A social media celebrity explains how to become Internet famous
One sunny Florida afternoon, Zane Hijazi slipped into his mother’s skimpy black bikini, some stiletto heels, and a ratty red-headed wig. He stepped onto the front lawn of his parent’s home with a garden hose in hand, then strut down the residential street looking like a five-dollar hooker.
Zane and his buddy, Heath, were filming their very first Vine together. The six seconds they recorded seemed like little more than two hairy grown men seductively rubbing their soapy butt cheeks on the windows of a car as they washed it. But that video was their first step down the road to social media stardom.
Before Vine, Zane was just an ordinary goofy guy. He wasn’t the type of person who induced panic attacks and romantic fanfiction from 15-year-old girls. He didn’t have 80 million eyes on his everyday life. But the connected culture of social media created an opportunity for him to find fame. Without any education in film or entertainment and without any agent to aggressively seek out auditions, he established an enormous fan base and a career in Hollywood, CA.
Zane is living proof of the increasing accessibility of Internet fame. In order to achieve it yourself, he says, you have to recognize what makes you extraordinary. “When people picture me,” Zane tells us over the phone, “they probably see me half naked, my chubby gut sticking out, with a belly-button piercing, a tutu around my waist, a tiara on my head, and a full-grown beard.”
Zane believes what his viewers love most about his content is its inherent honesty. He’s simply being himself. On camera or off camera, he’s the exact same person. And authenticity certainly isn’t the case with your average Hollywood celebrity.
In the decades before Zane’s success, celebrities were exclusively the product of acting agencies and management companies. But Zane belongs to a raw and growing class of celebrity that bypassed this process using social media, where worth isn’t measured in TV appearances and movie roles, but in clicks and likes.
Zane and Heath’s Vine videos first began bringing in a growing number of likes with the creation of sassy alter-egos ‘Bonifa and Tay-Tay.’ Once a concept or character begins attracting new attention, this is the crucial moment in cultivating an audience of followers, experts say. Budding social-media stars need to recognize what works, then consistently deliver on it.
It seemed what was working for Zane and Heath was the intrinsic hilarity of two bearded men dressed up as unconvincing ladies. To build on this, the duo developed Heather and Jane, ditzy rich girls who adore Starbucks and abhor parallel parking.
Soon enough, Zane came to learn who his ideal audience is — young girls aged 15 to 23 — and began to adapt to his niche. With their tailored content, Zane and Heath, Bonifa and Tay-Tay, and Heather and Jane were reeling in millions of loyal followers.
Zane had plans to attend film school in Florida, but now needed to consider moving across the country to commit to comedy full-time.
“I couldn’t really afford to move, but I couldn’t really afford to wait, either,” Zane tells us. “I could go to film school for a couple years, but we had no idea what would happen in two years.”
Zane reasonably considered the fleeting nature of social media platforms and chose to act on his sprouting stardom immediately. In retrospect, he made the right choice. In two years’ time, Vine would be shut down and his opportunity would be lost.
In making the move to Hollywood, Zane made a major financial gamble. He knew that being a social-media celebrity can be a lucrative business. Some top bloggers can rake in an income of $100,000 a year. On Twitter, an influential name can command $100 per sponsored tweet and a YouTube sensation can earn as much as $25,000 for making a video in collaboration with an advertiser.
“But we spent almost all of our money moving out here,” Zane says. “For a long time, we had no more money to our name, and we were living paycheck to paycheck.” What’s worse, while every other social media celebrity was cashing one full paycheck, Zane and Heath were splitting theirs.
The minimal income that Zane and Heath managed to scrape together didn’t come directly from Vine. It came from the occasional advertiser. At the time, Vine was one of the largest social media apps on the market, but it wasn’t paying its top content producers a cent.
“At one point, the top 20 Viners (excluding Heath and I) began boycotting Vine. They said, ‘if you don’t pay us, we won’t post anymore.’ But Vine refused, the top producers stopped posting, and the app went down under. Activity on the platform dropped dramatically. So Heath and I stopped posting simply because people weren’t engaged anymore.”
To maintain a following, a social media celebrity needs to be flexible. Vine’s shutdown was a testament to Zane’s adaptability. Instead of fizzling out with the platform that founded his fame, he shifted focus to YouTube. He and a few Vine-famous friends banded together to expand their audience. And their unified approach paid off.
Zane’s celebrity clan included social media sensations such as Gabbie Hanna, Scotty Sire, Toddy Smith, and David Dobrik. It was David in particular, explains Zane, that catalyzed his YouTube career and lifted the rest of his friends along the route to success.
“In his YouTube videos, David has this quick-cut comedic style that ensures you’re entertained and laughing every 5 seconds,” says Zane. “We couldn’t believe how quickly how he was growing on YouTube without promoting anywhere else. He started a style of vlogging that never existed, and we were fortunate enough to be a part of that.”
When David’s vlogs began attracting nearly a million views with each post, Zane — as a recurring character in the videos — was thrust into the limelight. Zane was gaining recognition far beyond what he ever did on Vine, with a growing following on his own YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
Today, Zane uses YouTube as his primary source of income. He’s amassed an enormous audience, and aims to maintain his social media fame as long as he possibly can. He plans on posting consistent content, networking, and expanding his career to appear in commercials. Someday, he’d like to open his own production company, filming advertisements for high-end brands.
Zane’s success is entirely possible to emulate. The interconnected culture of social media allows average people opportunities of recognition beyond their wildest dreams.
If you can recognize what makes you extraordinary, offer an honesty that people can connect with, acknowledge what your audience wants and dependably deliver it, you can achieve the same stardom. With little more than an iPhone, a smidge of good timing, and a little bit of luck, celebrity status is within your reach.