The popularity of celebrities generates its unique cultural context – celebritization. Cashmore (2014) postulates that celebritization influences the way we think and the manner style we perform. More accurately, the new culture shaped by celebritization is invading our real life. Decentralization is a good sign of democratization, which are quite important to celebritization. Media vehicles, particularly social media, make great contributions to the process of decentralization and democratization. Historically, traditional celebrities have been created by professional and large-sized media organizations. However, the entrance requirement to produce celebrities is lowered thanks to the prevalence of Internet and social media such as Facebook and Twitter around the world, and WeChat as well as Weibo in China. Even grassroots or lesser-known people can position themselves as DIY celebrities as long as they can produce rich and insightful contents on social media. In other words, common people are empowered by new media technologies, which is beneficial to democratize the celebrity industry. Unfortunately, few extant studies put the focus on general audience experience about online DIY celebrities and even commercial pattern of online endorsement. To fill in this research gap, an exploratory study about audience experience relating to online DIY celebrities was conducted in late 2018 and early 2019 in China.
In this celebritization cultural context, in-depth personal interview was arranged with 15 participants aged at 18 to 37 who are social media users. Among them, 13 interviewees used social media every day. The most frequently used social media platform was WeChat, the alternative of Facebook and WhatsApp in China. All participants installed WeChat on their smartphones. Besides, 11 participants used QQ, offering instant one-on-one and group chats among users. In addition, 33.3% of interviewees used Weibo and 40% of subjects frequently logged on video-oriented social media platforms such as TikTok and Kuaishou. Talking to the reasons using social media, social function was the key reason for participants to use social media channels. Interviewees believed that social media tools allowed them to easily and conveniently get connected with their social networks like families, friends, teachers, business partners and so on. Besides, information function was the second reason motivating social media behaviors. Participants pointed that social media gave access to people to get updated.
When asked audience’s perception toward online DIY celebrities and their product endorsement, no participant showed positive attitude about DIY celebrities, and even 6 interviewees directly complaint the darkness of online DIY celebrities. The remaining 9 participants held neutral attitude toward them. Besides, they compared DIY celebrities with traditional celebrities. It turned out that perceived credibility was the major difference. 5 participants perceived traditional celebrity endorsement was more credible while only 2 participants argued DIY celebrity endorsement was more trustworthy. In addition, participants also pointed out differences on formality and standardization, communication channels, and endorsed product quality. Traditional celebrity endorsement was perceived more formal and standard than DIY celebrity endorsement as they got endorsement opportunity assigned by professional entertainment company while DIY celebrities explored similar opportunities in person without formality or restriction