Who is famous on the Internet is not famous-famous

YouTuber Emma Chamberlain at the Met Gala in 2022 (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

Even those who have millions and millions of subscribers are rarely recognized and known as pop stars and actors: why?

Before social networks, becoming a famous person, recognizable by millions of people, was quite rare and difficult. You had to be very talented, very beautiful or very rich, and often very lucky: movie, music and television stars, especially charismatic athletes or politicians, artists (some) or models. In most cases, the public attention given to these people was also due to the fact that the mainstream media recognized them as celebrities and consequently talked about their lives, causing even more people to recognize them trivially as “famous people”.

Over the past fifteen years, these famous people have been joined by a new category of women and men, or girls and boys, who have attracted the attention of thousands or even millions of people, but on the Internet: YouTubers and tiktokers, influencers and content creator all kinds. However, despite being followed by large masses of people, it is very rare for influencers and content creators to reach the level of notoriety to be considered celebrities in the traditional sense of the word. More often than not, they remain known only within their own niche of followers, no matter how numerous, and completely unknown outside of it: drawing bewildered looks, if not ridicule, when, for example, they are invited to participate in events associated with “mainstream” fame, such as annual gala organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or Venice Film Festival.

“Content creators remain petty bourgeois in the entertainment world, despite the fact that people today are consuming more video online than ever before,” wrote essay author W. David Marks in a recent newsletter. Status and Culture: How Our Pursuit of Social Status Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change. “Even though the Internet has become the standard tool for understanding ‘real life’, true global celebrity status is still only achieved by appearing in a popular movie or TV show, charting on radio, or appearing in advertising campaigns for major international brands.” . One example is Justin Bieber, who started out by posting audition videos of himself singing songs on YouTube, but only became an international pop star after the work of influential producer Scooter Braun.

In part, Marx believes that the greater importance given to “traditional” celebrities, such as pop stars and Hollywood stars, is simply due to some delay in the realization that once highly respected and influential institutions – such as, for example, Hollywood is to no longer have the cultural centrality of the past. But much of the reason, he says, lies in the very nature of digital platforms, at least as they operate today.

“For a certain taste to develop around a phenomenon, a certain degree of elitism is necessary, because people are looking for points of reference on which to base their cultural preferences,” writes Marx. For a long time, this work was carried out by magazines, which, in addition to transmitting information to the population, also played a legitimizing role, giving preference to one person or phenomenon over another. Conversely, digital platforms have always refused to play such a role. In the case of all major social networks, the recommendation algorithms that determine the order in which content is shown to users are not based on the tastes of the owner, but on what the algorithm thinks might be more interesting to the user, based on the large amount of data they own.

Add to that the fact that people who have become famous online will miss the allure of celebrities who often come from very wealthy families themselves or are made up of famous people themselves. On the contrary, social networks allow even ordinary people to attract a lot of attention.

“This means that we assume that Internet celebrities are self-made “nobody” and not “chosen ones” who managed to convince producers or directors of their abilities,” writes Marks. “And unlike real stars, we don’t see these creators filming with experienced athletes or billionaires in real life. So, while glamor is associated with power, money, and previous fame, internet stars start at a disadvantage. What matters in these circumstances is the ability to surround yourself at a certain moment with people who know the world of celebrity and can help them advance as astutely as possible in a sector that creators are not accustomed to from a young age, unlike many celebrities.

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In Italy, for example, the main vector of fame is still television, a sector that is very difficult to enter without knowledge. “We often wonder if TV can be the right medium for our creators: often they tell us what they would like to do TV,” says Helio Di Nardo, CEO of Show Reel Factory, a management that represents many Italian influencers. and content creators.

“In such cases, we ask them what programs they would like to see themselves in, what they would like to do on television,” continues Di Nardo. “But the truth is that the space is small because they are used to creating very specific content that is meant for their community, while TV is a versatile space that rarely appreciates beautiful characters, especially if they are young. One who has succeeded in this is Frank Matano, who started out as a creator but finds himself in a wide variety of contexts. But many others want to be on TV because they have to, even if the end result isn’t always great.”

The very pursuit of a “universal” level of celebrity doesn’t necessarily make sense for all creators, he says. Some are not ready for the impact on their personal and daily lives when they are recognized on the street; others have millions of “passive” followers, i.e. not very interested in actually engaging with what the character in question has to offer. Still others, like Christina Fogazzi, also known as the Beautician Cynic, are more interested in growing as an entrepreneur than as a celebrity. Characters such as Chiara Ferragni, who started out as a fashion blogger and became Italy’s most popular influencer and this year’s co-representative of the Sanremo festival, are seen as unique rather than rare.

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“For most creators, the path that makes the most sense certainly starts with expanding the circle of people they talk to, but not necessarily with the goal of reaching the general public,” explains Di Nardo. In recent years, it has actually been demonstrated that it is not necessary to have millions of followers, but rather a very strong and “niche” community, very engaged, participating and willing to trust the advice of their reference content creators.

“If a content creator is into healthy eating and fitness, their content is not very useful for people who are not interested in these topics. When we talk to creators, the goal is to make them professionals, following their nature, getting them to do what they do – be it chefs, artists, makeup artists – to give their best, but not necessarily to achieve the maximum fame. The important thing is that they expand to a pool of people who are potentially interested in what they do,” says Di Nardo.

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