Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Information Studies


Jeff Hemsley


Affordances, Machine Learning, Media Richness, Microcelebrity

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Social media have introduced a contemporary shift from broadcast to participatory media, which has brought about major changes to the celebrity management model. It is now common for celebrities to bypass traditional mass media and take control over their promotional discourse through the practice of microcelebrity.

The theory of microcelebrity explains how people turn their public persona into media content with the goal of gaining and maintaining audiences who are regarded as an aggregated fan base. To accomplish this, the theory suggests that people employ a set of online self-presentation techniques that typically consist of three core practices: identity constructions, fan interactions and promoting visibility beyond the existing fan base. Studies on single platforms (e.g., Twitter), however, show that not all celebrities necessarily engage in all core practices to the same degree. Importantly, celebrities are increasingly using multiple social media platforms simultaneously to expand their audience, while overcoming the limitations of a particular platform. This points to a gap in the literature and calls for a cross-platform study.

This dissertation employed a mixed-methods research design to reveal how social media platforms i.e., Twitter and Instagram, helped celebrities grow and maintain their audience. The first phase of the study relied on a richness scoring framework that quantified social media activities using affordance richness, a measure of the ability of a post to deliver the information necessary in affording a celebrity to perform an action by using social media artifacts. The analyses addressed several research questions regarding social media uses by different groups of celebrities and how the audience responded to different microcelebrity strategies. The findings informed the design of the follow-up interviews with audience members. Understanding expectations and behaviors of fans is relevant not only as a means to enhance the practice’s outcome and sustain promotional activity, but also as a contribution to our understandings about contemporary celebrity-fans relationships mediated by social media.

Three findings are highlighted. First, I found that celebrities used the two platforms differently, and that different groups of celebrities emphasized different core practices. This finding was well explained by the interviews suggesting that the audiences had different expectations from different groups of celebrities. Second, microcelebrity strategies played an important role in an audience’s engagement decisions. The finding was supported by the interviews indicating that audience preferences were based on some core practices. Lastly, while their strategies had no effect on follow and unfollow decisions, the consistency of the practices had significant effects on the decisions.

This study makes contributions to the theory of Microcelebrity and offers practical contributions by providing broad insights from both practitioners’ and audiences’ perspectives. This is essential given that microcelebrity is a learned practice rather than an inborn trait.


Open Access