What is a Niche Internet Micro Celebrity?

As episodes of online fame, nimcels represent a growing faction of the attention economy

Bryce Wallman, who lives in Sioux Falls, SD, has a cult following on the Internet. (Jay Pickthorne for The Washington Post)


People in the greater Sioux Falls, SD, area know Bryce Wallman. At 6-foot-6, the 25-year-old OR nurse is hard to miss, but it’s her cult following on the Internet that has made her a breakout star.

Wallman’s internet presence is loud and fun. He tweets jokes and messages about life to his 5,000+ followers @TheBigAndSexy70. He often talks about his 2007 Chevy Tahoe with DVD playerand often dresses in bright clothing such as Hawaiian shirts or a leopard print tracksuit.

“Any time Sioux Falls, or even South Dakota at all, comes up in my day-to-day life, I immediately go ‘oh, that’s Bryce Wallman territory.’ on Twitter Joey Kulupper, a musician and poet from Memphis, who is a fan of Wolman. “I think Bryce just sits on a throne somewhere out there and rules the whole place.”

Wallman is not an influencer or professional content creator. he is an internet micro celebrity or ‘nimcel’. Niche internet micro-celebrities are online people who are popular with a small but often dedicated group and represent a growing version of the attention economy. Online fame is a byproduct of internet micro-popularity, never a goal. They rarely monetize their social accounts, choosing instead to post for fun. This term is often used colloquially.

TikTok and YouTube stars who chase fame in Hollywood or join content houses aren’t exactly internet micro-celebrities. But the admin of a meme account, a hyper local Twitter personality, the founder of a popular Discord server, or a random guy who’s gone viral. has been featured multiple times on a popular Instagram account would be

“If you’re an Internet micro-celebrity, you’re more of an everyday person who has a small following,” Vollman said. “I’m just being myself and I care about what I think is funny or funny, and a small group of people think it’s funny too. I don’t feel like I have to sell a product or push anything.”

The term niche internet micro celebrity first appeared on Instagram meme pages last spring. Since then, it has permeated the wider culture as an effective shorthand to describe a new kind of online fame or notoriety, and indicates people’s opinion of Internet-based influence.

“If the internet was in high school, these are the coolest kids in the class,” says Ena Da, a Brooklyn-based internet micro-celebrity who goes by @Park_Slope_Arsonist and is known for her humorous meme edits on Instagram.

While influencers use their online following to make money, “the goal for Internet micro-celebrities is purely to entertain versus being an influencer,” Dan said. “I think this term came about to distinguish people who do something similar to influencers, but for completely different motivations. Being an Internet micro-celebrity feels less capitalist, less “I’m a brand.” »

When Lauren Schiller, 25, and Angela Ruiz, 27, two digital creators in Los Angeles, decided to launch their online clothing brand OGBFF last year, their first collection included: a t-shirt with the phrase emblazoned on it “Internet micro-celebrity”. “Especially on apps like TikTok, everyone is famous in their own right,” Schiller said. “The way we vlog our lives and act as influencers online, it’s like our audience is dying to see our new lip liner routine or something.”

Schiller and Ruiz said there’s an important, carefree element to Internet micro-celebrity. “Noted internet micro celebrities don’t use a ring light and probably don’t erase their camera before recording,” Ruiz said. “Their content development is not as intensive.”

For years, people have struggled to label attention grabbers on the Internet. Throughout the era, individuals with fans on platforms like Myspace or Tumblr were called everything from “fameballs” to “CeWebrities” to “Internet Stars.” Next New Networks, YouTube’s early multi-channel network, first coined the term “creator” as shorthand for the growing class of people making a living off of YouTube, whom the company previously called “partners.”

“These people were more than screen talent,” said Tim Shay, co-founder of Next New Networks.he Atlantic. “They could write, edit, produce, do community management, and were entrepreneurs.”

Because the term “creator” was so synonymous with YouTube, for years people still didn’t know what to call those who gained attention on other apps. Platform-specific names such as “vine star”, “tumblr fam” or “blogging” took hold temporarily, but as marketing dollars began to flood the industry in the mid-2010s, marketers began to banish a term from their world: influencer.

The term inflectional was platform-agnostic and described the growing and amorphous power that came with online fame. In 2020, when Silicon Valley finally began to take the online creator industry seriously, things changed again, and the term influencer was replaced by its ancestor, creator.

As the pandemic prompted more people to communicate digitally, a greater number of online personalities rose. The rise of TikTok, which often catapults previously unknown people into infamy, has complicated the shift, giving birth to internet micro-celebrities.

“Now, fame takes place,” says Evan Britton, founder and CEO of Famous Birthdays. database of famous people on the Internet. Fame has a different definition now than it did before the Internet, he argues. “It’s more communal. I do not think [niche internet micro celebrities] see themselves as a celebrity or as a VidCon star, but they’ll be in their local community.”

The death of internet monoculture and the rise of niche internet micro-celebrities can be seen at this year’s VidCon, the annual convention of online video stars. While it was once possible to bring together all of the internet’s major personalities into one convention, the landscape is now too broad and tacky. At VidCon, with the audience divided among an ever-growing pool of millions of content creators, some creators found the lines of fans eager to greet them unexpectedly short.

Alyssa McDevitt, 25, a software engineer in New York, became an Internet micro-celebrity after briefly hosting a Facebook meme group for young techies. People started to recognize him and he developed a cult following in the group for his witty comments and responses. “I don’t think I realized I was a micro-internet celebrity until I started going out and doing basic stuff,” he said. “If I was in a relatively larger city or at a hackathon, people would come up to me, say, you are alisa They’d ask for selfies and I’d take it, like, “Yeah, I’m Alyssa.” »

Niche internet micro-celebrities can be born on any platform, and even through specific features of those platforms. TikTok and Instagram use them most often, but they also appear consistently on YouTube, Twitter, or Twitch.

There are pros and cons to becoming a Nimsel. Some use their micro-fame to launch a career as a full-fledged influencer. Others build their connections and parlay their notoriety into a new job opportunity or local franchises. Wallman has racked up free drinks, and Sioux Falls’ mayor even declared him the “unofficial mayor” at Dave & Buster’s last month.

“You’re between a private citizen and a full-blown influencer, you can appreciate those two things,” McDevitt said. “You’re very popular, and some people know you, and people are nice to you, but you don’t get invited to the more glamorous and glamorous things like the Met ball.”

Mackenzie Thomas, 23, a popular Internet micro-celebrity in Los Angeles known for her fashion aesthetic, says there are downsides to this type of fame. “There’s no glamor in the niche,” he said. “We are all working or unemployed. I earn $3 a month from TikTok.”

Lack of money and access unites the internet’s micro-celebrity landscape. “They’re not rich, and it’s probably not their main gig,” said Alex Peet, 30, a New York lawyer-turned-internet micro-celebrity.

While Internet micro-celebrity doesn’t carry all the characteristics of an influential domain, the term fits the way many people online like to be described.

“I would consider myself a micro-celebrity on the Internet,” Da said. “It’s the perfect measure of confidence, but also a great way to define yourself,” Thomas said. “It’s the best umbrella term for what a lot of people are doing on the Internet. There is a sharpness to it. It’s a title you can give to someone who has a cultural influence on a small subset of people who are more Internet literate and more online.”

Many internet micro-celebs said that to embody the term, you need to have a science and a history that followers can refer to, whether it’s moments when you’ve gone viral or a library of iconic posts. “There’s got to be a subculture to the persona,” Peter said, “a frenzy or an inside joke among followers that the vast majority of people have no idea about and would think you’re crazy if you mentioned it as any kind of thing. cultural reference point”.

However, if you try too hard or become too popular, you’re no longer slim. “Anyone who creates content with the intention of blowing up and going mainstream,” says Thomas, “isn’t the intended internet micro-celebrity.”

For now, Wallman and his dedicated Internet micro-celebrity peers operate comfortably below the surface of popular celebrity and can entertain online in a way that only those with smaller audiences can.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘What if I expand my brand further and go beyond micro-celebrity on the Internet and become a full-blown influencer?'” McDevitt said. “Then I see some of the things they have to deal with, the harassment and the harassment, and I’m kind of grateful to be at this moderate level.”

“It’s great to be part of this wave,” said Peter. “Whatever it is, I think some people think it’s the downfall of society, and maybe they’re right. But it’s interesting.”

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