Viners, Loyalty, and the Evolution of Social Media Stardom
Vine was an immensely popular app for six second looped videos launched in 2013 by Twitter. By May 2015, 100 million people were watching Vines every month. Some members of that community built intensely meaningful personal connections: At least three different couples met on the app and have since married or gotten engaged. A successful Indiegogo campaign was organized by users for the creator of the viral “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal” vines when he was diagnosed with cancer. Another user created an album featuring only fellow viners. There was, and still is, a sense of love and connection to the app among those who built networks through the platform.
But the Vine community developed a hierarchy early on, and a group of high profile creators without this same loyalty rose up quickly — contributing to the app’s ultimate demise.
The growth of the YouTube community paved the way for this stratification. When YouTube celebrities began to grow their fan bases, an industry for monetizing their fame was built. Conventions like VidCon and Playlist Live were established and online stores for selling creator merch like DFTBA opened their virtual doors. Traditional brands paid content creators for plugs in their videos, and these folks were in turn promoted in pop teen gossip magazines and award shows.
When users began making successful content on Vine, brands already understood that online celebrity was powerful, and were ready to jump into this new community. Brands partnered with popular viners. Viners were invited to current online video conventions and new cons were quickly created. Traditional media were ready to report on and further elevate stars. Viners who were making successful content were able to monetize it quickly, make a substantial amount of money, and grow their fan bases in ways only recently accessible to YouTubers. While YouTube stars grew up with the platform and the professionalization of the industry, viners walked into an already heavily monetized world.
Importantly, those who sat at the top of Vine’s hierarchical community were also able to build their fan bases on many other platforms, including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and Twitter. In contrast, most YouTube stars had started posting videos to the site back when it was one of the only platforms to do so, and they grew their fan bases and personal networks with the site. This built a strong sense of connection to YouTube — a platform loyalty that did not sprout for many high profile content creators on Vine.
It’s not surprising, then, that a group of top viners threatened to walk away from the app entirely unless Vine updated its settings according to those creators’ preferences and paid each of them over one million dollars. Vine refused and the creators did walk. The app suffered a decline in viewership as a result. It was recently announced that the app will be closing down.
This situation may set a precedent for online creators to feel even more entitled, able to point to Vine’s closing as an indication of the power of top creators to make or break a platform. But whether or not Vine’s old stars will be able to keep growing their fan bases without Vine’s presence remains to be seen. What is clear is that new online stars, buoyed by quick monetization and a diverse social media landscape, no longer feel tied to their origin platform — and each player in the brave new world of online celebrity will have to evolve to account for that.