Social media celebrities are highly visible media figures whose fame is native to social media platforms. They are also referred to as ‘micro-celebrities’. According to Marwick and body (2011), micro-celebrities construct an image of the self to be consumed by peer users on social media, thus attracting them as a fan base. Social media platforms are coded environments where the popularity metrics incite ordinary users to conduct self-expression and self-representation practices. Consequently, the logic of branding and celebrification, which used to be reserved for media professionals and traditional celebrities, now infiltrates ordinary people’s everyday life. In Gamson’s (2011) words, the unwatched live is not worth living.
The concept of ‘micro’ needs to be clarified here. It can be the case that micro-celebrity practitioners operate within certain subculture domains or enact specific fashion and lifestyle practices (Turner, 2014). However, this does not necessarily mean that they only attract a small number of followers. The hipster micro-population described by Maly and Varis (2016) identify with a niche lifestyle culture that can be observed on the global level. Moreover, as explained by Vonderau (2016), a Swedish YouTuber whose subscribers are mainly 13-24 females and who gets 4.5 million audience contacts a month, can reach to the whole population of that demographics in Sweden. In this sense, this YouTuber is not that ‘micro’ compared to a traditional pop star who also speaks to the similar segment of audiences.
The culture logic of social media celebrity
To understand the characteristics of social media celebrity, we should attend to both the logic of social media and celebrity culture. Culture logic is the norms, mechanism and economics underpinning the dynamic of culture production and consumption. If we compare social media celebrities to traditional entertainment stars, we can conclude with some distinctive logic from the fame online (Hou, 2018).
Celebrity practitioners establish a sense of authenticity through the interactive representation of the intimate and private self, and they adopt affiliative techniques to show equality and commonality with fans. This does not imply that we witness more reality or factual information from social media celebrity content. Rather, the Goffmanian distinction between the ‘front region’ and the ‘back region’ has collapsed (Goffman 1959). In YouTube videos such as ‘Get Ready with Me’ or ‘My Morning Routine’, authenticity becomes a genre of content instead of an effect. The videos claim that authenticity is here and now, actually there is nothing else more than authenticity.
Related to the concept of authenticity is connectedness. Traditional celebrities keep a distance from their audience. What is new for social media celebrity is the ability to maintain engagement with audiences continuously. It is also common for vloggers to maintain multiple media presences on different platforms. For example, a beauty guru may tweet a quick ‘popping-into’ the local drugstore, and Instagram the product at close-up, which potentially leads up to a beauty haul or review video based on audience reaction. The multi-platform representation, afforded by handy mobile devices, enables a vlogger to be connected with subscribers and followers continuously and in real time
Social media celebrity operates with the logic of abundance. Traditional celebrity agencies and managers may only contract with several talents, and every of them requires intensive training and grooming, thus high investment to maintain the celebrity image. Their celebrity status is also precarious and highly disposable. However social media celebrities are not replaced or disposed, instead they are aggregated into a vertical market and monetized all together. Like amazon selling books, the total sale of low volume niche market books can be compared to the sale of the best sellers. While Amazon has solved the problem of limited physical displaying space of offline bookstores, social media celebrity agencies provide automated services for social talents online.
Media convergence refers to that the traditional entertainment industry and IT industry are learning from each other in terms of business models and culture logic. This is also the case for celebrity culture online and offline. The popularization of Japanese idol culture demonstrates this trend (Marx, 2012). An idol is a celebrity whose success is mainly established through one’s intimate interactions with fans. An idol may not be a talented and skilled singer or performer, but one must have good appearance and perform a likable personality. Similarly, many entertainment stars like Lady Gaga also interact with fans constantly and intimately on Facebook and Twitter (Click et al., 2013) . These examples suggest that while ordinary people learn to celebrate themselves, stars in the entertainment industry also learn to enact intimate and connected relationship with audiences and fans.
Click, M. A., Lee, H., & Holladay, H. W. (2013). Making monsters: Lady Gaga, fan identification, and social media. Popular Music and Society, 36(3), 360-379.
Gamson, J. (2011). The unwatched life is not worth living: The elevation of the ordinary in celebrity culture. PMLA, 126(4), 1061-1069.
Goffman, E. (1956). The representation of self in everyday life. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Social Sciences Research Centre.
Hou, M. (2018). Social media celebrity and institutionalization of YouTube, in Convergence. Online first
Maly, I., & Varis, P. (2016). The 21st-century hipster: On micro-populations in times of superdiversity. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 19(6), 637-653.
Marwick and body (2011) Marwick, A. E., & boyd, D. (2010). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13(1), 114-133.
Marx, D. W. (2012). The Jimusho system: understanding the production logic of the Japanese entertainment industry. In Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture (pp. 35-55). London: Palgrave
Turner, G. (2014). Understanding celebrity. London: Sage.
Vonderau (2016) Vonderau, P. (2016). The video bubble: Multichannel networks and the transformation of YouTube. Convergence, 22(4), 361-375.