How to become an internet celebrity

So you want to become an internet celebrity? Everybody else is one, so why not you? Fame, fortune and a Wikipedia entry are just one embarrassing YouTube video away.

Alas, for every Justin Bieber there are hundreds of millions of people nobody has ever heard of. The chances of turning your fans and followers into dollars and cents are small, but for many the lure of becoming a trending topic on Twitter is enough.

There are two main routes to becoming an online celebrity:

Route 1

Start a blog (or a YouTube channel, or a Twitter profile), plug away at it, spend years building up an audience and a track record. Seth Rotherham of 2 Oceans Vibe is a good local example of this approach. Twitter kings Khaya Dlanga and Daniel Nash are others.

Route 2

Upload a video to YouTube (it’s invariably a video) and get noticed. Either your clip can demonstrate some kind of talent or ability (such as the Man with the Golden Radio Voice), or it can show you making a complete and utter fool of yourself.

The latter is probably the most reliable route to notoriety or fame, which online amounts to much the same thing. Chris Crocker – he of Leave Britney Alone! fame – is a good example of how the public display of one’s private nuttiness can score you 39 million views, if not much else.

Successful online celebrities are able to morph into a meme suitable for printing on T-shirts. Fame tends to be fleeting, so you have to make the most of it while you can.

Regardless of which strategy you select as your chosen path to your fifteen seconds of fame, the following will all come in handy:


It all begins with attitude. Having the right attitude is everything. Being a “celebrity” invariably means being famous for reasons other than your talents or abilities, and online this becomes even more obvious.

For this reason, it is vitally important that you, the wannabe web celeb, believe that you and your opinions matter regardless of how banal or glib they might be. Self-doubt is kryptonite; shamelessness is essential. While Nonhle Thema might be an offline celeb, wannabe Internet celebs can learn a lot from her approach to tweeting. If you’re going to indulge in the kind of narcissism and exhibitionism that gets you noticed, it’s critically important not to care what others think of you. If you take the view that as long as they’re paying attention to you, that’s all that matters, you’ll do well.

Be good at being bad at things

While people love to pass on links to videos of people with amazing talents, watching people being really crap at something is much more entertaining. Would Rebecca Black have dominated Twitter’s trending topics for over a week if her mother hadn’t stumped up the cash to have her sing the world’s worst song? This brings me to my next point:

Thick skin

The more famous you are, the more people will hate you. In fact, in many cases of internet celebrity, fame and hatred are directly correlated. So it helps to have an epidermis the thickness of the Earth’s crust. For one thing, a thick skin will allow the wannabe celeb to…

Turn lemons into lemonade

Internet celebrities know that every negative comment is an opportunity for more publicity. Before Julia Allison!/JuliaAllison became famous for being famous, Gawker made her cry for three days after giving her the attention she craved, and publishing an 800-word piece devoted to the assassination of her character. Then she published a picture of herself with the words “Kiss my ass Gawker” and the rest is history.

Be seen with the right people

One of the secrets of Julia Allison’s success was her ability to make sure she was regularly photographed with famous people. Keenan Cahill takes a similar approach. A teenager with a rare disorder called Maroteaux–Lamy syndrome, he has become a YouTube sensation by lip-synching alongside famous stars, including 50 Cent, Katy Perry and most recently the cast of Glee.

In advertising, we like to talk about the “halo effect” – when the qualities and attributes of one brand are transferred to another in close proximity through some sort of cultural diffusion – and this certainly applies to the internet celebrity phenomenon.

Attract the right kind of attention

Wannabe Internet celebrities can toil away in obscurity until the right people notice them. The aforementioned Rebecca Black got a measly 1000 views in the weeks after “Friday” was first uploaded; the video only gained global fame as the worst song ever a month after it went live.

Also in February this year Maria Aragon’s sister uploaded a YouTube video of her playing a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and there it would have remained in relative obscurity had Lady Gaga herself not spotted it and tweeted about it.

During a live radio interview she invited the 10-year-old Canadian to perform on stage with her. Aragon has subsequently appeared on the Ellen de Generes show and performed for the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The original video has been viewed more than 37 million times.

When confusion reigns, go with the flow

@Rebekah_Brooks is on Twitter. The trouble is, she’s not that Rebekah Brooks; she’s a freelance journalist who lives in Massachusetts. Since the News of the World scandal made global headlines she’s gained 260 more followers, many of whom have been rude to her, though most of them are apologetic when they discover who she really is.

A good example of inadvertent fame thanks to Twitter is 22 year old Ashley Kerekes, who goes by the name @theashes on Twitter. You can see why misunderstandings might happen. Qantas turned the confusion into a quick PR masterstroke by offering to fly Kerekes to Sydney to watch the last match of the series. In an attempt to leverage her unexpected fame, she started selling T-shirts bearing her most famous words: “I’m not a freaking cricket match!” You can also buy knitted cricket balls from her via her etsy.

Be a cat

When all else fails and people get tired of looking at drunks vomiting outside nightclubs and women who can’t park, when even Justin kissing Selena is like so yesterday, everyone will still want to look at lolcats.

The most reliable route to internet fame therefore is to be a cat. Or to own a cat, and make videos of your pet doing… stuff. So, even if it’s vicarious, you may one day reach the giddy heights of celebrity regularly scaled by Maru, a Scottish Fold who lives in Japan. A regular on both icanhascheezburger and Cute Overload, Maru is famous for jumping into boxes and looking grouchy but cute. His YouTube channel boasts just under 140,000 subscribers and many of the 183 video listed have achieved well over 1 million views. It has to be said that, as internet celebrities go, Maru has more charisma and natural talent than most.

So there you are: if you want to be an internet celebrity, be shameless, be good at being bad at things, make sure you hang around real celebrities – and if you can’t manage any of that, be a cat.



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