Communities are essential to our success and happiness as humans, both online and IRL. They come in all shapes and sizes: there are professional communities (tech, investor networks), interest communities (house plants, sneakers), identity communities (LGBTQ+, motherhood), fan communities (games, tv shows) and communities that are some combination of all the above (Black in Tech, Gaymers).
What is a community worth? The real answer is not about money. A community provides a sense of purpose, identity, and belonging that is fundamental to our shared human experience. Communities need resources and infrastructure, and they create economic value — for members, businesses, neighborhoods, and (in the digital age) platforms. Communities are the golden goose of the digital economy. But what is a community worth?
It all starts with ads. At the beginning of my founder journey, I thought advertising and community were incompatible — a direct conflict of values. Algorithms for existing ad-supported business models are optimized for engagement over trust and safety, rewarding sensationalism and clickbait. Our identities, intimate connections, art and creations, activism, moments of joy and sorrow, and communities have been commoditized; our privacy has been breached, and our data exploited by the tech giants. It makes sense that we associate “advertising” with a disingenuous invasion of our spaces.
Advertising is the lifeblood of the digital ecosystem. As our team researched the economics of digital communities, it became clear that the advertising “problem” is also a huge opportunity. U.S. digital advertising is projected to reach $315.32B and global digital advertising $785B by 2025 (eMarketer). When compared to the $10B in aggregate earnings paid out to creators from direct monetization platforms like Teachable, Twitter Super Follows, and Substack in 2021, digital advertising is an abundance of untapped resources.
Social media companies extract value from communities. The social media establishment built us platforms on which we the users generate valuable content. It’s worth reiterating: Our content is valuable. Our content generates value on platforms. If communities are the golden goose of the digital ecosystem, ad revenue is the golden egg. And social media business models are designed to extract as much of it as possible. Facebook generated a whopping $115B in ad revenue in 2021. They’ve “committed” $1B of that to creators (less than 0.87% of their total revenue), but what about the majority of the 70 million active Group admins and moderators who cultivate vibrant communities, often working invisibly behind the scenes to keep their communities safe and engaged? How are their contributions valued?
Community investment is the future of advertising. Vibrant communities are good for people, and they’re good for brands and businesses, too. As my co-founder Cliff says, “Relationships matter. And they have to matter again.” Businesses have always been a part of our IRL communities — , from our local coffee shops to a family-owned restaurant to an artist-owned photography studio. It’s time we redesign the digital economy to service and reflect that.
Trust is the backbone of our new digital economy. Community provides context, curation, and moderation for people to connect with strangers over a shared interest, purpose, and/or identity. Community leaders are responsible to the members of their community, and members to each other. Well-managed communities provide a sense of safety and belonging. Real communities flourish when trust is present. Because of this, we are more likely to trust the people (and brands) who are a part of our shared communities.
Communities are a container for commerce. Whether a local neighborhood IRL or a digital forum, the overall health of a community directly impacts the ability of members and businesses to participate in commerce. Preventing violent crimes near a beloved family-owned restaurant will increase their ability to successfully attract and retain customers. Similarly, a popular digital community that prevents harassment and abuse will positively impact members’ desire and ability to engage with the businesses of that community. A strong community wants to optimize for trust and safety because it’s in the best interest of its members to do so.
mesh is social, but not a social media company. At first glance, our app might look similar to the social media platforms you’re familiar with. You can join communities, connect with friends, share content. But unlike establishment social media companies, our business model is NOT built on surveillance advertising (regulators and Apple are quickly rendering this model obsolete, anyway) or extractive economics. We’ve imagined a different model, one that distributes the value of a digital ecosystem to all of its contributors.
Introducing the first Distributed Community Economy (DCE). The DCE is a community-based social network designed for trust and safety through community ownership, governance, and moderation. Relationships are the foundation of the DCE:
- Brands and services sponsor communities based on the interests of their members, paving the way for a privacy-centered commerce model.
- Community leaders choose their advertising partners and collaborate with them directly to ensure community needs and values are being considered.
- The labor and contributions of everyone in a community — managers, moderators, creators, and members — are valued.
- Communities will have the resources to invest in content, events, education, and moderation at their discretion.
It’s the digital version of a circular economy. We are dedicated to regenerating the internet.
Our business model puts communities in the driver’s seat. We designed our platform to align with the needs of communities on mesh. You form direct relationships with brand partners and keep the majority of revenue from Community Sponsorship, in-feed ads, and more. Put simply: we make money when you make money.
Not every community needs or wants ads, which is why we don’t force ads on communities that don’t want them. While we are passionate about providing monetization to communities who want it, we believe that communities do not need to monetize to be valued. Our combination of paid premium features and ad revenue split enables us to support diverse types of communities in the mesh ecosystem while protecting the integrity and individual needs of each community.
You keep 100% of all tips and subscriptions from your members. We know firsthand how much a platform fee of up to 20% affects communities and creators. And your members and fans want to know their money is going towards what they care about. We believe you should keep all direct contributions from your community.
mesh is a dream made possible by the support of my own communities.
Thank you for being here.
jess, co-founder & ceo