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How one boy grew a popular Instagram feed into a social media empire

Caitlin McGarry | Jan. 21, 2015
How to win followers and influence teenage girls...with the help of some star-making companies and their algorithms, of course.

AwesomenessTV is already a powerhouse presence on YouTube, with 114 million followers and more than 800 million page views per month, according to Variety. Hearst recently invested $81.25 million for a 25 percent stake in the digital video network. AwesomenessTV already had a deal with Hearst to run the Seventeen magazine YouTube channels for the publishing company, and now that Zagarino is in the Seventeen fold as a Hot Guy panelist, Peters said there are plans to fit him into Seventeen Channel content this year.

AwesomenessTV can also dig into its stable of popular YouTube personalities to help promote Zagarino's channel.

"We found that the best way to grow a channel is to cross-pollinate audiences, having Tanner doing a collaboration with a bigger YouTuber or one of his friends where they can share subscribers," Peters says. "Hopefully by tapping into the other person's audience we'll be able to transfer some of their fans to Tanner and vice versa."

A photo posted by Tanner Zagarino (@tannerzagarino) on Jan 5, 2015 at 12:35pm PST

No flash in the pan

Santillo said Zagarino will focus less on branded social media posts this year, though they're steady money, to develop his YouTube channel and land more fashion editorial work. He'll ratchet up the appearances, like recent gigs at Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve and the American Music Awards, and maybe go international, though it might interfere with school.

"School comes second," Zagarino jokes backstage at The Bitter End.

"That's news to me," says mom Elizabeth. She glares at him, then laughs.

Elizabeth, herself a former model, says it's so much easier to become famous these days. She watches Zagarino manage his career on his phone, posting Instagram shots or sending off tweets between school and wrestling practice. It just takes less effort than it used to. Zagarino eventually wants to go to acting school and build a more stable, long-lasting career. But when I ask him about Alex from Target's overnight success, he sounds almost wistful.

"It kind of invalidates social media for all the people who work very hard to get where they are," he says. "People are grinding every day putting out YouTubes and Vines just to see one person blow up and become trending."

But anything can happen. With a little bit of luck (and all that hustle), Tanner Zagarino could be the next viral superstar before he turns 17.


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