When he’s getting ready to film one of his now-famous Snapchat stories, Mitchell Davis fires up his mobile phone and heads straight for the bathroom. He flips through the app’s ever-evolving lens assortment and examines his countenance amid the contortions — talking to himself in the mirror for about 20 minutes just to get in the zone. He may write a little bit beforehand, Davis tells Tubefilter, but that’s about it. Then he presses record.
Ad hoc though this process may be, Davis, who founded his popular YouTube channel roughly a decade ago, is experiencing a creative renaissance on Snapchat — as well as a groundswell in views. And he’s representative of a growing number of online stars who first found fame on YouTube that’s now leaning heavily into the ephemeral app.
Davis’ three-month-old Snapchat Filter Review series, where he’s created characters that correspond with Snapchat’s lenses, has tread innovative ground. Each of the characters has his or her own accent, interests, and relationships that all exist within the same zany world. Some personal favorites, Davis says, include foosball-loving Durd — “like turd with a ‘D,’” he explains — as well as whiny, lovesick Rebecca. There’s also Rebecca’s dog, Cheddar, and long-faced Barb, a Southern dame who’s chock full of life advice.
All of the characters are based off of real-life encounters, Davis says — his grandmother, the lady at Chipotle, the guy at the post office — except “with the volume turned up 2,000%.”
It’s a cast of characters that has resonated with multitudes — including fellow YouTube stars Hank Green and Ingrid Nilsen. “My audience is bigger on Snapchat right now than it is on YouTube,” says Davis, who notes he still sees the latter platform as his bread and butter, but has also become more open to experimenting on newer apps like Instagram and Vine. His Snapchat stories receive roughly 20,000 views before they disappear after 24 hours, and he says he typically posts 20 to 25 Snaps at a time. “I’ve never encountered a video-based app that has gone from zero to sixty so quickly,” he says. “It’s moving just as fast as the videos disappear.”
— Hank Green (@hankgreen) February 13, 2016
Snapchat itself seems to be on a fiscal upsweep, too. The company, which recently closed a $1.8 billion funding round at an $18 billion valuation, reportedly had revenues of $59 million in 2015, but is estimating revenues of as much as $350 million in 2016, and as much as $1 billion in 2017. And when the company adds new features — like a face-swapping filter that was unveiled in April — it can be a game-changer for an improv maestro of Davis’ calibur. “When’s the last time YouTube put out a new feature that you were, like, blown away by?” he asks.
Of course, Snapchat doesn’t yet have the one feature that has turned YouTube into the veritable media giant it has become today: monetization. Davis does, however, publish his Filter Reviews on YouTube in 20-to-30-minute-long anthologies, but says this has nothing to do with reaping ad dollars. It’s entirely about artistic preservation. “I like the idea of turning this bare bones thing that’s supposed to disappear into something that’s going to last forever.”
And Davis isn’t the only creator who’s shifting more time and energy toward Snapchat. Beauty vlogger Tanya Burr is hosting Q&As on the app with her Burr Bears, for instance, while Zoella recently posted a 10-minute Charlotte Tilbury makeup haul. Perhaps most staggering of all, British vlogger Alfie Deyes said his Snaps can receive 16 million views on any given day before 4:30 p.m. (Recent YouTube videos on his main channel typically clock one or two million views.)
Deyes attributes these numbers to a pervasive sense of FOMO. “The percentage of audience that I have that will watch every piece of content on Snapchat is so high,” he told Business Insider, because “you have to be there to see it and then it’s gone.” Each of his social platforms has its own unique use case. “I see it almost like a puzzle. If you want to watch a long-form video of me, then check out my YouTube stuff. If you want to see what I’m up to right this second follow me on Snapchat. If it’s pictures, it’s Instagram. What I’m thinking is Twitter.”
While maintaining a regular presence on multiple platforms undoubtedly increases a creator’s workload, Davis describes Snapchatting as freeing in a way that doesn’t feel like work. “Even as a kid, all the paints you weren’t supposed to put water in, I used water with,” he says of his counterintuitive approach. “It reminds me of vintage content where I put on my iMac camera and it was just 16-year-old me running rampant.”
And in the same way that YouTube gave birth to completely different content categories, including shopping hauls, Let’s Play gaming, and challenge videos, Davis’ Snapchat Stories illustrate the ways in which rough-hewn experimentation can suddenly spawn full-fledged genres. Even Kylie Jenner — who is the most subscribed personality on all of Snapchat — experimented by creating two short films on Snapchat earlier this year, which drummed up substantial buzz. As Davis puts it: “When you use something the way it wasn’t intended, people’s heads go full exorcism.”