Social media statistics tend to be staggering. There are more Facebook users on Earth, for example, than there are Catholics. Half a billion Tweets are sent every single day; six billion hours of YouTube footage is viewed per month, and one in 20 shared selfies is a Snapchat.
Little wonder that tech entrepreneurs are still rushing to social – not least because it offers riches beyond the grasps of many other sectors (setting aside founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram’s 13 office employees earned $7.7 million each when Facebook bought the firm in 2012). But also because, in a world that is so connected and, some might suggest, homogenous, it offers a chance to be truly different, and inventive.
Likewise the way social firms are monetized. Ad sales are still huge, huge business. But changing market channels, and increased concerns over privacy, are having a big impact. Marketers who spent on social channels registered an almost 25% uptick in conversions last year, according to a Marketing Professionals survey.
It is safe to say, therefore, that 2015 will be both a fascinating and a profitable year for social media. But how are new firms competing for a slice of the pie? And are those big-stat incumbents putting off new talent? Red Herring spoke to three of the year’s entrants, to discover how to make new money in social.
The inspirational affiliates
Amazers is, put simply, a social network for amazing people. The brainchild of Fabio and Danilo Carlucci, the Berlin-based startup launched in summer 2013 with early-stage investment, and has since grown to accommodate thousands of users. The platform offers a space for people to share amazing stories and challenges, interspersed with content the brothers hope can inspire others to make positive changes in their lives.
“There are a lot of unknown heroes in the world,” says Danilo. “So through a turn of events, we found a lot of inspiration in great people. Regular human beings who had achieved great things, doing awesome stuff.
‘Amazers 3.0’, as the Carluccis call it, which launches this week, incorporates several features that progress the brand further towards a traditional social network structure. There is the opportunity to follow people, and be notified when they are following you. Users can upload stories themselves, and create Amazers-branded events offline, which have already happened in places as far flung as Brisbane and Bern.
The pair have already teamed up with Solar Impulse, a Swiss venture which will attempt to become the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe next month. “It was pretty clear that third parties would be brands that share the same values as we do as a company,” says Danilo: “Motivation, inspiration, sports.”
Amazers has a runway until the end of the year but its founders are confident they have laid the foundations for a successful venture. “Community-driven startups really need time to get going,” says Fabio. “It took Pinterest six years to get traction. Having users create great content is really valuable.”
The identity kings
Heard, a Santa Monica-based offshoot of Eweware, has won a fair bit of attention the past few months. Described by VICE Motherboard as a network for ‘whistleblowers, sources and leakers’, the platform allows users to post information such as insider tech news, or hotel reviews, while preserving a degree of anonymity.
Whisper and Chan may allow users to withhold their identity too, says co-founder and CEO Dave Vronay, but “anonymity alone isn’t interesting.” Vronay and his team are big believers in ‘attribute-based credentialing – that is, the ability to have verified facts chosen to associate with a post.
“So if I’m leaking some tech gossip I can say, for example, I’m a Microsoft employee,” says Vronay. “On one hand you can see it’s a verified Microsoft employee, but on the other hand you have no idea which employee.” He claims that this allows for far more relevant content, such as if users knew that hotel reviews were coming from frequent travellers and not first-time holidayers. “I might wanna have a healthcare discussion about a problem I have, but nothing else from my identity will be relevant in that conversation,” he adds.
“The big difference between us and the other platforms is how me match up that content to people,” says Vronay, whose idea for Heard came about, at least partially, from a dissatisfaction with the volume of unwanted content from existing platforms. “With Twitter you add a few people to get interesting stuff, but maybe only one thing said in ten is relevant. If you get enough people to get interesting content then you’re flooded with a lot of noise.”
Vronay believes that this, and the resultant “human data trafficking” that makes so many billions of dollars, is unethical and inefficient for advertisers. “I don’t want to spend time selling to people who have no need,” he says. “Not only does it help us route you into a context that we can serve you relevant information, we also believe it exists to enhance to, so that if I’m in an entertainment industry discussion on Heard, and I’m using entertainment industry-related ads, not only am I not surprised when you serve me those ads, but I’m mentally receptive to them.”
The frequent flyers
Fred Finn flies a lot. In fact, he’s officially The World’s Most Traveled Man, having racked up over 15 million miles visiting 139 countries in an extraordinary business career (that includes 718 trips on Concorde and 2,000 hops across the Atlantic).
Finn was the perfect person to help launch Quicket, a multipurpose app who aim is to be a “one-stop-app for all your travel needs.” Headquartered in Munich, Germany, the company is led by former Microsoft employee Djois Franklin Sronipah, who has designed Quicket to cater to just about any flight-related query – including who you’re sitting next to.
“According to recent studies, one in five business travelers eventually do business with someone they met on a plane,” says Sronipah. “16% of passengers are proactively networking on their flight. The number of airlines with WiFi onboard is growing, so this trend should accelerate. In this case you might consider Quicket as a social check-in feature as one of those proximity-based networks for spontaneous social interactions, like Foursquare, WeChat, Hunear and LoKast.”
Quicket currently has almost 500 airlines on its books, and has a huge potential market: over 3bn air tickets are sold yearly, and on any one day there are 6-8 million people in the air. And despite some qualms having been raised over the app’s privacy issues – some view the chance to see who’s on your flight via Facebook as creepy – Sronipah contends that all the negative connotations are in the headlines only.
“We also had,and are still getting, our fair share of press accurately pointing out that Quicket uses an opt-in and is giving users all the flexibility,” he says. “What surprised us is that media did not pick up that Quicket is the first startup that uses the “anonymous log-in” approach announced by Facebook at their F8 conference almost a year ago.”
As regards monetizing the platform, Quicket has an affiliate scheme for selling existing travel services, such as flights, hotels and car rentals, and is building its own system for “reselling new and emerging travel services. However it currently has no plans to monetize the social check-in feature that has garnered most of its related column inches. And as far as Sronipah – and almost all social network entrepreneurs are concerned – the future is still firmly in ads.
“New networks are popping up in emerging markets and in mobile,” he says. “And it looks like the dominant monetization strategy for social networks is still advertising. Twitter was denying it for so long but is now fully embracing it, while two of the most prominent “no-ads” social networks -Diaspora and Ello – are struggling.”
Despite the dominance of social’s big players, it appears there are plenty of ways to make a buck in the field. And by the looks of it, this year will be a big one for finding out which niches work.