With Elon Musk’s recent interest in Twitter, the flattening of Facebook’s growth, and the meteoric rise of TikTok, it feels like the social media world is back in some sort of inflection period. Consumers seem to be hungry to try new platforms again, and entrepreneurs deliver. Last year, the Supernova app was launched as an ‘ethical alternative to instagram’. Now, a new social media startup – WeAre8 – is hoping to literally pay consumers for their attention, even looking for a crowdfunding round of equity investments to prove it.
I’d be as skeptical as anyone that these startups wouldn’t stand a chance against the BigTech social platforms were it not for the fact that WeAre8 is the brainchild of a highly accomplished entrepreneur in the advertising industry who understands the social media advertising model within-out and thinks she has the answers to tackle it.
Sue Fennessy was from Australia but took her ad data start-up to New York in 2009. Standard Media Index (SMI) has now become one of the staples of the advertising industry, providing data on global spend for media agencies across all major media and product categories.
A few years ago, she became enraged at the amount of money going into social media platforms like Facebook, where such platforms were used to spread misinformation about everything from politics to the pandemic.
Fennessy told me that SMI had kept $250 billion in ad money around the world: “All this money went to Google and Facebook. And on a macro level, I got really upset because we saw journalism implode. [We Are8 recently sponsored the ‘Byline’ journalism festival]† We saw the misinformation about the climate and the pandemic, and yet the average engagement with a digital ad on Facebook is less than 1%. So we thought, how could we have $100 billion last year — and a billion of that was from charities — paying Facebook, and yet such appalling advertising effectiveness for brands.”
It was then that she decided that a model where consumers were paid for their attention could have both good consumer traction and the potential to more effectively attract ad spend from brands. Thus, WeAre8 was born as a new social media app to take advantage of this model. On WeAre8, over 60% of all ad spend goes directly to users and impact-driven targets.
Fennessy says the gender of Facebook was that they made it easy for anyone to buy ads, through Facebook Ad Manager. That’s why she plans to build an equally easy ad buying backend to WeAre8: “We built our sustainable Ad Manager, which is now implemented across the industry, so that buying it becomes easy. “
Fennessy has now drawn institutional investors to the platform, winning a partnership with telco EE and attracting investors including the UK’s Channel 4 TV channel. It also has several major talent deals/angel investors, in the form of sports commentator Clare Balding, former footballer Rio Ferdinand, rugby player Ugo Monye’, Strictly’ dancer AJ Pritchard and Catch-22 actor Harrison Osterfield, among others.
On the app, the WeAre8 app, consumers watch an advertisement for 2 minutes a day and are paid for their time. The startup says this “democratizes” digital advertising and puts people and the planet — not tech companies — back into the social media business model. About 55% of the platform’s ad spend is shared directly with people and charities, with a further 5% going to fund for ‘microshows’, collaborations and monthly challenges on the platform’s main social feed, ‘8Stage’. which is, Fennessy claims, a “hate-free evolution of the social feed”.
Indeed, Fennessy is quite the ‘Che Guevara’ in this area. “Now is the time to unite against the social media giants and reclaim our economic power…. Social media is our framework for democracy and it should be owned and valued by the people. WeAre8 built this technology,” she says.
Whether or not you agree with her, she has also found passionate supporters in her famous investors. As Balding says, “I’m very careful about when and how I use social media, so I’m really 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 make a small contribution, which together becomes a huge fundraising initiative for various charities.”
In addition to 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 investors in the Series B round include UKTV Ventures, an investment fund of commercial broadcaster UKTV, whose parent company is BBC Studios, which offers startups advertising in exchange for shares, for the equivalent of $1.2 million in airtime for advertisements, which will be delivered across UKTV’s seven television channels (Dave, W, Gold, Alibi, Drama, Yesterday, Eden). The UK’s first TV advertising campaign across Channel 4’s platform portfolio, including the streaming service All 4, and on UKTV channels in May 2022.
Brendan Kilcawley, Head of Commercial UKTV Ventures, said: “WeAre8 turns the script around the usual talent/consumer dynamics and puts the user experience first.”
But Fennessy doesn’t just talk about these issues for fun. WeAre8 is also a certified B Corp company, which requires it to report on sustainability and ethical values.
Assuming WeAre8 spends this money wisely, it has a chance of getting some users on its platform and even claims to aim for 80 million people on the app by the end of 2022.
But to do that, it will need to gain a lot more US users, and history shows that celebrity endorsement is rarely enough to win over consumers. Paying people real cash can help, but it should also keep some enterprising hackers from playing the system in some way…
This post WeAre8 launches crowdfunder for its social media app, where users are paid to watch ads – TechCrunch was original published at “https://techcrunch.com/2022/05/13/weare8-launches-crowdfunder-for-its-social-media-app-where-users-are-paid-to-watch-ads/”