The Social Media Age: Celebrities, Branding, and the Future of their Convergence

By Madison Sternberg

Introduction

Social media has revolutionized the traditional ideas of branding, advertising, and even celebrity. Instagram and YouTube “famous” personalities are paid thousands of dollars to effectively yet discreetly promote products. Rather than the promotion seem like an obvious advertisement, the online personality make it appear as if they are a friend just suggesting a product they love to help their thousands to millions of followers.

Product Promotion

The main draw to promoting products through social media “celebrities” is the ostensible authenticity and genuine nature of their promotion. Minor celebrity YouTubers and Instagram-ers post pictures and share videos of personal parts of their lives. They talk about how comfortable they are sharing these more personal aspects of their lives with their followers because they “love them so much,” going so far as to call them their friends. Thus, creating a falsely close relationship between an Internet “celebrity” and their fanbase. So, large and small companies alike are pursuing these Internet celebrities to take advantage of these close fan- celebrity relationships to achieve a more intimate form of marketing.

Companies desire social media marketing for the intimate nature of the product promotion described above. But also, because promoting through social media influencers is generally cheaper, easier to control on the company’s behalf, and depending on their target audience, more people will probably see it (Hossain, 2014).

The entire industry is changing as companies are moving more of their marketing and advertising efforts towards social media. It is important to note this change as social media can open even more doors for what is can accomplish. Yet, it also brings up the question of how brands product promotion will play a role in everyday life as people’s’ day to day activities, such as checking Instagram or Facebook, reading e-mail, and even reading the news online, are becoming more inundated with advertisements.

Redefining Celebrity

Furthermore, the social media revolution completely redefines the term “celebrity.” Any photogenic person with a camera and editing skills can technically be “famous” nowadays. One must question how the emergence of this new brand of celebrity will change the fabric of the current culture and obsession that surrounds traditional celebrities.

Fig. 11- Social Media Redefining How to be a Celebrity

Social media personalities have already changed the play field in the sense that now traditional celebrities are much more active on social media themselves (Fig. 11). Social media celebrities have completely changed the standards of how to stay competitive as a public figure. Now an Instagram post or a Tweet can either make or break a person and their career.

Such a focus on social media ultimately raises the question of how marketing will change as companies find new and more effective ways to utilize social media. This leads to another question of why, in today’s modern technological age, do people pay more attention to a company’s or a public figure’s Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube posts than print or TV ads for their work?

Celebrity

Along with the changes social media has brought for marketing and advertising strategy it has also changed the definition of “celebrity” and what it means to be “famous.” Social media personalities are paid to promote products through YouTube and Instagram posts.

Attractive young people with camera presence and fashion appeal can garner tens to hundreds of thousands to millions of followers based off seemingly asinine yet entertaining videos about anything from games to makeup.

Specifically, popular YouTubers are making legitimate careers out of their videos. And as their fan base grows, so do their opportunities. Successful YouTubers have partnered with makeup brands, publishing houses, and even department stores to extend their brand outside of YouTube.

“Internet famous” personalities are garnering real, legitimate fan bases akin to that of movie or music stars. Companies are paying online celebrities, much like traditional celebrity spokespeople, to promote products.

This enhances the personal and genuine quality of these discreet ads, as they appear as a friend offering advice, rather than a spokesperson getting paid to say they love a product. Thus, why companies are utilizing famous internet personalities for product placement.

Background

“In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee managed to connect hypertext technology to the Internet formed the basis to a new type of networked communication” (Dijck, 2013, pg. 5). The Internet helped connect communities, but not in the same way as it is today. It was generally more “generic services,” with most of the meeting and talking happening offline. Then, around the turn of the millennium, online networks changed from being a channel for people to meet, to a two-way interactive portal for people to communicate online (Dijk, 2013, pg. 5)

The emergence of Internet as a platform for communication and social networks has changed how people connect with other people. However, more recently, it has also changed the way people connect and interact with brands and companies.

Technologists have labeled social networking and user-generated content sites as Web 2.0. These websites marked a dissent from traditional media sources. “They promised the democratization of celebrity and entertainment, new forms of activism, and the potential for open, transparent information of all kinds” (Marwick, 2013, pg. 22).

Marketing and Advertising

Marketing is a longstanding, well-established industry. It evolved from print, to radio, to television, then finally to the Internet. Marketing exists within almost every media medium. It wasn’t until the phenomenon of social media caught on that brands began to utilize platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.

In the age of the “produser,” audiences are more active than ever in what they consume in the media and how they consume media. A “produser” or produsage is user-created content on various online websites, such as Wikipedia or Blogger,where the user can create and also consume media content (Bruns, 2011, pg. 4).

This active, promotional approach to social media is part of the reason brands needed to change their marketing and advertising tactics. Audiences today expect a more personalized online experience. Social media users decide what they see, who they connect with, and then can create suggestions based off of that information. Social media allows the user to decide what they see, who they connect with, and then can create suggestions based off of that information.

Consumers are becoming more active in what products they find through media. Thus, companies are posting more on their social media accounts to appease their followers. Additionally, they will post social media exclusive discount codes and sales to reward their fans for being loyal followers. Nowadays, a brand’s social media following is almost as important as their sales.

Social media creates new opportunities for brands and company departments. For business, social media marketing has multiple benefits that traditional forms of media cannot match: the accounts of followers give further insight into business’ target audiences, help companies spot trends, and create new channels for brands to spread their message in a more personalized and controllable manner.

This report aims to illustrate the benefits of social media, and how companies can further utilize social networks as a new medium to advertise and market their brand without a middleman, as the company’s marketing and/or social media team can directly post to their social media accounts, rather than sending it off to a intermediate magazine or TV station for approval.

Social media is a marketing frontier that is just beginning to be explored. It is a channel for companies to directly communicate with loyal and new customers alike. While platforms like Instagram or Twitter still have some content restrictions they are much less limiting than traditional forms of media such as print, radio, and TV. Social media marketing provides followers of companies and brands with a unique and personal experience and offer a personality that these customers and followers can relate to.

YouTube

YouTubers famous enough to make their videos a full time job can have anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of followers. They generally create partnerships with companies, getting paid to promote their products through their videos and other social media accounts.

For example, possibly the most lucrative creators are the “beauty gurus.” These beauty bloggers create a variety of videos focusing on makeup, skincare, and hair care. YouTuber Kandee Johnson[1] boasts over 3.5 million followers. She is considered one of the most successful YouTubers to date and has made a legitimate career from her videos and other projects that have come from her YouTube success. Johnson is extremely energetic, cute, and personable. She makes her viewers feel like friends, and creates a relationship with them through her videos and other social media posts.

In her videos, Johnson will either review or use products, urging her audience to buy a certain mascara or eyeshadow. Since Johnson creates such an ostensibly close and personal relationship with her viewers, they see her recommendations as legitimate suggestion, friend to a friend. And some of her advice is real and genuine. However, a lot of it is paid product promotion.

In an Instagram post, Johnson gives a “sneak peak” into her a video shoot with Too Faced Cosmetics. While the post does give her fan a look into what Johnson is currently working on, it all serves as a promotion for Too Faced and whatever product Johnson is promoting with them (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6- A Snapshot from Johnson’s Instagram

Many YouTube celebrities say they will not accept paid product promotion if they don’t actually like the product. However, there is no way to really know the validity of those statements

YouTuber Aspyn Ovard’s Instagram account[2] boasts 1.5 million followers, while her YouTube account has 1.25 million. While YouTube is Ovard’s main social media channel, her Instagram is more popular for a number of reasons: pictures are easy to look at than videos and Instagram is more accessible than YouTube (takes less time, no noise, and the app is more user-friendly). In March 2015, Ovard visited Hawaii on a trip sponsored by Benefit Cosmetics. Because of this, Ovard posted an Instagram of Benefit’s new products that they are currently promoting. The post’s caption reads “More Hawaii pics are up on AspynOvard.com! Link is in my bio #HoolaStateOfMind @benefitcosmetics.” (Fig. 5) Ovard does not directly refer to the product placement, even though the photo itself makes it rather obvious. This way Ovard can fulfill her partnership requirements with Benefit by posting about them and her trip, while also seeming more genuine by offering her followers a special look into her trip to Hawaii with her husband.

Fig. 5- A Snapshot From Ovard’s Instagram

Kutthakaphan and Chokesamritpol point out how celebrities give products more credibility as they appear trustworthier and have greater expertise than non-celebrities, or not well-known public figures (2013, pg. 5). Thus, this mixture of credibility plus loyalty to a favorite Instagram personality makes audiences see paid product promotion as a believable suggestion for a great product, not an ad that a popular Instagram user is getting paid to post.

Twitter

Twitter differentiates the most from other social media platforms for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Twitter is text-based, as opposed to image based (although photos can be added to Tweets). Secondly, Twitter is the least censored. Twitter has “freed the nipples,” and a lot of other things along with it. While Instagram and Facebook heavily monitor and censor the content on their sites, very little is removed for being too lude on Twitter. Lastly, Twitter is the least advertisement-heavy out of the three.

Twitter did not start using advertisements, or “promoted tweets” for revenue until 2010. Whereas Facebook “had some sort of ads when it launched back in 2004, and opened up to ad networks in 2006.” (Boorstin). Twitter is definitely the least ad heavy of the popular social media networks. Facebook has ads throughout users’ news feeds and down the side of the page. Instagram inserts sponsored posts into users’ feeds, and YouTube plays ads before most videos.

But also, because of this, in combination with Twitter’s waning popularity, famous Twitter users make the least amount of money compared to other famous social media users. It is generally anonymous accounts that make the money as well. These accounts are not a set person, for example in the article “How Teens Are Making Money Off Novelty Twitter Accounts,” the account “@MyTurnOns” is run by a 23-year-old man covertly trying to promote his own company through these tweets. These popular accounts are made to appeal to tweens and teens and avoid any specific personality to be as general and as popular as possible.

Twitter user “Heartless Girl” boasts 150,000 followers (which is actually not a lot in comparison to really popular accounts). By posting affiliated links to content from the site Cha-Cha, “Heartless Girl” makes about $25 to $60 a day, getting about two cents per click (Melendez). Compared to YouTube and Instagram celebrities, this is pocket change.

Fig. 9- Interest in Twitter from July 2013 to January 2016 (Courtesy of Snapdroid)

So, while Twitter is a new and different way for internet personalities to make money, it is definitely the least lucrative of the popular social media platforms. Additionally, Twitter use has recently started waning, so using it as a source of revenue will become less and less profitable (Fig. 9).

Instagram

Instagram is mainly an imaged based platform. Users post pictures with short captions and hashtags. As opposed to Twitter, Instagram is moderately censored. Any “lewd” images are removed from the site, such as pictures with females’ nipples, any gender’s genitals, and the like.

As of September 2015, Instagram had exceeded 400 million users, finally surpassing Twitter in number of users, but still less than YouTube (Statista).

Instagram is interesting in the sense that most Internet celebrities gained their followings through other platforms, such as YouTube or even Blogger. They now use Instagram to further their brand, and as another source of revenue. The amount a user can make on Instagram varies by popularity. According to Frank Spadafora, CEO of D’Marie Archive, an analytics group that has recently introduced an app and platform to guide agencies through putting a valuation on the social power of a model or influencer, Instagram can be a major source of revenue for traditional and nontraditional celebrities (Lomrantz Lester). Top models “Karlie Kloss, Behati Prinsloo, and Miranda Kerr — can command between $25,000 to $50,000 for a single post across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram,” according to Spadafora (Lomrantz Lester) (Fig. 10).

Fig .10 A Snapshot from Kloss’s Instagram with her equally social media famous friend, Taylor Swift

Internet celebrities, whose entire careers exist online can make just as much or even more than traditional celebrities. Karen Robinovitz, co-founder and chief creative officer of Digital Brand Architects, put the potential monetary success of blogger’s into perspective. Without naming the client, Robinovitz shared that “a single influencer drove $1 million in sales for a retailer,” and they certainly got compensation for such results (Lomrantz Lester).

Internet celebrities generally use Instagram to redirect their followers back to their main sites (whether that be a website, blog, or YouTube channel). But, if they can make a little money in the meantime, of course they will take advantage of the opportunity.

Ultimately, social media has opened and will open a variety of doors for the advertising/marketing industries and Internet personalities. As the two groups continue to work together, the limits of social media branding will continue to expand.

Evidence

A survey was taken of college students and recent graduates from a variety of universities asking them about their loyalty and trust of social media celebrities. The survey aimed to target Millennials as they are the most active on social media, and thus the most likely to create a connection with a social media celebrity.

Survey respondents mostly sat in the middle of this topic. 53 percent of the respondents labeled themselves as saying “Fan is a strong word,” although they do follow and pay attention to a few social media celebrities (Fig. 1). 74 percent of respondents said they weren’t loyal to any social media celebrities, however 68 percent of respondents follow at least one social media celebrity on multiple platforms.

Fig 1. — Survey Results for Fans of Social Media Celebrities

For the most part, like all trends, most respondents fell among the middle of the line, with some respondents falling on the opposite ends of the spectrum. There is an interesting dichotomy between the respondents’ personal thoughts regarding their relationship with social media celebrities, and their actions. Although the majority of respondents do not consider themselves quite fans of social media celebrities, 39 percent of respondents follow these online personalities on more than one platform. 47 percent of respondents said they would try a recommended product from a social media personality, depending on their area of expertise. Although, that is compared to 45 percent of respondents that said they would not ever trust a social media celebrity’s suggestion (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2- Survey of Likeliness to Try a Suggestion by a Social Media Celebrity

These survey results could reveal two things about social media influencers’ effectiveness: either people really do not trust their opinion, or audiences don’t realize the influence social media celebrities have them. And, based off the influence power Digital Brand Architects (who revealed that one of their clients single-handedly generated $1 million in revenue for an undisclosed company) the author’s guess is that the latter is the case.

Another interesting statistic was the overlap in social media celebrities’ platforms. The most popular social media celebrities were Jay Alvarrez and Alexis Ren, a social media famous couple basically known for being beautiful, in love, and travelling a lot. Alexis Ren and Jay Alvarrez have 4.9 million and 3.6 million, respectively. However, interestingly enough, Alvarrez greatly surpasses Ren in YouTube follows. Alvarez boasts over 695,000 followers, while Ren trails behind with an impressive 90,000. Regardless, the couple has a media presence that most could only dream of.

However, different followers know Ren and Alvarrez from their different accounts. While almost all of the respondents that were fans followed them on Instagram, less than half also followed them on YouTube. Thus, proving how important cross-platform marketing is, as many fans do follow the couple on multiple platforms, there is a distinct group that only follows one.

The bigger question still stands: what makes these social media personalities so popular, and why do people follow them? As revealed by Katy Bellotte[3], a popular YouTube and Instagrammer, “selfies and solo-shots perform exponentially better than simple photos of inanimate objects,” and “it is highly important to have a photo color scheme, commonly referred to as a “theme,” in order to attract followers” (pg. 3, 2015). Bellotte has a huge social media following, garnering over 153,000 followers on Instagram and over 444,000 followers on YouTube, her primary channel. Her social media statistics are impressive to say the least, as she has received over 9 million likes in total on her Instagram page (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3- Katy Bellotte’s Instagram Statistics

Bellotte also pointed out, that her biggest fan demographic is 14 to 18-year-old girls. So, she aims to create the online identity as the “internet big sister” (pg. 6, 2015). Thus causing her followers to trust her opinions and suggestions more, which Bellotte shares “is crucial, especially when producing sponsored photo and caption posts” (pg. 6, 2015).

While Bellotte clearly shows a mastery of YouTube and Instagram, she is rare for a number of reasons in the social media celebrity community. Like most online personalities, Bellotte has partnerships with companies that she either features in her videos or has their commercials play before her videos on YouTube. However, unlike most social media celebrities Bellotte attends college and is not based in Los Angeles.

Rather, Bellotte attends university in North Carolina. While geographic location does not seem like it would be a huge factor in social media presence, it does detach Bellotte from her social media celebrity counterparts. Since Bellotte is based in North Carolina her follower and following groups have a concentrated amount of North Carolina specific users. The biggest bar on the graph below represents all of the Elon students Bellotte follows (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7- Type of Accounts Katy Bellotte Follows

By analyzing who Bellotte follows her influencers can be found. And even though the most amount of people she follows are Elon students, they are not the most influential in her network. The visual below represents a network of the user’s with the greatest influence on Bellotte, even though she does not necessarily follow all of the users below, they still impact Bellotte (Fig. 8).

Bellotte, and other social media celebrities like her, obviously has a huge social media presence. However, the visual above reveals that the users that Bellotte follow hold much more influence and power than Bellotte and her peers, in the grand scheme of things. Unsurprisingly, the traditional celebrities are the ones with the most influence and connections. Closely behind the traditional celebrities though, are social media bloggers — the biggest ones being female and fashion/beauty focused.

Fig. 8- Bellotte’s Influencer Network

Ultimately, most social media personalities are influenced by larger factors. The more famous social media celebrities generally have a main social media platform they gained their main following on, and then created subsequent accounts, each account having a slightly different follower base. The influence of social media celebrities is varied and depends on many factors that are not normally thought about, such as geographic location. However, the power of social media marketing as a whole is unquestionable.

Discussion

All of the celebrities (social media and traditional) in the network above are sponsored by some brand. Whether they are subtly featured on their Instagram accounts, or a spokesperson for, all major celebrities, traditional and non, are partially supported by paid product promotion. Thus, with their influence they are serving as an extremely effective marketing platform to not only their followers, but also other influencers, such as Bellotte.

On social media, the most popular accounts are traditional celebrities. This is typical as they are the most recognizable, and audiences trust celebrities because of this (Goldsmith et. al, 2000, pg. 52). However, social media celebrities are growing quickly behind them and might become comparable to the likes of movie stars and musicians.

However, the second most popular group of people on Instagram is probably YouTube stars. Most social media celebrities appear to have multiple social networking accounts (such as Twitter, a Tumblr, a Facebook page, and even Periscope).

However, these YouTube-ers especially always maintain that their main social media platform is YouTube. Rather than put a quote or significant dates in their bio, a link to their YouTube page or latest video is posted.

Out of all of the different Instagram and Twitter account viewed, the YouTube-ers were the most business-minded and strategized the best with their social media. Every couple of posts is either a clever product placement, or a link in the caption leading users to their latest video or collaboration. Anywhere text can be posted for these individuals they are using it to send followers ultimately back to their YouTube pages, which, for most successful YouTube-ers, is their main source of income.

Social media has created an entirely new platform where “non-celebrities” can post videos or pictures and gain the status and influence of a minor celebrity.

And, in a lot of ways it works similarly to real celebrity.

Fig. 12- Katy Belotte, a famous YouTube-er currently attending school in North Carolina.

As discussed above, location matters. All of the most influential social media accounts are all based in Los Angeles. And, while there are successful social media personalities based outside of L.A., they do not carry the same clout as those in the city.

So, social media influence does vary depending on a few factors. However, even users like Bellotte, who is located over 2,000 miles away from her YouTube colleagues, has influence over slightly different audiences (Fig. 12). Although her association with Elon University does give Bellotte an extremely loyal group of Elon-specific followers, they are nowhere near as powerful as the fellow fashion bloggers and companies that follow Bellotte/Bellotte follows.

The interconnectivity within influential social media presences reveals an overlap that is favorable to followers. When two social media influencers follow each other, have similar followers, and interact via online social media that brings their two follower bases together, doubling the influence and attention on that specific interaction.

Companies are attracted to this strong social media influence and looks for users with ample connections and power to promote their products. A minor celebrity such as Bellotte has impressive sponsors such as L’Oreal Cosmetics and EcoTools. However, an even more influential celebrity, like Alexis Ren, will actually partner with companies to create their own line of products and maintain many other partnerships with companies, on a global scale (Ren released her workout line with Bandier about two months ago).

By creating a relationship between a brand and generally beloved celebrity (traditional or nontraditional), their fans in turn are more likely to shop from that company. According to Alice Marwick, social media is made to connect individuals with other individuals, movements, currents events, and the like (2013, pg. 7).

Social media’s exponential growth in the past five years has formed an entirely new industry surrounding social media personalities, marketing, and branding. Because of this new interconnectedness between private citizens, public citizens, and companies social media marketing is now more important than ever.

Because of this new focus on social networking, social media branding has become almost a full time job for many celebrities. To further themselves and their brands many social media celebrities use at least two or three different social media platforms. Most popularly, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and then a personal website are used simultaneously by Internet personalities. One channel tends to be their main focus where all of their original content exists. Then, they will use Instagram and Twitter to push out updates and/or promotions to push whatever message they are trying to convey. The relationship between the different platforms creates a somewhat cyclical cycle that directs the user from one account to the next.

Most users said in the survey that they did not generally trust social media celebrities and would not necessarily take their suggestion on something. However, just like traditional marketing there is a large chance they do not realize the affects social media marketing has on them.

Conclusion

Ultimately, it appears social media marketing is the future for PR, advertising, marketing. More companies are beginning to utilize social media personalities as spokespeople for their brands to relate to younger Millennial and Generation Y audiences. However, even though this new brand of celebrity is nearly creating an entire industry of its own, there really is not a term for an individual who has gained their fame through social media. Social Media Celebrity is a somewhat adopted name where the defining characteristics of these individuals (their celebrity status of fame, and the fact that they gained said fame through social media,) are mashed together into a Frankenstein-name of sorts.

Social Media Celebrity is quickly growing into an industry in and of itself . Famous Instagram accounts and YouTube-ers create new partnerships with companies, and even go into other projects such as writing books and starring in YouTube sponsored Web Series.

Out of all of the platforms focused on, YouTube appeared to be the most business and career-oriented. YouTube-ers utilized all of their social media platforms to draw traffic and attention back to their YouTube channel, and any projects related. As a supplement, most social media celebrities used Instagram as their secondary account; posting pictures to further their personal brand in some way at least once, but for the most part multiple times a day. In contrast, Twitter proved to be the least lucrative platform, with the most popular accounts being traditional celebrities’ accounts and anonymous humor accounts.

This new age of social media and connectedness is extremely new, yet it is growing unbelievably fast. Social media celebrities are quickly gaining fame and success akin to traditional celebrities. Some of them even earning book deals, cosmetics lines, and collaborating with companies to make their own product lines. Social media marketing is becoming almost necessary for companies to connect with Gen Y and Millennials as they become more powerful in the market.

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[1] www.youtube.com/user/kandeejohnson

[2] www.instagram.com/aspynovard/

[3] www.instagram.com/hellokatyxo/