Instagram’s Army of ‘Cat-Fluencers’

Why humans can’t get enough of these furry “micro-celebrities”

Felix M. Simon

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Illustration: Felix Simon; image sources: Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0, Pixabay/CC0, Videoplasty/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Xafi and Auri are just a few years old. As is to be expected at this young age, their hobbies mostly include eating, sleeping, and making themselves heard. They like to play, both with each other and their younger brother Errol.

Despite their youth, Xafi and Auri also have an Instagram account where they keep more than 100,000 followers posted about their day-to-day life.

But Xafi and Auri are not your ordinary influencers.

They are cats.

Micro-Celebrities… Just with More Fur

Xafi and Auri certainly do not belong in the top tier of Instagram cat accounts. That status is occupied by the likes of nala_cat (3.7 million followers) and, of course, the one and only realgrumpycat (2.4 million followers). In comparison, the two Russian Blues (and their “furrfriends”) are more akin to what we suggest is Instagram’s “middle class” of cat-fluencers: accounts that are decently popular, but not enough to convey celebrity status outside the platform.

In her research on social media and self-presentation, communication scholar Alice Marwick has termed the human equivalent to these accounts “micro-celebrities.” In a nutshell, micro-celebrities are celebrities whose fame is relatively narrow in scope and likely to be transient. They are enabled by and enact their fame primarily through social media and use the affordances of platforms. “Affordance” here means the functionality of a technology, essentially what the user is able to do with it. In the case of Instagram, this encompasses the ability to post videos and images, to comment on them, and to create stories.

In our quest to understand the relative fame of Xafi, Auri, and company, it helps to treat “micro-celebrity” not as a descriptive label, but as a specific technique.

As Marwick writes:

social media enables micro-celebrity, a self-presentation technique in which people view themselves as a public persona to be consumed by others, use strategic intimacy to appeal to followers, and regard their audience as fans.

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Felix M. Simon

DPhil at Oxford Internet Institute & Research Assistant Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Uni of Oxford. Fellow Tow Center, Columbia University