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The Internet Celebrity Economy — Is popularity equal to buying?

With the arrival of the new media era, almost all industries have faced huge changes in commercial strategy and business management. The smartphone alone has provided a new, convenient, mobile platform over which many new modes of commerce have developed. As a result, companies are encouraged to be creative and unique in their use of this new medium. The popular terms internet celebrity and blogger are products of this evolution. Yet, the definition of an internet celebrity economy and what its difference is between Western and Eastern cultures are areas that are still being researched.

The rise of an internet celebrity economy is not without reason. Because of the popularization of the internet and the development of new innovative technologies, the virtual world on the web has become a part of our lives. From Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to Weibo, WeChat, and Taobao in China, there are thousands of social media platforms. From their basic functions of posting photos and articles to more technically advanced features like live video interaction and online shopping, the virtual world of the internet is becoming more and more realistic. However, the idea of an internet celebrity economy is not new. In the 1940s, Paul Lazarsfeld introduced an early version of this concept in a media theory where he defined vastly influential people as opinion leaders, or those individuals who act as a medium from which to disseminate information to their easily influenced followers. Compared to new media’s ability to foster many-to-many conversation, old media could only provide a one-to-many channel, so people seldom had a place to easily find information and share back ideas and opinions. However, with the maturing of the internet, people have more direct access to first-hand sources than ever before. Ordinary individuals can now talk, express, and share with a wide audience, making it easier to obtain followers and become famous on the web. Some smart investors and businessmen have already capitalized on these kinds of opportunities, inking deals to represent these rising stars or to manufacture their promotional products. This new internet celebrity economy is a win-win for both the internet celebrities and the companies that work with them.

In the age of big data, views, likes, and engagements can be turned into a quantified and credible index to reflect the popularity of an internet celebrity. In fact, a person’s popularity on the internet can even translate to real money payouts. In China, there are thousands of internet celebrities, including livestreamers and social media stars. Comparing who is prettier or who is more talented used to be enough, but as the market becomes more and more competitive, celebrities are being forced to be more creative in order to set themselves apart from the rest. Often times internet stars partner with businesses to get the upper hand, and this has pushed the internet celebrity economy to a higher level. Many e-commerce companies are trying to keep up with these new trends and often seek out their own internet celebrities to groom into brand ambassadors who then, in turn, boost the image of the company. For instance, Ru-Han e-commerce in China has successfully transformed their models, including Dayi Zhang and Yujia Han, into popular internet celebrities, bringing the company a great amount of exposure. The internet celebrity economy provides unique new advertising opportunities, breaking away from traditional costly platforms such as television commercials.

In the West, bloggers often come to mind when people mention internet celebrities. Blogs, popular since the early boom of the internet, give everyday people a place to share anything they want, and with the creation of services like Instagram and Twitter, savvy bloggers can expand their reach even farther through social media. One person who earned the internet’s love is Italian blogger Chiara Ferragni. Chiara is a young but successful blogger, having made a living from her blogging career. Her stardom led her to launch her own namesake brand and to share her experiences in front of students at Harvard University. Chiara’s ability to navigate the social media world and the knowledge she demonstrates in crafting her online image are impressive. Today, she puts a more professional spin on her career as a blogger — she hires a team of twelve to take of everything for her. Chiara Ferragni’s journey has taken her from the virtual realms of social media to a luxurious life in the real world.

The era of new media has allowed and encouraged more innovation and creativity when it comes to self-expression, and companies have struck gold in quantifying and investing in the popularity of internet stars. Other businesses eager to grow their audiences should take note. Those who adapt and capitalize on social media and the internet celebrity economy can give themselves a big advantage as the internet evolves and blurs the line between the virtual world and our real one.

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