What is Niche Internet Micro Celebrity?

As online fame approaches, “nimcels” represent a growing faction of the attention economy

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

Suspension

People all over the greater Sioux Falls, SD, area know Bryce Wollmann. At 6-foot-6, the 25-year-old operating room nurse is hard to miss, but his online following has made him a superstar.

Wollmann’s online presence is boisterous and funny. He tweeted jokes and written messages about life to his more than 5,000 followers from the handle @TheBigAndSexy70. He talks a lot about his 2007 driving Chevy Tahoe with DVD playeroften wearing bright clothes, such as Hawaiian T-shirts or leopard print track suit.

“Anytime Sioux Falls or even South Dakota in general appears in my daily life, I immediately go ‘Oh my God, this is Bryce Woolman lands,'” chirp Joey Coloper, a Memphis musician and poet, is a fan of Wollman. “Like, in my opinion, Bryce is sitting on the throne somewhere out there and ruling the whole place.”

Wollman is not a professional influencer or content creator: he’s a niche internet celebrity, or nimsel. Young Internet celebrities are people on the Internet who are known to a small but often devoted group and represent a growing diversity of the attention economy. Online fame is the result of niche internet celebrities, never the goal. They rarely make money from their social accounts, choosing instead to post for fun. The term is often used in tongue in cheek manner.

The TikTok and YouTube stars chasing fame in Hollywood or joining the content role are not the niche internet celebs. But a meme account manager, a local Twitter super personality, the founder of a popular Discord server or a random person went viral for being Featured frequently on the popular Instagram account Will be.

“If you’re a niche internet celebrity, you’re more than just a regular person with a few followers,” Wollman said. “I just be myself and cater to what I think is funny or cool, and a small group of people also think it’s funny. I don’t feel like I should be selling a product or paying for something.”

The term niche internet micro celebrity first appeared on the Instagram meme pages last spring. Since then, it has seeped into the wider culture as an effective acronym to describe a new type of internet fame or notoriety and to signal a shift in the way people think about internet-driven influence.

“If the internet was in high school, these are the hottest kids in the class,” said Ina Da, a small Brooklyn-based internet celebrity who follows Park_Slope_Arsonist and is known for her hilarious edits on Instagram.

While influencers use their online followers to make money, “for niche internet celebrities, the goal is just entertainment, versus the influencer,” Da said. “I think the term came up to characterize people who do something similar to influencers, but for very different motives. Being a little celebrity on the internet makes you less capitalist, and less ‘I’m a brand.’”

When L.A.-based digital creators Lauren Schiller, 25, and Angela Royce, 27, decided to launch their online clothing brand OGBFF last year, their first collection included T-shirt with the phrase “Internet celebrity specialists.” “Especially on apps like TikTok, everyone is famous in their own right,” Schiller said. “The way we blog our lives and act like influencers online, as if our audience is eager to see their new lip contouring routine or something.”

Schiller and Royce said there is a crucial and carefree component to becoming an internet celebrity. “Professional internet celebrities don’t use ring light and may not wipe the camera before recording,” Ruis said. “Their regulation of their content is not extensive.”

For years, people have struggled to rank those who pay attention on the Internet. Throughout the speculation, individuals with fandom on platforms like Myspace or Tumblr have been called everything from “fameballs” to “CeWebritys” to “internet stars”. Next New Networks, an early YouTube multi-channel network, first pioneered the term “creator” as an acronym for the growing class of people finding fame and making a living from YouTube, which the company had previously dubbed “Partners”.

“These guys were more than just an on-screen talent,” said Tim Shi, co-founder of Next New Networks. Atlantic Ocean. “They could write, edit, produce, do community management and were entrepreneurs.”

Since the term “creator” was so synonymous with the term YouTube, people for years kept not knowing what to call those who were attracting attention on other apps. Platform-specific names such as “star vine”, “famous tumblr” or “bloglebrity“It took hold temporarily, but when marketing dollars began sinking into the industry in the mid-2010s, marketing executives started with a term from their realm: influencer.

The term influencer was platform-neutral and described the growing and amorphous power that came with internet fame. In 2020, when Silicon Valley finally started to take the online content creator industry seriously, things turned again, and the term influencer was replaced by its predecessor: creator.

As the pandemic has prompted more people to mingle digitally, more personalities have emerged online. The rise of TikTok, which often catapults previously unknown people to fame, has exacerbated the transformation, giving birth to the niche internet celebrity.

Evan Britton, founder and CEO of Famous Birthdays, said, “Fame is a niche now. A database of well-known people on the Internet. He argued that fame has a different definition now than it did before the internet. “It’s community specific. I don’t think [niche internet micro celebrities] They consider themselves famous or Vidcon stars, but they will be in their own niche community.”

The death of online monoculture and the rise of online celebs can be seen at this year’s VidCon, an annual conference of online video stars. While it was once possible to gather all of the Internet’s leading personalities into one conference, the landscape is now very broad and disjointed. At VidCon, with audiences divided among an ever-growing group of millions of content creators, some creators have found lines of fans who want to greet them unexpectedly.

Alyssa McDevitt, 25, a software engineer in New York, became an internet celebrity by briefly supervising a Facebook meme group for young people in tech. People started getting to know her, and she developed a cult following for her clever comments and responses on set. “I don’t think I realized I had become a niche little Internet celebrity until I started going out and doing basic things,” she said. “If I’m in a relatively bigger city or I’m at a hackathon, people will come to me like, ‘Oh my God! You are Alyssa! They’d ask for selfies and I’m embracing, like, “Yeah I’m Alyssa.” “

Specialized little Internet celebs can be born on any platform, and even by specific features on those platforms. TikTok and Instagram mint them on a regular basis, but they also appear frequently on YouTube, Twitter or Twitch.

There are pros and cons to becoming a nimail. Some use their little fame to start their careers as full-fledged influencers. Others build relationships and take advantage of their notoriety for a new business opportunity or local franchise. Wollmann got free drinks, and the mayor of Sioux Falls even declared him an “unofficial mayor” at Dave & Buster’s last month.

“You’re kind of between a layman and a complete influencer, you have to appreciate those two things,” McDevitt said. “You are well liked, some people know you, people are nice to you, but you are not invited to the more attractive and wonderful things like the Met ball.”

Mackenzie Thomas, 23, a small Los Angeles-based internet celebrity known for her fashion aesthetic, said there are downsides to this particular type of fame. “There is no luster for the niche,” she said. “We are all employed or out of work. I make $3 a month from TikTok.”

Lack of money and reach unites the online niche landscape of young internet celebrities. “They’re not rich, and that’s probably not their main job,” said Alex Peter, 30, a lawyer who became an internet celebrity in New York.

While being an internet celebrity doesn’t come with all the trappings of influencers, the term fits the way many people on the internet like to be described.

“I would consider myself an internet celebrity,” Da said. “It’s the perfect amount of self-deprecation but also a great way to define oneself,” Thomas said. “It’s the best umbrella term for what a lot of people do on the Internet. There’s a difference, it’s a title that you can give someone who has a cultural influence to a small subsection of people who are more familiar with the Internet and more online.”

Many of the internet celebrity professionals have said that to embody the term, you need to have a flag and background that followers can refer to, whether it be moments that have gone viral or a library of popular publications. “There has to be a subculture associated with the person,” Peter said, “a gag or inside joke among followers that the vast majority of people would have no idea about and would think you were crazy if you mentioned that as some kind of cultural reference point.”

However, if you try too hard or become too famous, you are no longer a nimble. “Anyone who creates content with the intent to explode and become mainstream is not a niche little Internet celebrity,” Thomas said.

Currently, Wollman and his fellow internet celebs feel comfortable working beneath the surface of mainstream fame, able to have fun online in a way that only those with a smaller audience can. “Sometimes I’m in a mood like, ‘What if I expanded my brand further, and evolved beyond being a niche internet celebrity into a full-fledged influencer,'” McDevitt said. “Then I see some of the things they have to deal with, with stalking and harassment and I’m kind of thankful that I’m at that moderate level.”

“It’s fun being part of this wave,” Peter said. “Whatever it is, I think some people think it’s the deterioration of society, and they’re probably right. But that’s interesting.”

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