Fama y fortuna digital
en la era de las redes
Una clasicación de los
inuencers en las redes
Digital Fame and Fortune
in the age of Social Media:
A Classication of social
media inuencers
El concepto de celebridad ha evolucionado con el paso del tiempo incluyendo nuevas
versiones de famosos que se han creado con cada nuevo avance tecnológico. Hoy día,
en un mundo cada vez más digital, estamos viendo un número creciente de ídolos
nuevos que deben su fama a las redes sociales y que son conocidos como ‘inuencers’.
Hay muchos términos para referirse a los nuevos famosos que surgen en redes sociales
e incluso a menudo se utilizan algunas palabras de forma indistinta (micro-celebridad,
‘instafamosos o ‘inuencer’). Existe una amplia falta de consenso, tanto en el entorno
académico como en el sector profesional acerca de cuál debe ser la terminología a uti-
lizar, las características que denen a una celebridad en redes sociales o incluso quien
debe ser considerado un inuencer o famoso de las redes sociales.
Este estudio lleva a cabo una revisión de la literatura de los trabajos más destacados
sobre la fama que ayudará a entender mejor que hay detrás de la creación de famosos,
como se consigue atraer la atención y mantenerla, así como las prácticas que permiten
a los creadores de contenidos en redes sociales obtener una rentabilidad económica.
Se incluye una clasicación jerárquica de los distintos tipos de ‘inuencers’ en redes
sociales con deniciones actualizadas y sus principales características para entender
mejor la creciente diversidad de creadores de contenido digital. Este trabajo también
analiza los motivos que hacen que los ‘inuencers de éxito destaquen sobre el resto de
las personas comunes que buscan la fama en las redes sociales, a través de la recopila-
ción de diversos estudios académicos sobre esta materia.
Throughout time, the concept of celebrity has evolved to include new forms of
fame created with each new technology. In today’s increasingly digital world, we are
witnessing the explosive growth of this generations new idols who owe their fame to
social media and are better known as social media inuencers. A number of terms are
used to refer to all forms of fame on social media and even certain terms are often used
interchangeably (micro-celebrity, instafamous, internet famous or inuencer are some
of these terms). A lack of consensus on terminology and the characteristics that dene
a social media celebrity or even who should be considered a social media inuencer
or a digital celebrity of any sort is widespread amongst both scholars and practitioners.
This study reviews landmark scholarship on celebrities that will help get a better
understanding of the dynamics behind the creation of fame, how attention is captured
and sustained, as well as the practices that make monetization possible for social media
content creators. A comprehensive hierarchical classication of the dierent types of
social media inuencers is provided with updated denitions and characteristics to
give a better understanding of the growing range of digital content creators and their
status. Furthermore, this study discusses the practices carried out by successful social
media inuencers and what sets them apart from ordinary fame-seekers in the context
of scholar studies.
Clasicación JEL:
M31, M37
Palabras clave:
social media,
JEL Classication:
M31, M37
Key words:
social media,
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Ruiz-Gomez, A. (2019)
Digital Fame and Fortune in the age of Social Media:
A Classication of social media inuencers
aDResearch ESIC. Nº 19 Vol 19
Primer semestre, enero-junio 2019 · Págs. 8 a 29
Alexandra Ruiz-Gómez
PhD candidate in Marketing at Universidad
Complutense de Madrid
Senior Lecturer on Social Media ESIC- Icemd
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1. Introduction
Celebrities have always generated fascination
and admiration across cultures, thus it is no
surprise that celebrity culture and fame have
received widespread attention by scholars
across disciplines (Turner, 2013). Advances in
technology such as the big screen or TV have
been known to create cultural shifts, and in
turn, each has brought the creation of a new set
of idols in larger numbers than before (Duffy,
2017). Each change in celebrity culture has
sparked new interest amongst scholars to study
each generation’s idols from many different
perspectives, and this is now the case with new
forms of fame created on social media.
In today’s increasingly digital world, we are
witnessing the explosive growth of this generation’s
new idols who owe their fame to social media and
are better known as social media influencers. For
the first time in history, celebrity status and the
financial rewards that are associated with fame,
seem largely attainable to ordinary people like
never before (Turner, 2006). This has resulted in
an unprecedented number of fame-seekers using
social media as the gateway to self-promotion
(MacDonald, 2014) even if in reality, only a few
get the kind of recognition that can be converted
to money. Indeed, on social media, not all forms
of attention lead to profit. Only users who build
the right kind of social capital of interest for brands
can monetize (Zulli, 2018).
At present, a lack of consensus exists for both
scholars and practitioners on who should be
considered and referred to as an influencer or
a celebrity. A number of terms is used to refer
to the wide range of users seeking attention and
recognition. These users range from the wannabes
and amateurs to well-established professional self-
brands, who also vary in status. In academia, the
term ‘microcelebrity’ is used extensively to refer to
social media influencers, whereas it is rarely used
by practitioners who have completely different
terminology. Agreeing on terminology, defining
and categorizing all the different players into spe-
cific tiers is important to identify which content
creators are indeed of value for brands (Booth &
Matic, 2010). This ultimately determines which
ones can monetize their efforts and helps brands
distinguish amateurs from professionals.
The main objective of this study is to present
a literature review of landmark scholarship of the
different types of fame ranging from traditional
mass media celebrities to social media influencers,
with particular attention to the creation of fame
for ordinary people on social media. This review
will help understand where the real value of
a celebrity lies to distinguish those who can
potentially use their digital activity as a source
of income from those who simply pretend to
be famous or have an amateur approach. This
study will classify different levels of recognition
on social media and clarify the wide range of
existing terms, suggesting unified terms.
This paper is structured as follows. First of all,
this paper includes an overview of how fame is
created with each technological advance. This is
followed by definitions of new forms of fame on
social media, distinguishing publicly recognized
figures on social media from fame seekers. Then,
this research provides a hierarchical classification
of the different types of social media influencers
with definitions of what sets them apart and
presents the practices carried out by social media
influencers to create and maintain the kind of
status that allows monetization (considered the
main driver of fame and attention). A discussion
follows providing critical assessment of concepts
reviewed herein. Finally, suggestions are provided
to guide scholars in future lines of study in this
2. Historical overview of the
creation of fame
Throughout time, the concept of celebrity is ever
changing, as are the dynamics by which celebri-
ties are created in each new era. To understand
current forms of digital fame and the practices
carried out to achieve and sustain fame, we
must look at the historical context of established
theories from the most referenced scholar au-
thorities in celebrity studies, as these will provide
the underpinnings of how fame is created and
2.1. The construct of celebrity from a
traditional perspective
A celebrity is either someone who is famous,
especially in entertainment or sports, or the state
of being famous (Cambridge Dictionary, 2018).
The construct of celebrity, however, is far more
complex than this simple definition. Traditional
celebrities can include individuals, groups, or
even pets, and are typically entertainers or athletes
who have achieved mass media public attention
and have risen to fame via their looks, wealth,
special talent, skills, professional achievements,
or can be inherited from famous parents or
relatives (Driessens, 2013). If we observe the
previous definition, achieving public attention
is considered one of the key aspects. Indeed,
“the ability to attract and direct attention has
constituted the very definition of celebrity
from the earliest years” according to Hearn and
Schoenhoff (2015. p.198). This ability to attract
fame is also linked to how fame originates (Turner,
2006). This study will focus on the celebrification
of individuals from ordinary people to celebrities,
as defined by Driessens (2013).
The three part model of fame (Rojek, 2001)
is considered one of the most interesting
classifications of celebrity figures and how fame
originates (Table 1). This model implies a hierarchy
based on how fame is earned or attributed (Turner,
2004). According to this model, celebrities can be
classified into three categories: ascribed (inherited
from famous parents or relatives), achieved (those
who become famous due to their talent, such as
an athlete) and attributed, which are fabricated
or staged by industry mediators or people who
attract a lot of media attention or are associated
with other celebrities.
Table 1 · Rojek’s 3-part model of fame
Type of fame Characteristic Examples
Authors &
1) Ascribed Fame inherited from famous parents
or relatives
Royalty or the children of prominent people
Rojek, 2001
2) Achieved Fame due to achievements or talents Athletes, political gures, scientists
3) Attributed Fabricated or staged by industry mediators
(public persona was created to t certain
Movie stars or TV stars
Rojek (2001) acknowledged the limitations of
his three part model of main categories and ad-
dressed this by recognizing other forms of celebrity
who have different status with audiences (Table 2).
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This wider range of celebrity figures suggests
that there are different levels of control each person
may have or lack to maintain status as a public
figure. The ‘accidental celebrity’ is someone who
might attract attention inadvertently for reasons
out of his control for a short time only and who
will typically try to cash in as quickly as possible
(Turner, 2004). ‘Celetoid’, is a term which Rojek
coined for short-lived unpredictable lasting fame
(quickly moving from maximum visibility back to
complete obscurity), or the ‘celeactor’ (someone
who behaves like a real celebrity in the public
eye). Rojek also addressed infamous characters
who attract attention for negative reasons, such as
transgressive, notorious or criminal figures, who
also generate fans, followers or even copycats.
Subcultural celebrities are defined as “mediated
figures who are famous only by and for their fan
audiences” (Hills, 2003. p.60).
2.2. The creation of fame linked to technology
Scholars who have studied celebrity concur that
the making of celebrities has been inevitably
intertwined to media (Turner, 2006). In the 20
century, celebrity culture was largely influenced
by changes in media such as the big screen, and
TV (Marshall, 1997) and now social media.
Big screen celebrities (movie stars)
Hollywood started producing celebrities for the
big screen because they helped draw audiences
to the movies and shortly after discovered they
could also be used as aspirational endorsers of
other commodities (Gamson, 2011). The value of
celebrities was precisely the capacity to attract and
mobilize attention, whether to a movie, a magazine
cover or to products. These early Hollywood
celebrities helped differentiate products and were
produced as commodity actors to bring audiences.
Their public personas were carefully crafted by
studio press departments to fit the interests of the
industry (Hearn & Schoenhoff, 2015).
Celebrities for the most part, had little control
over their public persona. Gossip magazines
were created to show a glimpse of the private
lives of stars which audiences craved, but even
these representations of celebrity ‘real’ life were
predominantly staged (Gamson, 2011).
The value of these big screen celebrities is
associated to box office results (the capacity to
attract crowds to movies). For example high box
office results of a movie attributed to an actor will
increase salary for next movie. Some high profile
actors might even get a percentage of box office
earnings which further shows that economic
value is tied to the ability to draw crowds.
TV celebrities
Similar to Hollywood’s creation of traditional
celebrities, TV also created another breed of
celebrities: people appearing on TV as either
presenters, contestants or participants of reality
shows. It is important to note that none of the
traditional mass media celebrities created the
content or the audience. Traditional mass media
creates content to attract an audience, and in
principle, the better the content (or rather the
bigger the interest in the content), the bigger the
audience to show ads to. Thus, traditional media
creates the content and provides the audience,
and celebrities loan their image and play their
part (Khamis, Ang, & Welling, 2017).
The value of these new celebrities was also
based on their ability to attract viewers (Hearn &
Schoenhoff, 2015). Reality programs on TV were
born for financial reasons as they were cheaper
and quicker to produce at a time when chan-
nels and gossip magazines multiplied and the
entertainment industry required a larger supply of
content. According to Gamson (2011), TV shows
turned contestants into recognizable and familiar
brands that were commoditized and marketed
following the example of the big screen industry,
only on a larger scale. As a consequence, these
shows made a large number of ordinary people
famous (Turner, 2006; Gamson, 2011).
These new celebrities still depended on the
industry gatekeepers who decided who was given
an opportunity in the spotlight (Driessens, 2013),
although the ability to stay in the spotlight also
required a certain degree of individual appeal to
keep the audience interested (Hearn & Schoenhoff,
2015). In regards to what differentiated fame
seekers, Fairchild (2007) notes that the most
successful TV contestants are those who are able
to build active relationships with their supporters.
This highlights the role played by the contestant’s
personality and public representation of self in
attracting an audience of followers and keeping
their attention overtime.
The value of TV celebrities is linked to TV view-
ership (Nielsen rating points of estimated audience
sizes). For example a TV anchor’s salary depends
on market size of broadcast. For other shows,
someone who can draw viewers and is able to get
high ratings for a program, gets a higher salary.
The do-it-yourself social media celebrity
Once again, the internet and social media in par-
ticular, is responsible for producing new forms of
celebrity (Gamson 2011). Social media celebrities
are individuals with no prior fame who become
famous on one or several social media platforms
(Marshall, 2010). Fame might transcend social
media, but initial recognition originates in social
The biggest difference of social media’s new
celebrities and traditional celebrities is that users
now provide both the content and the audience
(Hearn & Schoenhoff, 2015), thus radically
changing the rules of the game. This brought the
do-it-yourself, self-made celebrity (Turner, 2006
& 2010; Gamson, 2011), who unlike celebrities
in the past, no longer depends on industry gate-
keepers to choose who is given a chance in the
spotlight (Hearn & Schoenhoff, 2015).
These self-made celebrities are considered
successful if their self-branding and content
Table 2 · Other forms of fame not included in Rojek’s 3 part model of fame
Type of fame Denition Examples Authors & Date
Celetoid Short-lived unpredicatable lasting
The winner of a TV quiz.
Rojek, 2001
Celeactor Someone who behaves like a real
celebrity in real life.
A wannabe that pretends to be
Infamous People who attract attention for
negative reasons.
A criminal that attracts media attention
and may generate fans, followers or
even copycats.
Accidental celebrity Someone who attracts attention
inadvertently for reasons out of his
Someone who witnesses an event and
might appear inadvertently on mass
media gaining quick attention.
Turner, 2004
Mediated gures who are famous
only by their fan audience.
Cult TV show actors, local newscasters,
or small town politicians.
Hills, 2003; Marwick,
2015a; Ferris, 2010
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capture the attention of viewers in a consistent
manner, thus building social capital. Social
capital always precedes economic capital
and determines the value for potential brand
endorsements (Zulli, 2018).
In Table 3, we can see a summary of the types
of fame that have been generated with each new
technical advance, the main characteristic that
defines them, and what indicator is used to de-
termine economic value.
influencers, but all influencers are content creators
who get attention and build social capital.
Social media influencers who build social cap-
ital act as third party endorsers who can shape
attitudes through the use of social media (Freberg,
Graham, McGaughey and Freberg, 2010). For
practitioners, the title of influencers is reserved for
those who exert influence over their community
of followers, and the term celebrity is used only
for high profile influencers.
Social media influencers (SMIs) currently in-
clude many types of users who have achieved
recognition on social media which implies that
these content creators have created a community
of followers that transcends well beyond friends
and family (Booth & Matic, 2011). Recognition
is achieved by cultivating a network through
content and self-representation techniques. The
term influencer is inspired by Katz, Lazarsfeld
and Roper’s (2017) concept of personal influence
which was first introduced by these two authors
back in 1955 and by Cialdini’s idea of social in-
fluence (1988).
Influencers are do-it-yourself social media
users that create their own digital persona, create
their own content and build their own audience.
They must be able to draw attention to them-
selves and to products and have a considerable
following to be of use for brands. This requires
a set of practices, including becoming a brand
themselves, offering a distinctive unique selling
proposition (Khamis et al., 2017) and adopting
a professional approach in a consistent manner
(Hou, 2018) with commercial intention (Abidin
& Ots, 2016).
Youtubers are content creators that use You-
tube as their main platform to launch their videos
(Jerslev, 2016; Hou, 2018). Successful Youtube
content creators are a strategic niche for Youtube’s
business model as they deliver curated audiences
for ads (Hou, 2018). They are considered the
highest paid influencers with self-made million-
aires appearing in public rankings (Forbes, 2018).
These high profile social media influencers are
considered social media celebrities (Hou, 2018).
Vloggers are considered social media influencers
who are known mainly for using a specific format:
vlogs. The word vlog derives from combining the
terms video and blog. Just like any other social
media influencer, vloggers cultivate a network
through content and self-representation techniques,
where storytelling, authenticity and intimacy play
a key role. Video logs (vlogs) are a type of video
content typically built around a topic. This format is
highly in demand, and is particularly characterized
by a raw, intimate confessional tone, where the
host uses the first person and self-disclosure to
help establish credibility and rapport with their
network. The audience provides feedback via
likes and comments which creates interaction
opportunities and shapes future content. Much like
a video diary, or a TV series, vloggers post video
entries on a regular basis delivering episodes that
might build on previous content. This allows vlogs
to grow a sustainable base of viewers on which to
leverage for commercial purposes (Hou, 2018).
Even though vloggers are usually associated with
Youtube, they are also growing on Instagram with
the proliferation of the Stories format used by many
content creators as a video diary (Amancio, 2017).
Instafamous, is commonly known as some-
one ordinary who becomes famous on Instagram
using self-presentation strategies and images as
a form to express themselves and capture large
audiences (Marwick, 2015b).
4. Classifying social media inuencers
Social media digital content creators who achieve
recognition vary significantly in terms of status,
audience size, influence and practices (all of
Table 3 · Types of fame associated with technological advances
Type of fame Creation of fame Gateway to fame Self-presentation
capital is
based on:
Authors &
Big screen
(movie stars)
Celebrities are
fabricated to mobilize
attention rst to
movies and then to
other products.
Must be chosen by
Movie industry and
placed in front of an
Portrayal of star persona
is predominantly
staged by industry to
t a certain ideal.
Box oce
Marshall, 1997;
2011; Hearn &
TV celebrity Presenters, contestants
or participants of reality
shows are fabricated
and commoditized
following big screen
Must be chosen
by TV industry and
placed in front of
an audience.
Individual appeal and
public representation
of self keeps audience
interested overtime
in a regular TV show/
TV ratings Driessens, 2013;
Hearn &
Social media
Digital content creators
who capture the
attention of viewers
through their own
User no longer
depends on
User must create their
own digital identity.
Value of social
Zulli, 2018;
Hearn &
3. Fame in the age of social media
There are many definitions of what constitutes a
publicly recognized figure on social media and
different theories about the practices that lead to
this status. On some occasions, the same term is
used to refer to all forms of fame on social media,
or certain terms are often used interchangeably
(micro-celebrity, instafamous, internet famous or
influencer are some of these terms). Some schol-
ars for example, use the terms micro-celebrities
and influencers indistinctly as seen in studies
by Mavroudis & Milne (2016) or Zulli (2018).
Moreover, the same terms are sometimes used
for fame seekers who have not actually achieved
any status of recognition and might not be able
to monetize ever or even for those who have just
attracted attention inadvertently for a very short
period of time.
Social media inuencers (SMI), Youtubers,
vloggers and Instafamous
Practitioners, popular media and general public
use the term social media influencer to refer to
those who have achieved recognition. In reality,
anyone and everyone is a content producer
according to Booth and Matic (2010). Indeed,
both Youtube and Facebook, the leading platforms
worldwide (Statista, 2018), use the term ‘digital
content creator’ signaling the industry term
that should be used for all users producing and
posting content, regardless of results in capturing
attention. Therefore, not all content creators are
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which determine if an account has any commer-
cial value). This implies a hierarchy and key dif-
ferences in recognition, status and monetization
opportunities. There are many ways of classifying
different types of influencers (Zulli, 2018).
Practitioners categorize influencers according
to audience size, even if the number required
to be in one tier or another differs depending
on influencer platform. The term given to each
category also depends on the source (Blomqvist &
Järkemyr, 2018). The most popular classification
is Micro influencers, Macro influencers and
Mega influencers (Bullock, 2018). Market value
of influencers depends to a large extent on
whether they can deliver the kind and size of
community that brands want. This implies that
for digital content creators to be useful for brand
collaborations in the form of paid endorsements
they must first build a sizeable audience of
potential consumers.
4.1. Micro-inuencers, Macro Inuencers
and Mega inuencers
Micro-influencers (not to be confused with micro-
celebrities), is a vernacular industry term, and
as such, it is necessary to draw from industry
definitions and references. These content creators
are influencers that form the largest group of
content creators and have the smallest following.
These smaller niche networks are valuable for
brands seeking those specific demographics
(Tilton, 2011). These influencers typically
specialize in a particular area of interest and tend
to be very knowledgeable or specialized in their
subject and thus provide a more targeted follower
base (Bernazzani, 2018).
In the world of practitioners the bar regarding
the audience size of this type of influencer is set
anywhere in the range of 5,000 to 50,000 follow-
ers and up to around 100,000 followers, but this
range is not standardized and depends on interme-
diary influencer platforms which have arbitrarily
set these numbers based on brands’ requirements
for collaborations. As time passes, these figures
raise to meet higher industry demands.
Youtube for example, sets the threshold for
content creators at a minimum of 1,000 sub-
scribers and 4,000 watch hours to qualify for
the partner program that allows monetization.
In Youtube’s partner program, Silver status is
awarded for users over 100,000 subscribers. Gold
status is awarded for users with over 1 million
subscribers and Diamond status is awarded for
those with over 10 million subscribers (Youtube
Creator Academy, 2018).
According to the influencer marketing plat-
form Markerly (2015), which conducted a survey
with two million social media influencers from
Instagram, micro-influencers with following in
the 10,000 to 100,000 range generated the best
ratio of reach and engagement (i.e. interaction of
audience with posted content measured by tak-
ing into account post reach and viewer response
in the form of clicks, likes and comments). This
same study shows that as influencers grow their
audience, their engagement rate drops.
Arguably, as an audience grows into millions,
it becomes more challenging to maintain the level
of intimacy micro-influencers create with their
smaller and more nurtured communities (Chen,
2016). Micro-influencers are generally perceived
to be more authentic than well-known influencers
with larger networks who tend to become less
accessible as their popularity grows. It is precisely
the portrayal of authenticity and accessibility
that micro-influencers offer that connects with
an audience (Hatton, 2018; Bernazzani, 2018).
Individuals who have around 100,000 to 200,000
followers are considered ‘power middle influencers’
(Chen, 2013) but some categorize them also as
Macro influencers. Top Macro-influencer might
have over 500,000 followers. This massive
following can be attributed to turning their digital
activity into a full time professional endeavor using
a business approach. At this level, these influencers
have a strong digital presence in more than one
platform. They use different platforms effectively
to cross promote and be more valuable for brands.
Finally, the top elite of social media influencers are
the mega-influencers.
The different types of social media influencers
are classified (Table 4) by audience size. The clas-
sification differentiates mega influencers into gold
category (over one million followers) or diamond
(over 10 million followers), using the standard
of the Youtube partner program for content cre-
ators (Youtube Creator Academy, 2018). Mega
influencers embody the epitome of the ability to
capture attention. They provide reach that might
exceed the audience of mass media (Hou, 2018)
and are used in large awareness campaigns. Users
in this category include high profile accounts like
Youtuber millionaires mentioned earlier or other
high profile accounts in other platforms. Mega
influencers are the A-listers of social media fame
and considered and treated like big traditional
celebrities. These elite social media influencers
are the real social media celebrities.
Table 4 · Social media inuencers classied using practioner terms
Inuencers that use specic platform or formats Size of audience
Youtubers Inuencer that uses Youtube Value classied according to Youtube
partner program (Silver, Gold, Diamond)
Varying number of
(See below)
Vloggers Inuencers that uses Vlog
Vloggers typically use Youtube and/ or
Instagram (Hou, 2018)
Instafamous Inuencers who uses
It implies capturing a large audience
(Marwick, 2015b).
Classication of inuencer status based on size, regardless of platform used or format
(Hatton, 2018; Bernazzani, 2018, Bullock, 2018)
Size of audience
The largest group of
They are considered to have the highest
engagement with followers (Markerly, 2015)
Up to 99K
Silver (Youtube) Also called Power middle users
(Chen, 2013)
From 100K to 500K
Macro (advanced level) Must be very professional and consistent
(Booth & Matic, 2011)
Over 500 followers and
up to 1 Million
Social Media
Gold (Youtube Creator
Academy, 2018)
They have become extremely
well-recognized authorities in a certain
topic through strategic self-branding
Over 1 million
Diamond (Youtube Creator
Academy, 2018)
Elite of social media inuencers that can
command mass media size audiences
(Hou, 2018)
Over 10 million
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4.2. Other terms used for fame seekers
Micro-celebrity is repeatedly used by scholars
to refer to influencers. It is worth examining
its origins to understand whether this term is
appropriate or not. The term is coined in 2001 by
Theresa M. Senft when she was first researching
for her book on camgirls published in 2008
(Senft, 2013). Her ethnographic study described
the set of practices camgirls carried out to sustain
a relationship with viewers, with particular
attention to their own perception as a self-brand
and their theatrical performance of authenticity
in front of the camera as part of their attempts to
portray the perception of intimacy (Senft, 2008).
Further to her original definition, Senft (2013)
later provided examples of micro-celebrity prac-
tices such as carefully selecting images to post,
deleting or untagging unflattering images shared
by others online, or differentiating content to post
based on platform and audience, all of which
manifest a staged performance of one’s self, re-
gardless if content is viewed by only 15 people
or even an imaginary audience. In other words,
acting like someone is watching and playing a role
to maintain an identity one wishes to portray. It is
important to point out that these micro-celebrity
practices do not imply in any way that people
might actually pay attention as there is no audi-
ence required.
Marwick considers micro-celebrity a mindset
and set of practices that include crafting a digital
persona for public consumption to capture the
interest of an audience by revealing information
selected strategically to maintain popularity, as
well as treating and managing viewers as a fan
base (2010; Marwick & Boyd, 2011). Marwick
(2015a) stated that it is something one does, rather
than something one is. Once again this updated
definition does not contemplate the ability to
attract attention or build an audience to leverage
on for commercial purposes (Table 5).
According to the online Collins dictionary,
micro-celebrity is a noun meaning ‘a celebri-
ty whose fame is relatively narrow in scope
and likely to be transient’ (Collins Dictionary,
2018), indicating that an audience is required,
therefore making the capacity to attract atten-
tion (even if it is short-lasting) an intrinsic part
of the definition. The dictionary’s definition is
consistent with Hearn and Schoenhoffs (2015)
rationale discussed earlier, who contend that
the ability to draw attention is at the heart of
any definition of celebrity, something which is
lacking in Senft’s (2008 & 2013) definition of
Accidental internet celebrities, satellites and
Accidental internet celebrities are the same as tra-
ditional media accidental celebrities discussed
earlier (Turner, 2004). It is short lived fame that
might originate inadvertently, like someone ap-
pearing on a meme or other content that goes vi-
ral. A meme might run freely without creating any
fan base for the person appearing in the content.
Satellite or parasite celebrities is a term we
propose in this study. The name is inspired on
social media users who live off the fame of oth-
ers (typically a friend or someone who dates a
celebrity, creating content about the celebrity or
even creating fake accounts on social media that
impersonate celebrities or focus on them). Their
fame is linked to the celebrity’s fame and can be
considered a form of ascribed fame based on
Rojek’s 3 part model (Rojek, 2001).
Wannabe influencers are amateur digital con-
tent creators who might try to copy the prac-
tices of successful influencers in their quest for
attention, but who have not achieved the kind of
recognition or built a valuable audience that can
be leveraged on for brand endorsements. They
lack key skills or the professional approach that
successful influencers have and tend to focus
on short term results. These users might try to
increase exposure by tagging other prominent
accounts, adding excessive hashtags (in the case
of Instagram) or imitating viral content that has
captured attention for others.
This study argues that none of these social
media users who act like celebrities to imaginary
audiences or to a small group of friends or fol-
lowers can be considered influencers. They are
similar to ‘celeactors’ mentioned before (Rojek,
2001) who pretend to be famous. Their digital
activity does not build the kind of social capital
that can be converted into economic capital and
even if they might achieve a certain degree of
attention, it is unlikely that they can turn their
efforts into sustainable attention or into a steady
source of income.
The following classification (Table 6) shows
content creators who follow practices where mon-
etization is not clear. Audience size is not defined
and some might not even build a community of
followers or achieve significant public attention
in the long run.
Table 5 · Micro celebrity denition and practices (monetization is not specied as a key driver
nor practices lead to it)
Denition Practices Authors & Date
Theatrical performance of one’s self to portray
the perception of authenticity & intimacy.
1) carefully selecting images to post
2) deleting or untagging unattering images
shared by others online
3) dierentiating content to post based on
platform and audience.
Senft, 2008
Senft, 2013
A mindset and set of practices that include crafting
a digital persona for public consumption.
It is something one does rather than something
one is.
Revealing information selected strategically to
maintain popularity.
Treating and managing viewers as a fan base.
Marwick 2010
Marwick & Boyd, 2011
Marwick 2015a
Table 6 · Dierent types of Social Media users where size of audience is not factored into
denition (the majority cannot monetize)
Terms Denition Size of audience
Micro celebrity People who carry out a set of practices to sustain a
relationship with viewers (Senft, 2008).
Size of followers is not factored
into any scholar denition
Accidental internet celebrities Short lived fame and accidental (people appearing on
a meme or other content that goes viral). Adapted from
(Turner, 2004).
Varying number of followers
Satellite or parasite social
media celebrity
Someone who owes fame to having a relationship or
being related to someone famous. Form of ascribed fame
(Rojek, 2001).
Wannabe inuencer Amateur who tries to copy the practices of successful
inuencers in their quest for attention.
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5. Standing out in the Attention
Economy and being able to monetize
According to Fairchild (2007) we are living
in a media and information saturated world,
which has given rise to a marketing perspective
prevalent today which Fairchild defined as the
attention economy, where attention has become
the most valuable commodity. To make things
even more complicated, social media sites such as
Instagram are designed to promote and facilitate
only a quick glance of content, making attention
even harder to achieve. Indeed, glancing large
amounts of content in a short period of time,
without fixating on one specific image has
become the dominant form of consuming content
on social media (Zulli, 2018).
In this scenario, capturing attention presents
increasing challenges for all content creators all
of which want their posts to be noticed. The ca-
pacity to attract eyeballs has therefore become
of critical importance and only those who are
successful in capturing attention can trade on it
(Abidin, 2014).
Just like the capacity to draw and mobilize
attention for traditional celebrities emanates
from a celebrity’s personality and portrayal of a
star persona, capturing attention is the essence
of real value that can be commercialized and
is also something which emanates from the
celebrity’s identity, personality and portrayal of
a star-persona. Celebrity culture is a commodity
system, an industry, and a narrative, as well as a
participatory culture, in which the commodity
at stake is embodied attention (Gamson, 2011).
5.1. Practices to capture and sustain
attention long term
In order to achieve prominence in the attention
economy, people must turn into self-brands
(Van Dijck, 2013). Similarly to how brands are
constructed, people must offer a unique selling
proposition (USP) that distinguishes them from
the mass of other fame-seekers. Social media
content creators must either create a distinctive
self-brand ‘or die’, implying that without a self-
brand any public recognition is not sustainable
long term (Khamis, Ang, & Welling, 2017).
Potential social media influencers must de-
velop their own authentic ‘personal brand’ by
investing the same amount of dedication, time
and effort that successful brands devote to build-
ing theirs. Even though some of the dynamics
may change in building a self-brand vs. a regular
brand. In both cases a target audience must be
defined so that the unique selling proposition
and the narrative match the intended audience
(Khamis et al., 2017). In this sense, for both
brands and individuals, the biggest challenge is
to build and maintain a specific type of audience
that remains interested over time.
Self-branding or personal branding on social
media pivots on creating a digital identity that
draws the attention of a specific audience through
a narrative (inspirational, relatable, instructing,
cautionary, aspirational or just plain entertaining)
(Brody, 2001). On that account, self-branding is
‘essentially an attention-getting device to achieve
competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace’
(Shepherd, 2005, p.597), or to put it in other
words, it differentiates users making it possible
to project distinctive character (Chen, 2013).
Self- branding therefore builds brand equity. For
celebrities their equity is fans that are loyal to
their brand (Hearn & Schoenhoff, 2015). Ex-
trapolating to social media, investing in creating
a self-brand builds a loyal audience of followers
or subscribers.
To sum up, the key factors necessary to achieve
and sustain long term public recognition include:
personality (having strong storytelling skills, being
relatable, portraying authenticity), providing
compelling and distinct content (becoming
an authentic credible voice in a specific field
relevant to the interests of an intended audience),
reach (gathering a community of followers) and
generating meaningful engagement (Tilton, 2011;
Khamis et al., 2017).
Tilton (2011) contends that not everyone is
gifted with communication skills and the ability
to express oneself or even the kind of personality
that connects with an audience. Subjective criteria
is at play in making some people more likeable
than others. ‘Likeability’ or being graced with the
approval and recognition of a crowd is frequently
based on subjective criteria hard to define or
measure and is similar to what traditional media
called having ‘star quality’ which turned certain
people into movie stars (De Veirman et al., 2017).
Crafting a brand persona in social media
implies aspects such as certain looks and
projecting a distinct style coherent with the
content topic where the content creator wants
to position himself as a credible source for
marketing purposes. The perceived image of an
endorser must have a correlation with the product
(O’Mahony & Meenaghan, 1998). However,
the image and credibility of the endorser also
depends on subjective factors that may vary
significantly with different age groups, gender,
and geographic location (Ohanian, 1990).
5.2. The value of celebrities, the key to
Monetization and Brand collaborations
Past studies on social media influencers such as
Jerslev (2016) or Marwick (2013; 2015a; 2015b)
have centered mostly on the practices of self-rep-
resentation carried out by content creators to
draw attention to themselves. However, getting
attention and making money are completely dif-
ferent. As important as these behaviors might be
in building and maintaining a community of fol-
lowers, adopting business practices is considered
critical to create the kind of social media presence
that can be commercialized and turned into a
steady source of income (Hou, 2018).
Capturing attention is therefore only the
first step for many fame seekers. Even though
social media has made fame seem attainable for
ordinary people, we must not forget that the real
driver behind fame has always been to gain some
significant advantage and ultimately make money
(Page, 2012). The truth is brands are only interested
in users who can deliver the right kind of eyeballs
and attention. This means, that marketability
depends on whether a content creator not only
becomes a trusted source of information, but also
cultivates a lasting relationship with a curated fan
base that meets specific demographics that appeal
to brands in one or several niches (Hou, 2018;
Choi & Lewallen, 2018).
Furthermore the influencer must provide an
engaged audience that is potentially receptive
to being influenced by the content creator in a
subject field of interest to practitioners (Tilton,
2011; Booth & Matic, 2011). The number
of eyeballs is also important, since specific
audience sizes are required by brands looking
for collaborators. Therefore, building a sizeable
audience is indispensable for monetization
since advertisers demand reach and visibility
(Youtube Partner Program, 2018). The ability
to deliver a desirable audience becomes the
bargaining power to trade on.
Social media platforms also increasingly de-
mand professional content creators who can
deliver audiences. Youtube, for example, has
become a platform of professionally generated
content that implements measures to imitate the
role of TV (Hou, 2018). In this business model,
only content creators who can bring audiences,
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can monetize (Youtube partner program, 2018).
Youtube’s partner program was created under the
large assumption that content creators want a big
audience and economic rewards for successfully
bringing in viewers.
The level of professionalization of successful
content creators can be observed through indi-
cators such as: defining a strategy based on audi-
ence segmentation and interests, creating content
themes and using a consistent visual identity. In
addition, content must be posted regularly at op-
timal times and be SEO friendly (favoring search
engine optimization) to be found when users con-
duct searches for that particular type of content.
Advanced users also cross-promote using other
platforms to increase exposure.
Technology has often been considered as one
of the reasons so many people have access to
fame in the digital age, but in reality, technology
is just a facilitator. Even if technology makes fame
seem accessible, only a select few attract attention
overtime. Technical affordances must be used
efficiently and tools must be used to track and
measure results, but a strategy and a business
implementation plan are far more important.
Content creators must understand what works
with an intended audience and be responsive to
their needs just like any brand must do with
customers. Furthermore, influencers should not
over endorse brands to maintain credibility and
engagement levels (measured through user inter-
actions such as clicks, views, likes and comments)
and of course, avoid losing followers. In other
words, influencers need to become a brand and
adopt business practices to gain revenue. Only
users who create content with a consistent pro-
fessional approach rise to the top and eventually
become publicly recognized influencers that can
monetize their efforts (Hou, 2018).
Scholar findings regarding the practices be-
hind the creation of fame that can be monetized
are summarized on Table 7.
6. Discussion and conclusions
The aim of this article is to review literature re-
garding the different types of fame from tradition-
al to social media celebrities to understand where
the real value of a celebrity lies. This paper iden-
tifies the dynamics behind the creation of digital
fame and the practices carried out by social media
content creators to achieve long term attention
and ultimately turn their efforts into monetizable
opportunities. The practices to draw attention
over time on social media combine distinctive
self-branding, self-presentation skills and a busi-
ness approach, all of which are necessary to build
social capital that can be turned into economic
capital. Not all forms of attention on social media
lead to profit because they do not build the kind
of social capital than can be traded on, thereby
distinguishing amateur digital content creators or
wannabes from influencers.
Considering the significant differences that ex-
ist amongst all content creators, this work classi-
fies social media content creators and influencers
using terminology used by practitioners with im-
provements such as defining each category more
clearly and indicating the practices behind suc-
cessful influencers based on scholar studies. For
scholars and practitioners to work together, it is
convenient to use the same nomenclature and to
Table 7 · Practices that lead to the monetization of social inuencers based on scholar studies
Practices to build an audience and sustain fame Authors & Date
Ability to draw attention
in the Attention Economy
Only those who are successful in capturing attention
can trade on it.
Fairchild, 2007
Glancing content makes it harder to capture attention Zulli, 2018
Many of the same traditional fame drivers (looks, wealth,
talent, skills...) apply for digital celebrities
Marwick, 2015b
Attention is the most valuable resource of our time and a
set of practices are required to keep viewers interested
Senft, 2013
3 key factors to reach public recognition:
1) Personality
2) Content
3) Reach
Tilton, 2011
The ability to draw and mobilize attention is the essence
of real value that can be commercialized
Gamson, 2011
Practices to build an audience and sustain fame Authors & Date
Establishing Self-branding
(Or personal branding)
Self-branding: an "attention getting device to achieve
competitive advantage in a crowded market place"
Shepherd, 2005
People must turn into self-brands and oer a unique USP.
A digital identity must be carefully crafted to match an
Shepherd, 2005
Self branding dierentiates users Chen, 2013
Compelling and distintive narrative is required Brody, 2001
Not everybody has communication skills or is likeable Tilton, 2011
Creating a brand: draws the attention of a specic audience Khamis et al., 2017
Self-Presentation Theory and
practicing self representation
Every day behavior is like a theatrical performance with
front and back stage behavior
Goman, 1956
Practices of self-representation: staging authenticity and
interacting with followers are necessary to connect with
an audience.
Jerslev, 2016
Marwick, 2013; Zulli, 2018
Staged intimacy (backstage) helps gain emotional connection
Abidin, 2017
Portrayal of authenticity establishes credibility
Business Approach
Credibility: becoming a trusted source of information Tilton, 2011; Booth & Matic, 2011
Professionalization is required to be a successful inuencer Zulli, 2018
Technology is a facilitator only. However technical
aordances must be used eciently.
Hou, 2018
Zulli, 2018
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have a common understanding of the different
types of digital content creators on social media.
Furthermore, as brands face the daunting task of
having to choose collaborators for brand endorse-
ments, it is becoming increasingly important to
be able to differentiate users that actually provide
value to brands.
To recap on the highlights of the concepts dis-
cussed herein, social media has produced new
forms of celebrity, but just like previous forms
of celebrities, they still need the capacity to at-
tract, mobilize attention and build an audience
overtime to be considered a celebrity of any sort.
Therefore any term or practices regarding social
media influencers or celebrities must factor the
ability to draw and maintain attention.
As social media platforms continue to grow
and social media influencers professionalize, it
is more evident that the definition for this breed
of celebrities must include the ability to attract
and direct attention just as it is an intrinsic and
key part of what defines any celebrity. Content
creators must adopt business strategies and follow
work ethics to take advantage of a user’s ability,
talent, charisma or special skills. Even though a
user might initially capture attention, this interest
needs to be sustained overtime to turn someone
ordinary into a publicly recognized figure on so-
cial media that can generate income.
We take particular issue with the term micro-
celebrity currently being used by scholars to refer
to influencers, mainly because the original term
was not meant to refer to users. Micro-celebrity
definitions do not specify that users must be able
to attract attention or even have an audience of
followers. These last two requisites form part of
the very essence of the definition of any form of
celebrity, including an influencer. Furthermore,
the practices used for public recognition on
social media are far more complex than the set
of practices described in the original definition
of micro-celebrity or subsequent updates. These
definitions do not factor in a business approach
which sets professionals apart from the wannabes.
This paper suggests that the term micro-celebrity
should be discarded from scholar work in favor of
using the preferred practioner term ‘digital content
creator’ used by platforms such as Facebook,
Instagram and Youtube. Micro-celebrity should not
be used as a synonym of social media influencer as
they are not the same even if they might share a few
practices in common. The term influencer should
be reserved for those who can shape or persuade
consumer buyer intentions or opinions.
In order to further assess the term micro-
celebrity, we must go back in time to 1956 to the
book ‘The presentation of Self in Everyday Life’,
where Erving Goffman (1956) proposes what later
became known as the self-presentation theory
(Marder, Joinson & Shankar, 2012). In Goffman’s
book, every day behavior is framed as a theatrical
performance where people carefully choose certain
acts and costumes to project a desired impression,
thus ‘certain conducts are displayed in the front
stage, whereas others are reserved for backstage’,
adjusting behavior in each situation (Goffman,
1956. p.8). To recapitulate on this theory, depending
on the situation we face, venue or with whom we
have an encounter with, we adjust the role we play.
On this note, it could be argued that the
micro-celebrity practices described earlier
in which users broadcast a staged version of
themselves to keep the audience’s interest, have
become mainstream digital behavior for millions
of ordinary social media users across the world
who broadcast their staged auto-mediated lives
through social media. Social media users carefully
choose or even digitally enhance images and not
only expect their content to be seen, but also
hope that viewers will be interested and show
their appreciation through likes and comments
to boost popularity or simply feed their egos via
social validation (Zulli, 2018).
In essence, our digital behavior on socmedfiaial
media is just part of our everyday theatrical staged
performance as described by Goffman (1956).
Consistent with this, Thompson (2007), asks
‘haven’t our lives always been a little bit public and
stage-managed?’ implying that this behavior is part
of the social skills we develop to conduct ourselves
publicly. In other words, the set of practices which
in essence define micro-celebrity, are nothing out
of the ordinary, nor do they make ordinary people
a celebrity or an influencer of any sort.
In social media, front stage behavior
(representation of digital identity in front stage)
draws the audience initially. The portrayal of
authenticity (helps establish credibility) and
performing staged intimacy (backstage behavior)
creates engagement and an emotional connection
with an audience and generates loyalty to content
creator (Abidin, 2014). Backstage behavior provides
the perception of access to a glimpse of personal life
through staged intimacy (Abidin, 2017).
Any celebrity definition must include the abili-
ty to capture the attention of an audience, because
arguably, without an audience, a user is nothing
more than a celebrity-wannabe. Therefore, ordi-
nary social media users who dream of monetizing
their digital activity, must first be able to build
social capital by attracting a sizeable audience of
followers and sustain their interest overtime, and
this is precisely where the challenge lies.
To conclude, even though the gates to celebrity
status may now seem wide open thanks to
advances in technology, the democratization of
fame is a myth (Tuner, 2006; Driessens, 2013).
In reality, very few achieve their aspirations of
monetizing their efforts and even fewer can
make a living from creating content on social
media (Choi & Lewallen, 2018). Most users
will never reach the level of attention to become
an influencer, thus social media has really only
democratized the potential of social recognition.
Although traditional celebrities have been
extensively researched, there is a lack of scholar
research on studies on Instagram. Indeed, one
of the most important limitations found in this
research is that scholar studies on Instagram are
in its infancy (Amancio, 2018; Zulli, 2018) and
it is precisely this platform where influencer
marketing is thriving and where the majority
of ordinary people perceive that fame is more
attainable (Harrison, 2018).
Most scholar studies on high profile social
media influencers take place on Youtube, and
even though many of the same practices can be
extrapolated, Instagram has other formats and
dynamics that have not been studied by scholars.
These practices need to be further explored along
with specific practices carried out by ordinary
fame seekers that take place on Instagram, such
as using young children as a ticket to fame or
commercial gain. The number of children ris-
ing to fame has sparked ordinary parents to try
to launch their small children to fame (Choi &
Lewallen, 2018).
7. Future lines of study
Further research is required to shed light on the
powerful influencer industry on social media and
the players who form part of it. From the prac-
tioner side, there is a need to extend knowledge
of the ever-changing number of people who get
attention and claim to be influencers. With this
purpose in mind, scholars can provide useful re-
search. The following research agenda provides
suggestions of future lines of study that derive
from this review. These suggestions are classified
into three main topics:
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Choosing the right inuencer
Brands need help from researchers to help them
understand which content creators provide the best
value for endorsements (Booth & Matic, 2011).
Given the different types of influencers, which ones
should they choose? How should practitioners
analyze and evaluate collaborators to work with?
How to determine the value of the community of
followers built by each content creator? To what
extent do brands really benefit from influencer
endorsements when the influencer has a very large
community with very diverse demographics? How
do influencers progress from one tier of influence
to another and reach audiences with millions of
followers? Do they need the help of mass media
to jump to this elite level?
Optimizing brand endorsements
As more brands shift their advertising budgets
to invest on social media influencers to try to
reach audiences (Harrison, 2018), a number
of questions arise. If influencers are used for
their perceived authenticity, what kind of brand
endorsement is more persuasive? What kind
of endorsement frequency makes them lose
credibility and engagement with their audiences?
How many brands can an influencer work with
at the same time without reducing credibility?
At what point does an influencer become a ‘sell-
out’ in the eyes of his audience? When does over-
endorsing occur? How can an influencer maintain
trust and engagement with his audience? What
sort of demographics respond better to influencer
marketing and in what terms?
Practices to capture attention using children
As mentioned before, some fame seekers attempt to
get attention at any cost, including using their own
young children (Abidin, 2015). This topic presents
a number of questions such as: Are the practices to
launch fame for children on social media different
than for adults? Is it easier for children to become
famous on social media than for adults? Do children
influencers have higher levels of engagement on
their content? What happens when children are
used for brand endorsements on social media?
Does engagement remain the same or does it drop?
Does paid content need to resemble organic content
when using kids? Are the practices used to launch
children to fame different across platforms? How
many platforms does a content creator need to use
to cross promote and amplify exposure?
Finally, as an ending note, practitioners
and scholars need to work closer together to
further investigate the landscape of social media
influencers and the dynamics behind the creation
of fame. As seen in this study, practitioners can
provide the terminology to work with, but
scholars are needed to provide academic rigor
by conducting observational studies and field
experiments to extend knowledge of the ever-
changing world of digital celebrities.
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Abidin, C. (2015). Micro-microcelebrity: branding babies
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Abidin, C. (2017). #familygoals: Family Influencers, Cali-
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Abidin, C., and Ots, M. (2016). Influencers Tell All? In Blu-
rring the lines (p. 153). Nordicom, Göteborg.
Amancio, M. (2017). “Put it in your Story”: Digital Storyte-
lling in Instagram and Snapchat Stories. (Master thesis).
Uppsala University, Uppsala.
Bernazzani, S. (2018). Micro-influencer Marketing: A Com-
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Blog.: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/micro-influen-
Blomqvist Eriksson, E. and Järkemyr, R. (2018). Do you
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impact on consumer’s mobile impulse buying behaviour.
Master thesis. Jönköping, (Sweden): Jönköping University.
Booth, N. and Matic, J.A. (2011). Mapping and leveraging
influencers in social media to shape corporate brand per-
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