Snapchat Spotlight: feature gives rival TikTok a run for its money | Snapchat
Pet influencers are nothing new on social media. From Marnie the shih tzu (RIP) to Grumpy Cat (also RIP), there’s a long history of animals becoming famous on the internet – and their owners making a quick buck off them in turn.
But Crusha, a nine-year-old black-and-white moggy from Norfolk, is not a typical social media star. For one thing, she’s only featured in one video, and it’s not exactly glamorous: a misstep as she scampers across a conservatory roof leaves her slowly sliding down plastic sheeting before she catches herself just at the last minute and scurries back up with an indignant mew.
But more importantly, her owner, 19-year-old Jack, didn’t need to launch a cash-in calendar, sell T-shirts with her face on them, or put up sponsored posts with captions declaring a particular brand of pet food purrfect, in order to suddenly find himself in the rare group of people whose pets have made them more money than they’ve cost. He just posted the video to Snapchat, and a few weeks later received a notification from the app that he was in line for a payout of almost $20,000.
“My mum told my grandparents, her mum and dad, and they were like, ‘that’s not real, you won’t get that’”, Jack said. “I tried to explain to them that I didn’t think Snapchat, a huge multibillion-dollar company, is going to scam someone out of their money.”
Jack is one of the UK’s largest beneficiaries to date of a new feature on Snapchat, called Spotlight, which was introduced late last year in an effort to head off competition from Chinese rival TikTok. At its heart, Spotlight is a stream of short video clips, algorithmically curated and presented to users with just a flick of the thumb required to move on to the next clip – just like its rival.
But Spotlight differs in a few key ways from its competition. One is that, unlike TikTok, and almost every other social media platform, the app doesn’t care – or even ask – about who you want to follow. While the video clips are lightly personalised, based on which content users have engaged with in the past, there’s no ability to follow users who have posted good content.
That’s deliberate, because, according to insiders, the feeling at Snapchat is that social media stars get big, then get lazy. If you’re guaranteed millions of views whatever you post, then the temptation to just coast along with mediocre content and a few adverts can ruin the network as a whole. Instead, Spotlight treats every post – whether it comes from a Disney channel star, or a 19-year-old from Norfolk – the same, showing them to a small fraction of users to gauge interest, and then more and more until the best have millions of views.
In fact, Spotlight, uniquely, allows creators to post while remaining anonymous. “That’s one of my favourite things about spotlight compared to other social medias,” Jack says. “You can still entertain other people while not having to, you know, put yourself out there fully. I haven’t put my face on anything – it’s not really my type of thing to get a huge following and have my face online everywhere.”
That’s what propelled Crusha to stardom. But Jack’s bank account was helped by the other unique feature of Spotlight: the service pays creators directly. Every day since it launched, Snapchat has allocated $1m to split between the creators of the most popular videos.
As ever, everything is bigger in America, and there, some of the wealthiest beneficiaries have earned millions from their videos. With dedication, some have cracked the algorithm’s intricacies to the point that they have been able to get multiple videos across that threshold, rather than just waiting for lightning to strike – or a cat on a cold plastic roof – like Jack did.
But $20,000 is a lot of money to come from nowhere. Jack doesn’t plan on buying a diamanté collar for Crusha, though: instead, more sensible uses of the money are planned. “I’m saving it at the moment,” he says, “because later this year I’m trying to get an apprenticeship in London as a software developer.” If Snap had an apprenticeship programme, he added, they would be at the top of his list.