Dirt: The social media lottery

Getting rich on a new platform is a literal gamble.

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

It’s hard to make money with social media. You can develop a professionalized YouTube channel and use the platform’s automated ads; tweet at Donald Trump a lot and then sell swag to your followers; or try to make it into TikTok’s selective Creators Fund. Or, you can play the Snapchat lottery.

In the New York Times, Taylor Lorenz wrote this shocking report on how a few lucky users are uploading videos to Snapchat’s Spotlight feature and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for them. (The company sends out $1 million a day.) Some of the $$$ winners are established creators who already have lots of followers, but others are more or less random people who happen to capture a viral video — anyone can upload content to the Spotlight channel and try their luck.

Here’s how it can work, if you are indeed incredibly lucky:

Andrea Romo, 27, earns $12.50 an hour as a merchandise associate at Lowe’s in Albuquerque. She doesn’t consider herself a social media influencer, but has enjoyed sending messages to friends on Snapchat for years. When she noticed the new Spotlight feature on Thanksgiving, she decided to upload a video of her sister deep frying a turkey.

Two weeks later, Ms. Romo learned that her video was so popular that it had earned her about half a million dollars. “It was a big surprise that you can get money posting a video of something totally random,” she said. (The company said it determines payment amounts based on unique video views and proprietary internal metrics.)

It’s just like winning the lottery, but you buy tickets by uploading your content.

The story made me think about the different ways we cultivate audiences on social media. With YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, you have to build up a fanbase and serve content constantly, because only people who subscribe to your account are likely to see what you post.

But on TikTok and Snapchat’s Spotlight, the feed is much more algorithmic or curated: good content can come from anywhere and gets served up to viewers. On the creator’s side, that’s much harder to control and can make it harder to develop a loyal following. Often on TikTok you’ll be fed a video with millions of views, but the creator’s actual account only has a few thousand followers because they just happen to hit the content jackpot with the one clip.

What’s good for sustaining engagement on the platform overall isn’t always good for the individual creators. We can’t tell yet if the lottery model results in better content, but it’s certainly less equitable. In the end, Snapchat Spotlight’s lottery is like the death of the middle class: you either get rich or nothing, and which one is out of your control. — By Kyle Chayka

The Dirt: The more you post the more you win.