As technology advances at lightning-speed, social media has risen to the forefront of the communication sphere. Billions of users get on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, and more in order to keep up with the news, shop online, and connect with people all across the world.

Among other changes social media has brought (speed of communication, social openness, an increase in online marketing, etc.), one most notable shift has been that from traditional celebrity to social media celebrity. Though there may be overlaps in these categories, the two are, for the most part, pretty distinct. Social media celebrities are not only relevant in terms of their ability to influence the way people communicate and interact; they also are pioneering the new trend in product promotion: influencer marketing.

When did this shift from traditional celebrity to social media celebrity occur?

When people think of the first social media “giant,” many think of Facebook. And they aren’t wrong—Facebook was the first social media site to reach one billion followers, and currently, it has 1.65 billion monthly active users, an astronomical amount. However, before Facebook, there was Myspace. Myspace was a social site that operated similarly to Facebook. It was developed by Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson in 2003 (Facebook wouldn’t be founded until 2004). Myspace peaked in 2008, obtaining nearly 76 million visitors per month.

Facebook overtook Myspace in 2009 after doubling its users in the span of one year, and, post-2009, Myspace stagnated. It now possesses 50 million members, and has designated itself as a “social entertainment site.”
However, Myspace doesn’t get enough credit for planting the seeds of the social media revolution. Some of the biggest social media personalities emerged on Myspace, and they became famous through the site. Traditional celebrities (actors, actresses, singers, songwriters, etc. who didn’t use social media as their primary source of fame and fan-base-expansion) were in direct competition with musicians, amateur models, and socialites on Myspace. Myspace musicians included Katy Perry, Metro Station, The Devil Wears Prada, The Arctic Monkeys, Sean Kingston, and more. Kim Kardashian, Tila Tequila, and Jeffree Star also are examples of Myspace celebrities that are now, particularly in Kim’s case, very recognizable. These social-media-born stars would go on to overtake Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

While the shift from traditional celebrity to social media celebrity took place in 2007 and 2008 with the peak of Myspace celebrities and musicians, it has only increased since then. The abundance of new social media sites has given these celebrities more of a platform to advertise talents that aren’t the traditional acting, modeling, and singing. Social media got them noticed, and they have continued to command attention.

Why did social media celebrities become so popular?

Social media celebrities became popular for many reasons, but one of the main ones was that they were on the same platform everyone else was. Their relatability, in comparison to traditional celebrities, was much greater. People could communicate with them directly, instead of through fan mail that would probably not reach them. Stars became more accessible, and the time it took for them to communicate their thoughts and daily activities with regular people was shortened into milliseconds. There was no need to wait for a print or TV interview with a celebrity to hear their thoughts. All you had to do was click a button and see what they had to say.

Traditional celebrities have become popular on social media because they’re still famous, just in a different way, but there are traditional celebs that aren’t active on sites such as Twitter. For example, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Johnny Depp all don’t have Twitter profiles. While many may follow traditional celebrities on these sites, these traditional celebs’ popularity did not originate from their activities on social media.

Who are some social media “icons,” and how has influencer marketing made them more relevant?

When you think of social media, you think of Kim Kardashian. She is the undisputed queen of the social sphere, and has millions of followers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Kim Kardashian now is a successful businesswoman, and she has approached mogul-status with her reality shows, makeup line, and mobile apps. But in addition to her own businesses, Kim Kardashian has also, in the past, promoted products such as Sketchers Shape-Ups, Sugar Factory Lollipops, Fusion Beauty, QuickTrim diet pills, and OPI nail polish. Kim was able to take her fan audience and combine it with the existing fan base for these companies. Her product influence has also made her more relevant because people see her as someone whose endorsement can be trusted.

Kim Kardashian is not the only iconic social media celebrity out there. YouTubers such as Joe Santagato, Bo Burnham, Jenna Marbles, and Tyler Oakley have become famous for their comedy. In fact, in any conventional category, many of today’s most popular personalities have established themselves and their massive audiences on social media, as you can see from NeoReach’s recent report of the most influential personalities in fitness and health.

Influencer marketing has made these celebrities more relevant because their endorsement of a product builds a link between them and their fan base. Fans of social media celebrities want to be connected to the person who makes them laugh weekly. Purchasing a product that they endorse is one way to do this. Also, current fans of a product or company are likely to become interested in people endorsing the same thing that they love. Putting social media influencers such as these famous YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook personalities into the marketing sphere only heightens their visibility in such a consumer-oriented society.

How can traditional celebrities grow with this shift?

For some celebrities, such as the aforementioned Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, there’s no need for them to invest time in becoming more popular on social media. They are already household names. However, many traditional celebrities can grow with this shift by simply becoming more active on social media. They already have a fanbase that will listen to them, and if they post meaningful content on these sites, they can further expand their audience and will keep up with their fans.

Social media celebrities have, in many cases, overtaken traditional celebrities when it comes to popularity. Fans want to feel connected to their icons, and a social media platform can feel like an equalizer between the celebrity and his or her audience. Influencer marketing heightens the relevance of these celebrities, and their partnering with a company benefits all parties involved.