsequent income. She needs to be relatable and seen as doing it for the right reasons (García-Rapp & Roca-Cuberes, 2017). In the above-mentioned interview with Buzzfeed, Brittany states that she has always loved making content, so she meets this particular expectation as she has a passion for creating. By meeting viewer expectations, Brittany maintains a strong creator-community-relationship. Brittany can monitor this herself as she constantly gets feedback in the form of messages and comments.
I will further illustrate Brittany's self-presentation through the following examples. First, while watching her content, it feels as though she would also joke around or do her makeup in the same way off-camera. Her jokes always seem off-the-cuff and she does not pretend to be someone else. Her self-presentation appears quite transparent and she does not want to pretend to be at all perfect. She openly shares her bad days and struggles with mental health and self-image. For example, she has made a popular TikTok of her eating a ‘depression meal’, consisting of apple slices and chocolate chips, which made her laugh too. This raw content makes her relatable, as she shows real-life struggles while making fun of herself to keep it light and make people laugh. Her online vulnerability helps create a quite intimate parasocial relationship with her followers.
Secondly, she puts so much personality in her content that it makes her stand out. For example, her Texan roots are present as part of her personality. Moreover, she is a fan of other celebrities, like the Beatles, Harry Styles and Post Malone, and talks a lot about them on both TikTok and YouTube. She is a micro-celebrity and a fan herself, which makes her look both relatable and unrelatable, as is typical for a successful influencer (García-Rapp & Roca-Cuberes 2017). Below is an example of a tutorial video where she talks about how she is a big fan of Harry Styles and tries to look like him. She seems to be very comfortable with showing different facets of her personality in the content she makes.
Lastly, Brittany interacts a lot with her followers and even calls them her friends. She frequently thanks her followers in her videos, shares fan art, and goes 'live' on Instagram to interact with them. Frequent interaction helps fans see her as reachable or accessible. There is a strong parasocial relationship with inside jokes and interactions, especially on Tiktok. The TikTok comment in figure 3 corroborates this. Many people liked the comment, including Brittany. Even though her followers are mostly strangers, they feel addressed while watching her content. Her community feels like they know her. This comment also indicates that her followers find her trustworthy and consistent. They know what to expect from her, even though she is constantly creating new content. Brittany thus maintains a very strong creator-community-relationship (Cunningham & Craig 2017).
Having described Brittany's unusual road to success, her wide range of content full of personality, and her authentic self-presentation, a certain conclusion can be drawn.
She does fit the norms of being a creator of SME and adopts strategies to present a self-monitored online self (Cunningham & Craig, 2017; García-Rapp & Roca-Cuberes, 2017). But she is much more than appealing and trustworthy to brands and accesible to her audience. She seems to stay close to herself. Her followers click for her outspoken and relatable personality and find her deserving of her position.
The Kombucha meme that made her go viral was made to be funny and has been used to bring lightness to a bad situation. Her content is like that. She makes content both to entertain people and because she likes to create and express herself. Brittany interacts with her fans frequently and thanks them for supporting her. This is both a commercial strategy and a way for her to connect and be audience-centric (Cunningham & Craig, 2017).
All in all, she comes across as authentic. She fits in but also stands out (García-Rapp & Roca-Cuberes, 2017), as she is more than just a comedian or a makeup influencer. It is refreshing to see a popular social media celebrity show so many aspects of her personality online. It remains to be seen what Brittany's career will eventually look like. However she seems to be a natural entertainer that has a lot to offer, and will likely continue to make content. She may make it to the big screen someday, but for the time being, she will keep making fun content on TikTok and YouTube with a rapidly increasing audience and supporters.
Cunningham, S., & Craig, D. (2017). Being ‘really real’ on YouTube: authenticity, community and brand culture in social media entertainment. Media International Australia, 164(1), 71–81.
García-Rapp, F., & Roca-Cuberes, C. (2017). Being an online celebrity: Norms and expectations of YouTube’s beauty community. First Monday, 22(7).
Shifman, L. (2013). Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling with a Conceptual Troublemaker. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 18(3), 362–377.
van Dijck, J. (2013). Culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford University Press.