“Whenever Sioux Falls or even just South Dakota in general pops up in my daily life, I’m immediately like ‘omg this is Bryce Wollmann territory’.” tweeted Joey Culoper, Memphis musician and poet, Wollmann fan. “Like, in my mind, Bryce just sits on a throne somewhere up there and rules the whole place.”
Wollmann isn’t a professional influencer or content creator: he’s a niche internet micro-celebrity, or “nimcel.” Niche Internet micro-celebrities are people online who are known to a small but often devoted group and they represent a growing variant of the attention economy. Online fame is a consequence for a niche Internet micro-celebrity, never the goal. They rarely make money from their social accounts, choosing to post for fun instead. The term is often used ironically.
TikTok and YouTube stars seeking fame in Hollywood or joining content houses are not niche internet micro-celebrities. But a meme account admin, a hyper-local Twitter personality, the founder of a popular Discord server, or some random guy who went viral for being repeatedly featured on a popular Instagram account would.
“If you’re a niche internet micro-celebrity, you’re more of a regular person with a bit of a following,” Wollmann said. “I’m just being myself and dealing with what I think is funny or cool, and a small group of people also think it’s funny. I don’t feel like I have to sell a product or push anything. thing.
The term niche internet micro-celebrity first appeared on Instagram meme pages last spring. Since then, it has seeped into a wider culture as an effective shorthand to describe a new kind of online fame or notoriety and signifies a change in the way people think about internet influence.
“If the internet was high school, these are the standout kids in the class,” said Ena Da, a Brooklyn-based nimcel who goes by @Park_Slope_Arsonist and is known for her humorous Instagram edits.
While influencers use their online followings to make money, “for a niche internet micro-celebrity, the goal is purely to entertain, as opposed to an influencer,” Da said. “I think this term emerged to distinguish people doing a similar thing to influencers, but for completely different motivations. Being a niche internet micro-celebrity feels less capitalist, less “I’m a brand”. ”
When Lauren Schiller, 25, and Angela Ruis, 27, two digital designers in Los Angeles, decided to launch their online clothing brand OGBFF last year, their first collection included a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “niche internet micro celebrity”. “Especially on apps like TikTok, everyone is a celebrity in their own right,” Schiller said. “The way we vlog our lives and act like influencers online, like our audience is dying to see our new lip liner routine or whatever.”
Schiller and Ruis said there’s a crucial, carefree element to becoming a niche internet micro-celebrity. “Niche internet micro-celebrities don’t use a ring light and probably don’t wipe their camera before recording,” Ruis said. “Their curation of their content isn’t as intense.”
For years, people have struggled to label those that grab attention on the internet. Throughout the years, people with fandoms on platforms like Myspace or Tumblr have been called everything from “fameballs” to “CeWebritys” to “internet stars.” Next New Networks, one of YouTube’s first multi-channel networks, was the first to use the term “creator” to refer to the burgeoning class of people making a name for themselves and making a living from YouTube, which the company called formerly “partners”.
“These people were more than on-screen talent,” Next New Networks co-founder Tim Shey told The 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 drawing attention to other apps. Platform-specific names like “vine star,” “tumblr famous,” or “bloglebrity” temporarily settled, but when marketing dollars began flooding the industry in the mid-2010s, marketers introduced a term from their industry: influencer.
The term influencer was platform-agnostic and described the growing, amorphous power that comes with online fame. In 2020, when Silicon Valley finally started to take the online creator industry seriously, things changed again and the term influencer was replaced by its ancestor: creator.
As the pandemic drove more people to socialize digitally, more online personalities rose to prominence. The rise of TikTok, which often skyrockets previously unknown people to notoriety, has compounded the shift, giving rise to niche internet micro-celebrity.
“Fame is now a niche,” said Evan Britton, founder and CEO of Famous Birthdays, a database of well-known people on the internet. Fame now has a different definition than before the internet, he argued. “It’s more community-specific. I do not think so [niche internet micro celebrities] think of themselves as famous or a VidCon star, but in their niche community, they would be.
The death of the internet monoculture and the rise of the niche internet micro-celebrity could be witnessed at this year’s VidCon, an annual convention for online video stars. While it was once possible to gather all the top content creators and internet personalities in one convention, the landscape is now too vast and disjointed. At VidCon, with an audience split between an ever-growing group of millions of content creators, many creators found the lines of fans wanting to greet them surprisingly short.
Alyssa McDevitt, 25, a software engineer in New York City, became a niche internet micro-celebrity by briefly moderating a Facebook meme group for tech kids. People got to know her and she developed a cult following for her witty comments and responses in the group. “I don’t think I realized that I became a niche micro-celebrity on the internet until I started going out and doing basic things,” she said. “If I was in a relatively bigger city or at a hackathon, people would come up to me and be like, ‘omg! you’re Alyssa! 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 on those platforms. TikTok and Instagram mount them most regularly, but they also regularly appear on YouTube, Twitter or Twitch.
There are pros and cons to becoming a nimcel. Some use their micro-fame to launch full-fledged influencer careers. Others grow their relationships and turn their notoriety into a new job opportunity or local perks. Wollmann collected free drinks, and the mayor of Sioux Falls even declared him an “unofficial mayor” at a Dave & Buster’s last month.
“You’re sort of between a private citizen and a full-fledged influencer, you enjoy both of those things,” McDevitt said. “You’re well-liked and some people know you and people are nice to you, but you’re not invited to the most glitzy and glamorous things like the Met Ball.”
Mackenzie Thomas, 23, a nimcel in Los Angeles known for her fashion aesthetic, said there were downsides to that particular type of notoriety. “There’s no glamor in the niche,” she said. “We are all working jobs or unemployed. I make $3 a month from TikTok.
George: She said she was a “micro niche internet celebrity”
Jerry: So what is his job? the Internet?
George: No, that’s all Jerry; she doesn’t have a job
— eric curtin (@_ericcurtin) August 5, 2022
Lack of money and access unites the landscape of niche internet micro-celebrities. “They’re not rich, and that’s probably not their main job,” said Alex Peter, 30, a lawyer-turned-niche internet micro-celebrity in New York City.
While being a niche internet micro-celebrity doesn’t have all the attributes of an influencer, the term fits how many people online like to be described.
“I would consider myself a niche internet micro-celebrity,” Da said. “It’s the perfect amount of self-mockery but also a great self-identifier,” Thomas said. “It’s the best umbrella term for what so many people are doing on the internet. There’s a certain edginess to it, it’s a title you can give someone who is making a cultural impact on a small penny. -section of people who are more internet savvy and more online.
Many niche internet micro-celebrities have said that to embody the term, you need to have a lore and backstory that followers can reference, whether it’s times when you went viral or a library of iconic messages. “There must be a subculture associated with the person,” Peter said, “a running gag or inside joke among followers that the vast majority of people would have no idea about and think you’re crazy if you do. mention as a sort of cultural landmark.
However, if you try too hard or become too popular, you are no longer a nimcel. “Anyone who creates content with the intention of exploding and becoming mainstream,” Thomas said, “are not niche internet micro-celebrities.”
For now, Wollmann and his niche internet micro-celebrity peers are comfortable operating below the surface of mainstream fame, able to have fun online in a way that only one with a larger audience small can. “Sometimes I get in the mood, what if I grow my brand more and grow beyond a niche internet micro-celebrity to become a full-fledged influencer,” McDevitt said. “Then I see some of the things they have to deal with, with the harassment and harassment and I’m kind of grateful to be at that moderate level.”
“It’s fun to be part of this wave,” said Peter. “Anyway, I think some people think it’s the decline of society, and maybe they’re right. But, it’s interesting.