Editors' Picks

Virality to Vitality: How Viral Stars Create Lasting Careers

By Editorial Staff

Before there was Bhad Bhabie, there was Danielle Bregoli or the “Cash Me Ousside” girl from Dr. Phil. Bregoli perfectly exemplifies an ongoing internet phenomenon of how going viral online can lead to stardom, brand deals, money and possibly a new career. From Kombucha Girl to the Backpack Kid, Bregoli is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, viral star to keep up their star momentum after going viral.

When stars go viral– they can earn a lot. Building off of virality, many companies and organizations will decide to utilize viral stars for relatability and visibility. From ad campaigns to licensing deals to millions of followers, viral fame doesn’t always have to last for only 15 minutes. Sometimes, stars can turn virality into a long-lasting career. While some stars are invited to popular talk shows for their hilarious and iconic memes, others decide to take it one step further and start their own YouTube channel or create a lasting online presence to keep up the hype.

How to Go Viral

What does virality entail, and how do online users do it? When stars are not on television programs with millions of viewers like Dr. Phil or the Super Bowl Halftime Show, they take it upon themselves to post their funny and unique videos on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter. Once the videos start getting shared– the phenomenon of virality begins. “Successful videos get picked up by a thought leader,” Rightster senior vice president of audience solutions Daniel Fisher told Time. “A thought leader is either an Internet personality, celebrity, or another prominent figure. Once someone with lots of social influence shares a video, its reach is accelerated rapidly, and thousands of people start watching and sharing it instantly.”

To go viral, there are some key pointers to remember:

  • Know your audience. What do they find funny? What will they engage with?
  • Stay relevant. Can your meme be turned into other memes on other platforms to stay relevant?
  • Keep your video short and to the point. Especially if it’s a catchphrase or a dance move.
  • Tell a relatable story. The more people can relate to your video, the more often it will be shared.
  • Keep track of trends. Can you build off of a viral trend?

Makin’ Money Moves

If a viral video is monetized, money can start rolling in instantly. However, only mega-hit videos can make big bucks, and some stars can run into issues with copyright. However, there are two main ways to make money off of instant virality: merchandise and affiliation. Let’s take Kombucha Girl for instance. When Brittany Tomlinson tried kombucha for the first time, her hilarious facial expressions earned her more than 40 million views on Twitter alone after the video was shared from her TikTok account. As Fisher pointed out, once Billie Eilish, a thought leader, liked the video– it really took off. From the video, Tomlinson has had several kombucha companies send her free drinks, and has since made a YouTube video rating each brand. This way, Tomlinson exemplifies affiliation. By affiliating herself, and her virality, with a certain product or brand, she can easily earn brand deals, free merchandise, and sponsorships.

Selling merchandise based on a viral video is another easy way for stars to make money off of their catchphrases and actions. “You essentially turn into a brand with this one piece of content,” said Fisher to Time. Kylie Jenner, for example, launches two “rise and shine” hoodies after the viral video circulated around TikTok, YouTube and Twitter. The hoodies were sold on her personal shop for $65 each, and both hoodies sold out almost immediately. Actress Keke Palmer has also started selling a line of merchandise on her website based off of her viral “Sorry to this man” meme. She’s selling T-shirts, hoodies, and hats for upwards of $55 to respond to the reaction from fans, as the video has now been viewed close to 400,000 times. Both memes from Jenner and Palmer have also inspired other hilarious memes all over social media, some working their way into songs.

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Staying Relevant

Another integral part of going viral, and staying relevant, is creating original, unique content. Russell Horning, also known as the Backpack Kid, is no stranger to this branch of virality. Horning, who created his signature dance move, “The Floss” is known for popularizing the move. He shot to stardom when he did the dance on Saturday Night Live during a performance by Katy Perry in 2016. After posting his videos “flossing,” Horning’s audience got a huge boost when Rihanna re-posted one of his clips. The video game Fortnite even featured The Floss as a dance upgrade. This has sparked controversy, as Horning has sued Fortnite, hoping to gain money off the dance he made famous. This is where virality can go wrong– money can be a pain point while building a career if your viral ideas start to be picked up by other entities. 

For some stars, virality is the easy part. It’s what comes next that can be hard: how does one keep up with their momentum after going viral? Three years after her episode on Dr. Phil, Bregoli went from an out-of-control teenager to a successful, young female rapper using the name “Bhad Bhabie.” From her meme to her rap career, Bregoli has gained millions of dollars in endorsement deals, millions of followers on social media, and several hit songs that have launched her brand. After becoming an overnight sensation from her Dr. Phil appearance, not many people would have thought Bregoli could gain a highly lucrative career as an artist and influencer. As her video and catchphrase kept gaining traction, Bregoli had an audience– but how did she keep it?

A key to creating a career out of virality is staying relevant. For Bregoli, keeping her name in the headlines– whether good or bad– was a key to getting her signed to a label and building a solid fan base. According to Entrepreneur, “the difference between a fad and a sustainable career lies in staying relevant.” In order to have time to develop a career after going viral, influencers need to stay relevant enough to put out quality music, merchandise, YouTube videos or other content. A viral video cannot sustain an online legacy for long. Similarly, being consistent is important to foster a successful career, gain a loyal and authentic following and solidify a reputation. To stay relevant, stars will:

  • Follow a consistent posting schedule on social media.
  • Work with relevant brands.
  • Post consistent videos on YouTube.
  • Release quality music or content on a consistent level.

This article was written by Selena Ponton

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