In late November, Cam Casey, a TikTok star with over seven million followers, was relaxing at home when he decided to upload a video of a science experiment that caused a Coca-Cola bottle to explode on Snapchat.
Casey, 19, had read that the company had introduced a new TikTok-like feature to the app called Spotlight, which allowed users to share short videos. He wondered if some old videos from his camera roll could get traction.
Two weeks later, Snapchat called: Mr. Casey was one of the top performers on the platform and would make hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Encouraged by his early success, he published more videos – sometimes up to 120 per day – and uploaded new content every few minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight.
By Tuesday, the company had paid him nearly $ 3 million for viral content.
Mr. Casey is one of the thousands of people around the world who are now amassing small fortunes through Snapchat. The company debuted on Spotlight in November and "is giving out over $ 1 million to Snapchatters daily," a spokesman said. (The company hasn't given an end date for distributing that much money per day.) Many of these new Snapchat tycoons are famous TikTok stars and Gen-Z influencers, but average users also come across internet gold after their videos go viral were.
A million dollars a day
Andrea Romo, 27, earns $ 12.50 an hour as a merchandise associate at Lowe 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 for 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 she had made about half a million dollars. "It was a big surprise that you can get money for posting a video of something completely random," she said. (The company uses unique video views and proprietary internal metrics to determine payment amounts.)
Snapchat hasn't always been fertile ground for social media developers. For years, the company focused on being a messaging platform and didn't offer internet talent a way to make money or grow their fan base. In 2017, the company began verifying large follower and celebrity creators and displaying their public stories on the app's media portal called "Discover". However, the platform wasn't designed to source and display viral content for the masses.
Snapchat wants to change that with Spotlight. Much like TikTok and other TikTok-inspired apps and features, including Instagram Reels, Spotlight is an endless content update stream (or more specifically, an algorithmically curated feed of vertical videos).
The same things that are popular on TikTok are popular on Spotlight: dance videos, prank videos, challenges, and tutorials. The main difference with Spotlight is the lack of public censuses or comments. And when videos go viral, the creator makes money, even if they're not influencers.
"You don't have to ask to get paid, you don't have to join a program, you just post a video and if it goes well you get paid," said Dax Newman, 19, a San Diego ceramist who made about $ 30,000 on Snapchat .
Meme accounts and viral aggregators are already trying to tamper with the feature by uploading videos ripped from YouTube and TikTok. But the payouts are already changing the lives of many young people.
Katie Feeney, 18, a high school graduate in Olney, Md., Said she made over $ 1 million on Snapchat in the past two months posting unboxing videos and funny content (in one clip she turns up a hoverboard while seamlessly performing in new outfits). Ms. Feeney said the money had already opened up new opportunities. Colleges she didn't want to apply to for financial reasons are suddenly on the table.
"I think it will take a while to really process it," Ms. Feeney said. “I now have the opportunity to go to the school of my choice. For a lot of people, Spotlight is going to change their lives and it's amazing. "
Word spreads quickly
Professional content creators have benefited most from Spotlight. Some small and medium-sized creators have struggled for years to make a living as full-time influencers. They made their living doing a patchwork of branded stores and selling merchandise, but monetization of the platform largely didn't happen on Snapchat.
CJ OperAmericano, 24, a Los Angeles based content creator, has been posting videos on Snapchat since 2015. Despite working with brands like Coca-Cola, Walmart, and Disney, building a fan base and making money has been difficult. "I mainly made money from TikTok," she said. She has made over $ 100,000 since she posted on Spotlight.
The word is already spreading among young people.
"Everyone is talking about Spotlight," said Ms. Feeney. "It is definitely very well known among all TikTokers and all social media influencers."
Joey Rogoff, 21, an influencer who made more than $ 1 million through Spotlight, believes more TikToker will start shifting their efforts. “TikTok set this precedent for what content people are looking for. Snapchat did really well, recreating this in its own way and adding it to its own app, ”he said. "They're the highest-paying platform right now. Hopefully other platforms will see this and follow suit, because ultimately it will make developers happiest."
Joseph Albanese, the C.E.O. and co-founder of Stir, a service that helps developers manage their business, said providing developer monetization options is key to any platform looking to compete in a post-TikTok world.
He said that the TikTok Creator Fund, a program that allows corporate-approved influencers to monetize their content, “notifies all other platforms. These platforms make it easier for new developers to emerge. Unless you have a strong monetization game they will go and go elsewhere. "
Mr Casey said his Snapchat success made him feel like he was coming to the top of the influencer hierarchy in Los Angeles. He recently appeared on YouTube star David Dobrik's podcast to discuss his success. "I think it's already helping me get into this mainstream social media world with all the other mainstream developers," said Casey.
As TikTok has become a crowded and competitive place for breakouts, young people are feeling opportunities in Snapchat, especially given the fact that they can potentially make money this quickly. "I think making money is definitely one reason a lot of high schoolers want to become social media influencers," said Ms. Feeney.
Come for the competition
Snapchat has had early success with Spotlight, but dethroning TikTok as the current platform will be a challenge. "TikTok is where you are right now. This is where all the attention, all the energy goes," said Casey.
In the past few weeks, payments at Spotlight have been getting smaller as the pie is split between more users every day. "There's more competition," said Mr Casey. "It's harder to get views. More people post."
In order for Spotlight to be successful, it can not only pay creators but also give fame. Pendants are their own currency and in some ways are as valuable as dollars. In order for brands to become aware of Snapchat stars, the platform needs to show that it's a place where talent – and popularity – is nurtured and nurtured. Most people on the internet know what a TikTok star is, but an archetypal Snapchat creator has yet to be defined.
Mike Metzler, 33, a Snapchat developer and social analytics researcher in Houston, said social media developers and those who work in the industry have come together to discuss their earnings and empower one another.
"We've formed groups on Snapchat where we talk about strategies and what content works and what we see," he said. "Every time we come across videos from someone in this group, we share them with one another to increase engagement and help one another."
Some Spotlight developers are discussing creating your own Snapchat collab houses. Mr Casey said he got a call on Snapchat to discuss something similar to the Hype House, but the company said they were concerned about the legal issues that could come with funding such a thing.
Dominic Andre, 27, a Los Angeles educational content influencer hoping to use the $ 600,000 he earned on Spotlight to open a science and education collaboration house in Los Angeles.
"I want to build a Team 10, hype house situation, but focus on the science," said Andre. "My goal is to build a Snapchat Science Education Show." He paused while he spoke to check his cell phone. "I just received a DM from Snapchat that said I made another $ 100,000," he said. "I make an average of 100,000 a week."
Currently, newly minted Snapchat millionaires, Mr. Casey and Mr. Rogoff, share a room in a cramped apartment with friends in Studio City, Los Angeles. They discuss Snapchat strategies from their separate beds.
After giving away some of the money to family members (thanks for raising and supporting him), Mr. Casey said he wanted to put the rest back into his work. "Yes, it only creates video, but there is so much more to creating what you see on camera," he said. "I want to use the money to get my videos back on and create a life for myself in which I can become one of the biggest influencers on the internet." I have always had very great aspirations. "
"We're in a strange industry where anything can happen at any time."