Vine Super-Users Earning a Living via Social Media

Though Vine --Twitter’s six-second looping video-sharing app -- has only been around for six months, super-users who have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers are already cashing in on the site’s social media power.

Vine-ographers – masters of the app’s 6-second video – are now being paid by major brands like Lowe’s, Mazda, Nike and Virgin Mobile to help create and spread Vine-based ad campaigns. The interest has grown so rapidly that an agency solely devoted to Vine artists has even popped up, to help popular users connect with companies.

“I haven’t pitched anyone,” says fashion photographer Meagan Cignoli, who has a following of more than 315,000 users on Vine. “Every brand has come to me on their own directly, or creative agencies like BBDO or Ogilvy have reached out,” she says.

Cignoli says there is so much interest that she’s now working on Vine campaigns seven days a week. And while NDAs forbid her from disclosing how much she makes per video, she says the cash is flowing.

“It’s probably 90% of my income right now. I’m always booked solid for two weeks ahead,” says Cignoli.

Why Brands Are Interested in Vine

Having surpassed 13 million users in early June, Vine may seem like an obvious outlet for advertisers.

But it’s not just about the size of the audience. Heather Taylor, a vice-president at Ogilvy, says Internet video is an increasingly important medium that’s resonating with consumers.

“55% of web traffic is video,” she says, with individuals watching nearly 2,000 minutes of video each month. “By 2016, there will be more than 6 million years of video to watch online,” says Taylor.

And Vine’s six-second format in particular has clicked with viewers, she says.

“The short form is extremely valuable, because we want to consume quickly … Brand Vines are shared four times more than other online videos, and five Vines are shared every second on Twitter,” says Taylor.

With stats like these, companies are eager to get in on the exposure.

“Brands and creative companies are interested in channels and tools and stuff that lets us connect in a meaningful way with people,” says Saatchi Worldwide Digital Director Tom Eslinger.

“Meaningful” and “engagement” are the big buzzwords the advertising and branding experts are using to describe Vine’s appeal.

Deutsch’s Chief Channel Planning and Investment Officer Anush Prabhu says his company is beginning to incorporate Vine into their larger social media campaigns. Rather than having brands simply create videos, however, he says Deutsch is interested in having users create videos around a topic that the brand promotes, prompting a relationship between the consumer and the company.

“We’re not going to push advertising in these places. How are we going to make it more engaging, and get the audience to participate? We want to have them create the content for us,” says Prabhu.

Using Vine Super-Users as Both Influencers and Directors

As companies work on building relationships where Vine users create brand-inspired videos, they are reaching out to super-users to spread the word.

With more than 310,000 followers, Vine user Q Park is now under contract with Virgin Mobile to produce five Virgin-related Vines from his own popular account. The first one he made was to promote Virgin Mobile’s “Happy Accidents” contest.

“They invited Viners to highlight funny things that happen when they’re too into their phones,” says Park. To encourage participation, Park was asked to create his own video around this theme and tag it with Virgin Mobile’s hashtag, #happyaccidents.

Park is now being represented by Vine agency Grape Story, founded by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Through Grape Story, Park says he is being presented with various advertising deals, all based on capitalizing on the fans of his irreverent stop-motion videos. While Park wouldn’t disclose how much he’s being paid per Virgin Mobile vine, he says he could “definitely” see himself being able to eventually make a living off of Vine.

Cignoli’s Vine gigs are more traditional; she basically works as a director, storyboarding ideas for the companies and then working on day-long shoots to produce Vines that will be uploaded through the company’s account.

She says her experience as a photographer has been instrumental in this new line of work.

“If I didn’t have that background, the lighting wouldn’t be great … The photography plays an important role,” she explains. Cignoli says it takes a minimum of two hours to produce each 6-second vine.

So far, Cignoli has produced Vines for Mazda, eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Benefit Cosmetics, GE (NYSE:GE) and Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS). Her work for Lowe’s producing a series of Vines called “Lowe’s Fix in Six” – how-to videos featuring products sold at Lowe’s – won a Cannes Lion award for advertising.

“Everyone in the ad world is like, oh my God, a Vine won a major advertising award!” she says.

Roots of the Vine

While Vine quickly amassed millions of downloads, the recent introduction of video on Instagram has been eating away at Vine’s market share. Mashable reported in late June that twice as many top brands were using Instagram over Vine.

“The jury is still out on Vine vs. Instagram. Instagram has made tremendous strides in six weeks,” says digital anthropologist Frank Rose, a leading writer and speaker on digital culture and the media landscape.

And while Vine had an early start attracting brands, he says, Instagram’s longer 15-second videos may prove to be attractive to advertisers, who are used to producing 15-second television spots.

“We’re working with Pinnacle Vodka, and we’re looking at Instagram videos,” says Taylor at Ogilvy. She says choosing between the two apps may come down to whether a brand already has an established following on Instagram.

While Vine already has more than 13 million users, Instagram recently revealed it has ten times that number at 130 million users. That larger audience base may prove more attractive to brands choosing between the two apps.

But Deutsch’s Prabhu says one of the big draws about Vine is its growth potential, given that the company is now owned by Twitter.

“I think we absolutely need to think of it in the context of Twitter. There’s that real-time engagement with Vine, whereas Instagram users are leaning back and spending their time with it,” he says. “From a media perspective, the biggest attraction for any clients or advertisers will be the tie to Twitter.”

But Cignoli suggests it doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game when it comes to advertisers and Vine vs. Instagram video – at least not for now.

Cignoli says she is working on both Instagram and Vine campaigns for Nike, and for three other brands as well.

“Social media video is just beginning. It will just grow and grow, and become bigger and more popular,” she predicts.  “It’s instant gratification – you can’t beat it.”