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Quick quiz: Do the names Nash Grier and Cameron Dallas ring a bell? Does the phrase “Dat backflip, doe” mean anything to you? Are you despairing over the breakup of Magcon?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are most likely a teen girl, reading this on a break from watching infinitely looping six-second videos on Vine.
If you answered no, you’d be surprised to learn that 22 million users—mostly ages 12 to 25—use the social media app each month. There they’ve created their own terminology, inside jokes, and their own brand of celebrities. Beyond that, it’s a gold mine for companies struggling to reach that vital youth demographic, as well as young Viners (the common term for the video creators) looking for their slice of fame and eager to rake in more than a few bucks.
Case in point: The most-followed Viner, Nash Grier, is a 16-year-old from North Carolina with no real talents besides charming girls with his blue eyes and capturing typical teenage antics on camera—like playing pranks or having his little sister sing rap songs. A whopping 7.1 million users follow his daily exploits, and hundreds were willing to pay between $35-$150 to meet him and 10 other top Viners in person at Meet and Greet Conventions (Magcon) around the country.
When Grier and three other popular Viners decided to pull out of the tour for a movie deal, heartbroken fans swarmed Twitter, where seven of the 10 trending topics were Magcon-related.
Vine, which is owned by Twitter, started in 2013 to much buzz as a platform for creating short videos. Months later Instagram offered a 15-second video option that many claimed would shut down Vine. Yet over the past year, legions of teens joined Vine not to make videos but to watch videos created by burgeoning celebrities.
The content on Vine runs the gamut from the inane to the spectacular: Viner Jerome Jarre pranks strangers on the sidewalk (see below), Logan Paul focuses on physical comedy, Andrew Bachelor (or KingBach) creates short comedic sketches, and Zach King uses special effects to create “magic tricks.” To increase fan frenzy, popular Viners find each other to appear in each other’s videos.
That’s one thing that separates social media celebrities from those in Hollywood, said King, a 2012 Biola University grad. Rather than competing for the same roles, Viners are eager to collaborate on videos, realizing that fan bases often overlap and grow as their faces appear in front of new audiences. The bigger the audience, the more varied the opportunities, including partnerships with businesses to create ad campaigns, appearances on talk shows—or in Grier’s case, getting a movie deal.
King started making Vine videos in his garage-converted studio last September after he found all his friends using the app. He had made a name for himself as the effects-laden Final Cut King on YouTube with his viral video about light saber–wielding kittens (see below). It cleverly targeted the two largest demographics on the internet, cat lovers and Star Wars fans. When he saw that the six-second format could work with his special effects sleight of hand, he vouched to make one Vine video a day for 30 days.
“At first it was really difficult,” King remembers. “I thought, ‘This is going to be really easy, just a six-second video,’ and it wasn’t at all. You have to get the timing since it is so short, you have to tell a whole story with a beginning, middle, and end in that time.”
King’s first Vine involved a kitten made to look like anime character Pikachu. As he brainstormed with roommates, someone suggested it’d be funny if the adorable kitten would actually electrocute those who pet it. So in the six-second video, King is duped by a kitten and sent crashing into a bookshelf across the room. Quickly, King saw his following jump—first to 300,000 then 400,000 in a month and now eight months later to 1.3 million followers.
In that time, he’s jumped into a moving car (see below), put a marshmallow peep in his mouth and transformed it into a live chick, jumped through a fence (although his clothes didn’t make it to the other side), and created Vines backstage at The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
While many of his fellow Viners can make a video in, well, six seconds, King’s stunts take between one and 10 hours to edit. For his Vine jump into the car, he had his roommate drive slowly down the street as he jumped at the car, then cut to a perfectly aligned clip of him sitting inside the car (it and others available at vine.co).
While it may seem all fun and pranks, King has an audience to develop. Followers may at anytime click the “unfollow” button. Like a TV show, Vines depend on consistency, so King creates at least two Vines per week. He gauges which type of videos earn the highest number of views (those with physical contact, an element of surprise, and more camera movement), but he also has to calculate viewers—with their short attention spans—don’t want to see the same things over and over again: “The story has to be creative and new every time, so obviously it’s a lot of creative work and creative juice to figure out how to make it new.”
With slickly edited Vines and a large following, King is also becoming attractive to companies wanting to reach a young audience. Taco Bell, Nike, and Coca-Cola, rather than placing ads on the social media app, have asked King to create Vine videos showcasing their products. In one recent Vine, King is seen torching a bag of Doritos that magically turns into Taco Bell’s Doritos-shelled tacos (see below).
The partnerships are so lucrative that King and other top Viners are able to make a living solely creating digital content. Niche, a startup connecting companies with social media celebrities, said it has made $1.5 million in revenue since last fall. One Viner, 24-year-old Cody Johns, told Business Insider that he worked on one ad campaign that paid off his entire college tuition. Johns has 1.6 million followers.
King recognizes his influence with young, impressionable followers, and as a Christian wants to create clean entertainment within the unruly Vine world: “My goal has always been that when I have kids, I want them to be able to watch every Vine I’ve done without any doubts of it being unclean, so that’s kind of my standard, my voice in my Vines.”
The danger for Christians in such an instant culture is to post videos that aren’t well thought out and instantly misrepresent Christ to millions of onlookers, King said.
A scroll through Vine accounts reveals that some Viners cite Jesus in their bio sections, but tell a different story with their profanity-laced, sexually explicit content. For it and other social media, said Christian culture critic Brett McCracken, “it’s a good idea not to post in the heat of the moment or in the heat of your emotions, be conscious of the fact that this is public and you are representing Christianity to the world.”
As King continues to seek creative ways to tell stories in six seconds, the big question on his mind is how he can tell the ultimate gospel story in that time. “I wake up every day and think about it for five minutes, and I have no answer,” King said. Yet he’s certain “there has to be no talking because the gospel relates to everyone in the world. It can’t just be talking, it’s got to be an image. That’s my creative block.”
—See King’s vines at vine.co/Zach.King