This post originally ran in Ad Age Digital Next. The version below is somewhat different - more of a 'director's cut' as I chose to restore some edits that were changed in the published piece. You can also read a second post on Ad Age with 8 Vine artists you need to follow.
Marketers, repeat after me: Vine isn't a tool. It's a destination.
This is the biggest misconception that I hear about Vine from marketers, and it’s a misconception I had until recently. As I strove to learn more about why water cooler conversations are increasingly about the funniest Vines of the day, MRY’s Executive Creative Director David Weinstock stunned me. He said, “I spend 30 minutes a day watching Vines.” Yes, he spends a half hour every day watching 6-second videos.
Get into a conversation with people like him who are spending time on Vine, and you'll hear about a new, heavily engaged subculture. Vine producers tend to play within certain genres and styles, generally in fast comedic situations, and a really good Vine creator has his or her own fingerprint. It's an important part of the draw. If you've seen enough clips, In a split second, you know whose work you're watching. Engagement rates are often ridiculously high.
At this point, as a marketer, the time you spend on Vine should be less for sharing short videos there and more for understanding what this subculture can teach you about reaching consumers.
On Facebook, it's impressive if 10% of your followers even see your post. On Vine, top users can get that kind of percentage of followers engaging with a post. Some posts generate even more interactions than the creator's number of followers. Here's an example of how the chain works: QPark (421,000 followers) re-Vined a post by Jerry Purpdrank (673,000 followers) starring rising Vine celeb Mirella (11,000 followers). Mirella has a number of posts with more than 1,000 likes.
The chain described above shows another important aspect of Vine: it's a community. Vine creators include each other in their Vines and routinely share their favorite Viners' posts. It's a collaborative environment. Remember when it was such a big deal for the cast of "Diff'rent Strokes" to appear on "The Facts of Life" in a crossover episode? On Vine, this happens all the time. Stars are constantly looking to boost their friends' ratings. They're all in this together. And not just during sweeps week.
Some brands have figured this out. For example, Warner's Bras has 4,200 followers on Vine. Yet its series branded with the hashtag #getcomfortable routinely features Vine stars to generate far more likes than the account's number of followers. The series is filmed by Vine celeb Meagan Cignoli (332,000 followers). One post with actor and model Jessica Cook (338,000 followers) wearing a series of bras has 17,000 likes, 2,800 re-Vines (or shares) and 900 comments. A post starring Jessi Smiles (1 million followers) and Curtis Lepore (1.1 million followers) has 85,000 likes, 24,000 shares and 1,300 comments. That's a pretty good interaction rate for a six-second spot.
All of this is hardly an endorsement of the quality of Vine content in general. Watch enough top Viners, and much of it starts feeling derivative. Some are just doing crazy antics to get a rise out of people. You'll see range of storytelling styles from high-brow (think of Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude") to low (think MTV's "Jackass"). Based on New York Magazine's approval matrix, most of it is at the low end, with the top Vines spread out along the despicable-to-brilliant axis.
With more stars passing the million follower mark, and the likes and revines keeping apace, Vine is serving as a cultural incubator. Many Vine celebrities will achieve fame far beyond Vine. Spend time there and get to know some of the famous faces. Or just follow Warner’s Bras. That brand may well wind up getting comfortable with everyone you need to watch.