A Vine of the Times: People Turn to the Social Media Site to Launch Their Careers

Six-second Vine videos are putting Boston-area talent in the spotlight, and some people are even getting paid for using the app.

Photo via Vine.

Ryan Doon/Photo via Vine

Ryan Doon wasn’t expecting to gain such a solid following just from making six-second videos of himself acting out in public and doing impressions. But just after seven months on the social media site Vine, which is owned by Twitter, his popularity exploded and has led him down the path toward pursuing his passion to become a standup comedian.

Doon, of Boston, picked up “Vining” after hearing about the app on Joe Rogan’s podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” It wasn’t long until Doon started playing around with impressions of Jay Z and an ongoing skit he calls “High Society,” where he puts on a British accent and pretends to be posh while ironically doing things like drinking old milk. “I was getting good feedback from my videos from people and watching myself, and it gave me some confidence,” said Doon, who has been using his connections through Vine to engage with performers that have a lasting rank in standup comedy.

Based on the positive Vine feedback and his rapidly growing popularity—he once gained 20,000 followers in a single day—Doon, who now has more than 675,000 subscribers trailing along in his video escapades, dipped his toe into the business of comedy and has been chasing down this dream ever since. “I got laughs right off the bat,” he said. “Vine is helping me with standup as far as local comedians now know who I am, and they want to talk to me. It’s also helping me books shows.” Not to mention some one-on-one time with MTV Catfish star Nev Schulman and other celebrity notables like Adam Richman of the TV show Man Vs. Food. (Doon has more than triple the followers of both of them combined, but he’s modest about that fact).

As of June, Vine had climbed to the top of the Apple store’s list of must-haves, becoming the most downloaded application for smartphones for that month, according to CNET. The app now has 13 million active users and has taken the lead over other video-based applications like YouTube and SnapChat, according to the report. “I would have pursued standup comedy even without Vine, but I would have much less hope if I wasn’t popular on it,” Doon said. “In standup, they say it takes five years to be funny normally, and 10 years to draw a crowd. But now I know if I can get great at comedy I can probably be successful.”

Doon’s Vines have landed him on the podcast of Boston comedian Bobby Kelly. They’ve also made him part of an elite group of Viners who meet regularly to talk about the social media site and collaborate on videos so they can gain more attention. “The meetups are becoming much more common. Popular Viners that have met using the social media site get together, have brunch, and talk about what the next step is,” said Doon, who was in New York City after a recent Viners meetup. “I am going to try and collaborate with some guys today, but beyond that, a lot of us have become real life friends, so often we just want to hang out with each other. Everyone is really funny, and it has been really cool.”

Sure, there have been offers for reality TV shows and PR people sending him apparel to wear in his six-second features, but Vining has also paid off in a monetary sense for Doon, he said. While he can’t say it’s his full-time job, Doon was scooped up by the first-ever Vine talent agency, called GrapeStory, which connects the most popular Viners with big-name brands, and lets them post videos on those companies’ Vine accounts in an effort to get more eyes on their product.

Doon said it doesn’t mean he sips Coca Cola and talks about how much he enjoys a soda, but rather, he has the freedom to post a funny video on a company’s account, like Virgin Mobile, and in return, he gets paid. Virgin Mobile was the first client picked up by GrapeStory, which was started by wine entrepreneur and brand consultant, Gary Vaynerchuk and cofounder Jerome Jarre, one of the most dominant forces on the video site, who boasts more than 1.5 million followers.

Vaynerchuk recently told the website Fast Company that a Viner under the Grape Story’s wing could make a living from posting up to 20 videos a year, however, he wouldn’t disclose how much a person would rake in. “This takes a very specific skill. So we’re going to be looking for people who aren’t famous for anything else other than they artistically figured out how to story-tell in six seconds,” he said.

That skill is one that Doon has adapted to, but refuses to limit himself to. “Standup comedy is my dream,” said Doon, who is going to school for nursing to keep what he calls a “smart plan” in his back pocket in case things don’t work out. “I want to logically and realistically put nursing aside, and pursue comedy … but my long-term goal is to get as popular as I can on Vine and hopefully become a professional comedian.”

A couple of other so-called talents have also emerged from the Massachusetts social media scene, too. Fifteen-year-old Jay Capodanno has been stopped on the beach by people from Connecticut, asking if he is “the Jay from Vine,” to which he will coolly reply, “yes.” The Franklin teen has gained thousands of followers in just a few months, including some nods from “Vine celebrities” because of the short loops he has stitched together for his fan base. Capodanno has mastered the basketball trick shot with his friends, and has used trends from other Vines to get his name out there. “I want to be the next Hollywood success story from Boston,” said Capodanno, who has had a passion for filming for most of his teenage years.

The introduction of the controversial “Smack Cam” was also born in the Bay State, and became a viral sensation on Vine, thanks to the slightly demeaning actions of a Boston man. Viner Max Jr. launched what has turned into the “Smack Cam,” where people put foam, shaving cream, or other products in their palm and sneak up on unsuspecting victims, before smashing the liquid in their face, back in June with a group of friends. Since then, it has become somewhat of a national phenomenon, one that is both copied repeatedly but also lambasted for fueling violence. “I’m really scared how far people are going with Smack Cams now,” Max Jr. told ComplexTech. “When boys are smacking girls, hitting animals or even kids, it’s a bit out of hand, especially with hard objects. I started Smack Cam for fun, not to see people come out with serious injuries.”

Although Doon and Capodanno see Vine as having a lasting effect on the social media community, outpacing Instagram and its new video features, social media expert and public speaker Patrick O’Malley, of Boston, doesn’t think the mini-videos have a very long shelf-life, and sees Vine as a fling. “A six-second video is too short to be practical as a long term social media network. However, six seconds you can do something funny, so I can see a comedian getting away with it,” said O’Malley. “Overall I don’t think it will last that long,” and certainly won’t replace the YouTube celebrity status, he said.

O’Malley said Vine is a “fad,” and in order to reap the benefits and stick around longer, Twitter should extend the video timespan to keep viewers engaged. “I think eventually they will, there won’t be enough good six-second video ideas out there to keep it going.”

There may be no way to measure how long the app will remain in the forefront of the Apple store downloads or when people may shift their attention to the next series of shareable content, but either way, Doon will keep plugging at it until he gets to where he wants to be in the comedy department. “For now, Vine can get me opportunities quicker and get me fans quicker, but I know it won’t make me a better stand up comedian any faster,” Doon said. “But I love that about standup. There is no cheating allowed. I have to work for it.”