How a high-school senior earned over $1 million using Snapchat's new TikTok competitor, Spotlight

  • Snapchat is paying creators a collective $1 million a day as an incentive to use Spotlight, its TikTok copycat.
  • Katie Feeney, 18, told Insider she’d already made $1 million on Spotlight.
  • Insider spoke with Feeney about how she struck gold with the feature and her future plans.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Katie Feeney is a high-school senior and TikTok creator with over 5 million followers. She’s also a newly minted millionaire thanks to Snapchat. 

Feeney, 18, is one of many creators who are cashing in on Snapchat’s incentive program to get more people using “Spotlight,” the app’s TikTok lookalike. 

When Snapchat launched Spotlight in November, the company announced it would pay creators a total of $1 million a day. In the first six weeks, Snapchat said it had paid a total of $42 million to over 2,000 creators. 

Feeney is one of the top earners, but she’s not the only creator to make over $1 million. Cam Casey, another TikTok star with over 7 million followers, told The New York Times that he’d earned over $3 million.

Read more: Snapchat is minting overnight millionaires with its TikTok competitor but creators worry the gold rush will end soon

“I saw that Snapchat was giving out money, but I didn’t actually think it would be anything close to how much money they were giving out,” Feeney told Insider. 

After logging into Snapchat in November and seeing the in-app announcement about Spotlight, Feeney started posting videos of her unboxing products, dancing, and making comedic content. 

About a week later, she received a notification saying she may have earned money. 

It didn’t feel real, however, until Feeney saw the second notification from Snapchat — that she earned over $200,000 her first week of posting. 

“I was super confused and just like … speechless,” Feeney said. The new income from Snapchat will help Feeney pay for college, she said.

In January, she was notified that she had earned over $1 million.

So far, she’s already received her first paycheck from Snapchat, and the rest will be paid out incrementally, Feeney said. 

How creators are being paid by Snapchat

According to the company’s terms, creators are paid on a curve and only after a video has exceeded a value threshold of $250.

Then, Snap’s payment algorithm ranks those videos using various engagement metrics, which include: 

  • The total number of unique video views and “favorites.”
  • The number of daily users who view a Snap.
  • The time spent by users viewing the video.
  • The past performance of a user’s content.

To qualify, the videos must also be original and can only include music either from Snap’s song library or that the creator owns the rights to. 

Otherwise, to start potentially earning money on Snapchat, all a creator needs to do is upload a video to Spotlight. Then, if that video meets Snap’s engagement targets and passes a review by its human moderators, a big payout could follow. 

Once Feeney realized the earning potential of Spotlight, she raced to post more content.

“I basically was uploading all day,” Feeney said, adding that she uploaded upwards of 200 videos.

However, Feeney said she was limited to posting a new video every five minutes. Snapchat said in its terms that it may limit how much creators could post in order to maintain quality. 

Read more: 10 TikTok creators break down how much money they earn from brands

Feeney said she felt there wasn’t much rhyme or reason for what had gone viral and earned big checks.

“It’s interesting because some of the videos that I take no time to make are the ones that hit big,” she said. “Like just a video of me doing a quick funny comedy with my best friend got half a million views on Spotlight and I don’t think it would have performed as well on any other platform.”

One video of her unboxing an Apple iPad Air 4 got over 1.2 million views, Feeney said. Spotlight views are currently only viewable by the creator and not the public.  

While a lot of her content is repurposed from her camera roll or previous posts on TikTok and Instagram, Feeney is also posting Spotlight-exclusive content, she said. 

But will this Spotlight boom last forever?

Snapchat has not indicated the longevity of paying Spotlight creators at this rate. A Snap representative would only say the company anticipated payouts to continue into the near future.

Creators are bracing for change.

“This won’t last forever,” Casey told Insider. “We are just taking advantage of it while here and just trying to do the most with it.”

Read more: 15 YouTube stars break down how much they get paid per month for their videos

If the payment program ends or becomes less attractive financially, will creators stay on Spotlight? Feeney said she will.

“Regardless of the money … it’s a whole new audience,” Feeney said. And a new audience means more growth. 

While Feeney had been on Snapchat for several years (using it mostly as a way to message friends), it’s now an important place to be discovered and interact with her followers. In the summer of 2020, Snapchat verified Feeney’s account, making her a public figure, and said she had even made it to Snap’s Discovery page.

“New people were seeing me that have never seen me before,” Feeney said. 

Since posting to Spotlight, Feeney’s following has grown on Snapchat by “at least a hundred thousand, probably more,” she said. She now has almost 280,000 subscribers.

For Feeney, Spotlight offers her another stage to share her short-form content. Each platform has a different audience, and every short-form video performs differently on each of those, she added.

“I would encourage everyone to repurpose their content,” Feeney said.

Creators can upload videos from their camera roll and edit using Snapchat’s features, said Brian Nelson, cofounder of The Network Effect, a digital agency specialized in short-form video. Nelson recommends this strategy to all of the agency’s creators (including Feeney).

“The more you’re out there, the more you’re known, the more of a career you can make this,” Nelson said. Snapchat is not just a communication platform, he added. “You can build a following there.”

As for the future of Spotlight, Feeney said the feature could use more editing tools and a larger music library.

And on the horizon, she sees it as a potential for brands too: “It’s just the beginning of it.”

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