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Will a Startup Force Facebook or Twitter to Pay You for Posts?

With Facebook and others making billions off our social media activities, some startups push business models that sometimes give users a majority of ad revenue. Will this change the landscape of social media as we know it?
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New developments in social media may revolutionize howsome of the largest companies in the space treat their users. In the last several months, new platforms have popped up that allow people to make money off their updates. Bubblews, Bonzo Me and The Influential Network are three recently publicized startups that share advertising revenue with users. Ifthese startups are successful, the implications are vast--and could possibly cause sites like Facebook, Twitter and others to follow suit.

New Kids on the Block

These newer sites have staked a claim toa compelling premise: givingregular internet users a chance to make actual money from their online interactions with their "social graph." With YouTube and Facebook making billions of dollars a year in revenue from user posts, these founders feel the time is ripe for users to get a piece of the good fortune. "Facebook and other social media outlets kind of started off like parks. There was no commerce," says Arvind Dixit, Co-Founder of Bubblews, which lets users post longer updates onsite and reap the ad benefits. "As those outlets grew bigger they had to figure out how to become a business. They ended up doing that obtrusively. We thought, 'Why can't we build a business that does right by the users at the same time?'"

Another one of these startups, The Influential Network, bills itself as a platform built "for influencers by influencers." Some of the world's biggest Internet celebrities use the app to choose content relevant to their audience and share it quickly with their social networks. They then get the majority of the display advertising revenue. "We were some of the first influencers that created parody and niche accounts when Twitter began," says Influential NetworkCo-Founder and CEO Ryan Detert. "When we started monetizing our audience, we saw that there weren't any companies that were doing it right and there needed to be an organic way to make money that didn't require a branded message."

In other words, no one was helping the little guy--even if the little guy is a bona-fide Web celebrity. Detert and his team created niche websites for entertainment, fashion and fitness that they monetized via display ads. Then they started holding parties and Twitter contests for hundreds of loyal influencers, including YouTuber Christian Collins and the popular comedy entertainment group The Janoskians. The events generated hundreds of millions of impressions and caught the attention of large companies. "Brands started asking how to get involved and interact with these top-tier tastemakers," says Detert. "So we brought on relevant brands like Monster Cable Products."

The sites appear to be gathering momentum. Bubblews has risen to become one of the top 1500 sites in the world over the last year and a half and now boasts several hundred thousand users. Recently, it took $3 million in angel and seed funding from AJZ Capital and Capital Financial Ventures.

The Influential Network has gained much of its growth in a more "guerilla marketing" style. The company holds popular "TINHouse" parties at mansions coinciding with the large music festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) and Coachella. "We've collectively pushed over 2.5 Billion native impressions on Twitter and Instagram for #TINHouse, and we've had three #1 Worldwide Trending Topics." The company is planning more of these events and is reaching hundreds of millions of users now. That user basehas beengrowing 10 percent week over week, according to Detert.

A Whole New Ballgame?

Will these platforms eventually push the big networks to start giving users a piece of the pie? It is, of course, much too early to tell. These startups have a long way to go before they truly attract the attention that could justify their business models and force a behemoth like Facebook to react. Butthese companies' founders think they might make a big impact, even if it takes a while.

"You're not gonna get rich from Bubblews right now," says Co-Founder Jason Zuccari. "You're not gonna quit your job. But you will make a little. Social networks are based off of people. A lot of them are afraid of technology nowadays because it seems to make things too efficient sometimes or because it may create the need for fewer jobs. We want to give the average person ways to have opportunities. So we'll continue on that mission to do new projects and make the world better."

"We have a vested interest in the users on our platform," says Detert. "They are the distribution. We are the technology, content, and advertising. Our events started off as a 'thank you' to our influencers. Our motto has been 'Get Paid to Party' and by sharing images from the events they gave followers a window into their lives. I think that's something most people would like to try out.'"

Last updated: Jul 29, 2014

JOHN BOITNOTT | Columnist

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, newspaper, radio, and internet companies in California for 20 years.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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