Story highlights

Sorry, marketing mavens -- there's no exact formula for gaining Internet fame

We spoke with people who got famous online and asked for advice on how to handle it

They said: Have a tough skin, don't forget your fans and don't sell out

Editor’s Note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book “Stuff Hipsters Hate.” Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at

(CNN) —  

It used to be that your chances of achieving any kind of widespread fame were akin to the proverbial to-your-cranium lightning strike.

Nowadays, the likelihood that 1,000-plus will know your name are about one in a million – in that you can choose one from a million follies or fails that are liable to catapult you into the firmament of fame. Internet fame, that is, which – sorry to say marketing mavens – there’s really no exact formula for.

Give a solid gold witness statement, bust out a solid gold speaking voice or work on a solid (extra cancer crispy) gold tan, and you’re a solid gold star, baby. For better or worse – when it comes to society and our own fraying mind fibers.

Yup, there are scads of Internet-born stars out there, people who have become revered for everything from liking turtles to getting (allegedly) drunk and singing Queen jams to, you know, actually being good at stuff.

Most of the time, Internet-forged fame is fleeting, as the ADD-addled, magpie mind of the Web is constantly looking for something new and shiny to bat around – and, really, how many times can you watch a baby laugh in slow motion (about three seconds, five to 10 if impaired by a substance of some sort)?

Sometimes, however, if grounded in some sort of actual skill, the proverbial 15 minutes last a little longer, as with the infamous Biebs (for better or worse when it comes to society and our own fraying mind fibers).

Either way, there are tons of folks out there getting rapidly famous for … whatever … which is putting them in immense danger, my friends. Danger of becoming massive tools. As David Bowie once sang, “Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow.”

In our never-ending quest to quell the massive epidemic of horrible people being obnoxious on the Internet, we spoke with a few people who achieved Internet fame and asked for their advice on how to best avoid becoming the optimization of Bowie’s sexual innuendo-laden phrase.

Here’s what they said:

People will hate you, deal with it

Christiaan Van Vuuren’s life took a pretty terrible turn back in 2010 when he contracted tuberculosis while on a trip to South Africa – a turn that included 180 days in quarantine. Instead of ugly crying forever and ever whilst in the hospital (as many of us probably would have), Van Vuuren started making comedy rap videos about the experience, which are entirely not as lame as the phrase “comedy rap videos about the experience” would have you believe.

Van Vuuren made a lot of friends and got a lot of support and press for his vids, but he also had his share of trolls. Of their hurtful comments, the comedian – who branched off into making other series after getting out of quarantine – says:

“Don’t worry about abusive comments, and it’s better not to reply to those ones. There are a lot of people online who just go around verbally bashing whoever they can, and hiding behind their computer screens. It’s sad, and weak, but don’t fall onto the trap of letting those people affect you.”

And this is coming from a dude who was stuck in quarantine with a terrifying disease. We think you can suck it up if some basement dweller doesn’t dig your stirring shot-by-shot remake of “The Hunger Games.” (Exemption if someone posts an embarrassing video of you online without your consent – in that case, seek legal counsel/therapy.)

Don’t forget your fans

Now to the other, brighter side of the coin: the people who actually like what you do. The band Walk Off the Earth specifically highlighted this contingent when we asked for its sage advice – quite rightly, as it blew up this year.

For those who don’t have a YouTube, Walk Off the Earth is an Ontario-based band that shot to Internet stardom last winter for this five-person, one-guitar rendition of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” (aka the only Gotye cover that really matters). The video garnered the band 134 million views and 500,000-plus new fans on Facebook as well as a contract with Columbia Records.

The band obviously existed before it covered Gotye – it had about 20,000 fans on Facebook before then, a solid base – which is why multi-instrumentalist Gianni Luminati warns fellow new-famers not to forget them.

“Stay in touch with your fans, know who they are, and ask their advice,” he says. “Always keep them involved with your project and make them part of it.” Perhaps a six-person, one-guitar cover is in the mix, then?

Don’t sell out

If you tell a joke once, it’s funny (hopefully). Tell it again, and sure, we’ll probably laugh out of pity or something. Tell it 100 times in 100 slightly different ways and slap a price tag on it and beg us to buy it, and we’ll tell you to eff off.

Mike Bridavsky could have gone down many different paths when his cat, Lil Bub, became an Internet sensation due to her adorably mutated mien. (We’ll just embed an image here for your edification and amusement.)

He could have blindly milked that beast (not literally) for everything it was worth like many a greedy owner of a viral animal or child, or he could be smart about how he chose to parlay that fame.

“I thought about this very hard, and realized that it was an opportunity to create a platform for things I cared about (adopting, spaying and neutering pets). It allowed me to create jobs for my close and talented friends (photographers, designers, filmmakers, print makers, etc). It was a way to raise money and generate awareness about animal care, it could bring joy to thousands of people around the world and at the same time it could turn a silly picture of a cat into a substantial and sustainable presence on the Internet,” Bridavsky says.

Yes, he does sell Bub merch (designed and created by his friends who get a cut of the cash), but a percentage of those profits are donated to animal-centric organizations.

“Also, I don’t accept every opportunity that I am presented with,” Bridavsky asserts. “For example, a kid’s lip gloss company wanted to use Bub for a poster/ad campaign. Bub doesn’t have anything to do with lip gloss, so I declined.”