People are tired of being commoditized, sick of their photos and posts and life stories being used to sell advertising. But few social networking upstarts have been able to capitalize on this, because even people who loathe Facebook won't leave it. But Tsu (pronounced "sue") is taking a different approach: Use ad dollars to pay users. Share the revenue with everyone.
Tsu, which bills itself as "the people's social network," launched last fall, shortly after Ello catapulted into our collective conscious and then promptly faded away. The network has been flying under the radar, gathering more than 3 million users through an invitation-only system, and recently debuted an overhaul of its website and mobile apps with new creation and discovery tools.
Tsu CEO Sebastian Sobczak compares what his network is doing with what Jay-Z's new streaming service Tidal has done for musicians. Tidal shares equity with artists who get in on the ground early, to give them more of a financial stake in the success of streaming. Tsu shares its revenue, not equity, but the principle is the same: Give money to people who create content.
How it works
Tsu pays out 90 percent of revenue from ads, which take the form of sponsored posts and display banners from ad exchanges, to Tsu users. The system has nothing to do with clicks, so you can't post garbage content and click on it a million times to get cash. Instead, Tsu looks at how many people have seen your post. If you go viral, you make more money than someone whose post is only seen by a handful of people.
"If you post something and you have no friends, no followers, and no one sees it, your audience isn't valuable," Sobczak told Macworld. "It's like screaming into the middle of the forest. You can post crap content, but you have to be influential for it to go anywhere."
Tsu also rewards you for bringing your friends into the network. If you post a video, you get 50 percent of the revenue generated from views of that video, after Tsu takes a 10 percent administrative cut. The person who invited you gets 33.3 percent of that revenue. The person who invited that person gets 11.1 percent, and the person who invited that person gets 3.7 percent. And, unlike Facebook, Tsu doesn't use an algorithm to determine which posts you see and which you don't. The system might appeal to Facebook page owners, who have long complained that Facebook is asking them to spend money to reach people who want to see their posts.
"That's a big thing for us. We don't do that. We won't do that," Sobczak said. "For the past five years, [Facebook] told us to acquire our audience and move them to Facebook. Then [Facebook] switched it on me and said, now you have to pay to reach the audience you told me to get. It's bizarre. It's brilliance in a sense, but it's bizarre."
New way to raise money
Tsu users can't cash out until they have $100 banked, but they can donate their earnings to charity before they reach that minimum. Sobczak estimated about 90 percent of the network's users have donated their earnings to one of the 40 nonprofits that have been certified as charities on Tsu.
Charity: Water signed up to use the network and raised $18,000 in two weeks thanks to a push from Tsu. The money went toward building three wells in Ethiopia.
Indie musicians are also using the network to share their songs. Artists are dissatsfied with the paltry sum they earn from streaming, but on Tsu they bank some money if the tune goes viral. Singer Kimberly Henderson and singer-songwriter Andrew Fromm are the network's standout successes, and because Fromm brought Henderson to Tsu, he gets paid every time she does.
Tsu isn't the first social network to promise its users cash for posts, but Sobczak and his team are striking at a time when people are getting increasingly irritated with the social media status quo. Tsu has the approval of celebs like 50 Cent and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, and Anthony even posts regularly (though 50 not so much). At first it seems strange, a network where everyone wants to make money, but considering the increasing commercialization of Twitter and Facebook, the fact that Tsu is up front about its business model from day one--and is constantly adding features to improve its experience--might prevent this network from landing in the social media scrap heap.
"There's a better way to do things," Sobczak said. "We feel this is the one that gives you ownership of yourself: your selfie, your content, your life."