The Rise of Social Media Stars in Mainstream Media


Sophia Maybin

A popular influencer can rise to fame on almost any social media platform.

We have our rock stars, movie stars, and pop stars. We also have our stars like the Kardashians who ultimately do not do anything.

But what about the stars who rose to fame in less than 24 hours? The ones whose main career involves posting aesthetic Instagram photos or short videos on TikTok? Well, these people who are known as social media stars or “influencers,” are currently breaking through the iPhone screens of the younger generation and hitting mainstream success.

The rise of social media stars or internet fame is a relatively new phenomenon that can be traced back to when Youtube reached its peak popularity during the late 2000s to early 2010s. What started as unintentional viral videos such as “Charlie Bit My Finger,” slowly became a new industry where people can earn money, influence, and true stardom.

One of the first people who attempted to use their Youtube fame as a bridge into mainstream media was Lucas Cruikshank, formerly known on the internet as Fred. At only the age of 16, Cruikshank gained a following for his web series and even became the first person to reach a million subscribers on Youtube.

Shortly after Cruikshank’s internet success, the television channel Nickelodeon gave the young teenager three movies based on his Fred web series that aired from 2010 to 2012. This led Cruikshank to focus more on his mainstream television career rather than his platform on Youtube. During his time as a social media star turned Nickelodeon star, Lucas Cruikshank was given two more separate shows that were both canceled after the first season. This marked the end of Cruikshank’s quick career as an actor as he had to return to being a full-time Youtuber.

While Lucas Cruikshank did not gain success in mainstream media, he was the first person online who attempted to use their online fame as a stepping stone into the entertainment industry. It is also fair to say that television and cinema (not including streaming services such as Netflix) continue to be hard for online influencers to break into.

One subset of the entertainment industry that has seen quite an influx of former social media stars is in music. Many people either forget or do not know that artists like Troye Sivan and Conan Gray had garnered a huge fanbase from their online presence. Even Grammy-nominated Shawn Mendes was originally famous on Vine.

In recent years, it has become apparent that social media stars no longer need to be talented in acting or singing to reach mainstream success. The entertainment industry is slowly starting to understand that using these online influencers will attract younger audiences. This may be why Louis Vuitton chose Emma Chamberlain to be their ambassador and invited her to Paris Fashion Week or how the Kardashians decided to recruit TikToker Addison Rae into their group even though she is much younger than them.

As more and more young people opt to go to their phones and computers for entertainment, mainstream media has recognized that they must adapt and recruit these online influencers in order to maintain relevance. On the other hand, social media stars have also realized that online fame cannot last forever, so they use mainstream media to also maintain relevancy as well as financial security. One can see that in our current digital age, the line between online and offline fame is blurring together.