Given Elon Musk’s recent interest in Twitter, the slowdown in Facebook’s growth, and the meteoric rise of TikTok, it seems the social media world has returned to a watershed of sorts. Consumers seem to be eager to try out new platforms again, and entrepreneurs are doing their best. Last year the Supernova app launched as an “ethical alternative to Instagram”. Now a new startup in social networks – WeAre8 – hopes to literally pay consumers for their attention and even goes to equity crowdfunding round to prove it.
I would be as skeptical as anyone else that these startups would not stand a chance against BigTech social platforms were it not for the fact that WeAre8 is the brainchild of a very experienced advertising industry entrepreneur who understands the social media advertising model from the inside. -out and thinks she has the answers to deal with it.
Sue Fennessy was born in Australia but moved her advertising data startup to New York in 2009. Standard media index (media) has now become a staple of the advertising industry, providing global media agency spending data across all major media categories and products.
A couple of years ago, she became furious at the amount of money flowing into social media platforms like Facebook, where similar platforms were used to spread falsehoods and misinformation about everything from politics to the pandemic.
Fennessey told me that SMI tracked the $250 billion spent on advertising around the world: “All that money went to Google and Facebook. And on a macro level, I was very upset, because we saw how journalism explodes. [We Are8 recently sponsored the ‘Byline’ journalism festival]. We’ve seen misinformation about the climate and the pandemic, and yet the average digital ad engagement rate on Facebook is less than 1%. So we thought, how can we have $100 billion last year — and a billion of it was from charities — to pay for Facebook, and still have such a horrendous ad performance for brands.”
It was then that she decided that a model in which consumers are paid for their attention could have both good consumer support and the potential to attract advertising spend from brands more effectively. Thus, WeAre8 was born as a new social media app to capitalize on this model. On WeAre8, over 60% of all ad spending goes directly to users and impact-focused causes.
Fennessy says Facebook’s specialty was that they made it easy to buy ads through the Facebook Ad Manager. Therefore, she plans to create a server to buy ads as simple as WeAre8: “We built our robust Ad Manager, which is now used throughout the industry, so it’s easy to buy.”
Now Fennessy has attracted institutional investors to the platform, partnered with telecommunications company EE, and has attracted investors including British TV channel Channel 4. It also has several major talent/angel deals, in the form of sportscaster Claire Balding, former footballer Rio Ferdinand, rugby union player Hugo Monnier, dancer Strictly AJ Prichard and Catch 22 actor Harrison Osterfield and others.
On the WeAre8 app, consumers watch ads for 2 minutes a day and get paid for their time. The startup says this “democratizes” digital advertising and brings people and the planet, not tech companies, back into the social media business model. About 55% of ad spending on the platform is shared directly with individuals and charities, with another 5% going to the creators’ fund for “microshows”, collaborations and monthly challenges on the platform’s main social feed, “8Stage”, which is, Fennessy states, ” the evolution of a social feed without hate.”
Indeed, in this matter, Fennessey behaves like Che Guevara. “It’s time to unite against the social media giants and take back our economic power… Social media is our foundation for democracy and should be owned and valued by the people. WeAre8 created this technology,” she says.
Whether you agree with her or not, she has also found passionate supporters among her celebrity investors. As Bolding says, “I am very careful about when and how I use social media, so I am very excited about how positive WeAre8 is as a platform. I love that there is now a place where millions of people can come and give their time to a small contribution that adds up to a huge fundraising initiative for various charities.”
On top of this new Crowdcube funding round, WeAre8 last month announced its $15 million Series B investment from Channel 4 Ventures, the UK’s largest media-for-equity fund, and Centrestone Capital.
New Series B investors include UKTV Ventures, an investment fund for commercial television broadcaster UKTV, whose parent company is BBC Studios, which offers startups advertising in exchange for shares worth the equivalent of US$1.2 million in commercial airtime to be delivered during Seven TV Channels UKTV (Dave, W, Gold, Alibi, Drama, Yesterday, Eden). His first UK TV ad campaign on the Channel 4 platform including the All 4 streaming service and on the UKTV channels in May 2022.
Brendan Kilkowley, Head of Commercial at UKTV Ventures, said: “WeAre8 reverses the scenario on the usual talent/consumer dynamic and puts the user experience at the forefront.”
But Fennessy doesn’t just raise these questions for fun. WeAre8 is also a B Corp certified company, which requires it to report on sustainability and ethical values.
Assuming WeAre8 spends this money wisely, it has a chance to attract some users to its platform, and it even claims that there will be 80 million people on the app by the end of 2022.
But to do that, it needs to attract a lot more users in the US, and history shows that celebrity endorsements are rarely enough to win over consumers. Paying people real cash might help, but it should also ensure that some enterprising hackers don’t end up tricking the system in some way…
Credit: techcrunch.com /