Creators are now able to profit off their unusual talents through the support of fans on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and more.
Twitch user Asian Andy went to bed one night and woke up with $16,000. He hadn’t gone viral, or sold a ton of merch, or made money from ads on YouTube. Instead, he purposefully live-streamed his slumber on Twitch and let users send him virtual monetary tips throughout the night. Upon receiving these tips, the stream would play music and read the accompanying message aloud, waking him up. More people sent more money just to disturb the creator’s sleep. It was a prank on himself that paid off.
Luckily, creators don’t have to lose sleep to earn tip money on social media. While it helps to have a large following from which to solicit tips, unlike brand deals and YouTube Adsense, tipping allows creators to earn money no matter how many followers or views they have. The rise of virtual tipping—platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Linktree, Clubhouse, TikTok, and even Facebook have introduced similar features over the past few years—is making it easier than ever for nontraditional creators to make money online. Insider wrote about the rise of sleep influencers such as Asian Andy who make money from tips while sleeping, and Vox likened tipping dancers on Twitch to “the pandemic version of tipping a stripper at a club.”
The list goes on: Rebecca Allgeier makes and shares resources for virtual learning and accepts tips for her work via Support Me links on her Linktree; gamer Brian David Gilbert gets motivation to workout via support through a Twitch livestream; Laura Sheldrick provides emotional cleansing over Clubhouse in exchange for a $20 donation.
Typically, according to Vox, tippers are donating anywhere from $5 to $20 to their favorite creators, and Allgeier tells us she’s generally tipped $15 from her followers. Another Linktree user, Steven Green, manager of the musician Nadeah, says the average tips the artist receives through Linktree’s Support Me links tend to be higher than tips received through PayPal—$50 versus $20. Linktree user Koren Knott thinks the Support Me links are effective because they streamline the process. Linktree Commerce Links have grossed nearly $500,000 for creators since they were introduced a few months ago.
As early as 2013, Chinese apps such as QQ Music, KuGou, and Kuwo allowed creators like video producers, podcasters, and musicians to get tipped for their work, but U.S. apps didn’t start jumping on the trend until 2019. It was the coronavirus pandemic, however, that prompted big name apps including Twitter and Instagram to help users make more money from home.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen people supporting their favorite creators in Live with comments, likes and donations,” Instagram wrote in its press release about its Live tipping featured, Badges. “To give fans another way to participate and show their love, we’re introducing badges that viewers can purchase during a live video.”
Twitter announced in May that it would be adding the option to tip selected creators via a new feature called the Tip Jar. Inspired by the ways users would share their payment information under viral Tweets or use Twitter to ask for financial help, the platform gave users the ability to accept payment from their followers directly through their profiles.
For instance, Cher Scarlett, a software engineer at Apple, turned her Twitter feed into a source of level-headed analysis during the 2020 election, and has since become a voice of reason on things like tech, sexism and work culture for her almost 38,000 followers. Musings, alone, used to be difficult to monetize. The introduction of Twitter Tips means she can now make money from her thoughts on Twitter instead of investing additional work into setting up an audience-supported platform like Patreon.
“For someone like me, Twitter is really where I tend to create content and because I have a full-time job, am a single parent, and do like having some unmonetized free time, those other formats just aren’t realistic for me,” Scarlett tells us over Twitter DM. “I’d rather keep all of my content free (both in cost and flow) and allow those who feel generous to give what they can, when they want to do so.”
The Tip Jar is not yet a universally available feature, and Twitter did not provide data on how successful the rollout has been thus far. However, there are countless tweets from other users demanding both they and the creators they love be given access to the feature, proving the appetite for tipping is high.
Virtual Tipping Platforms Directory
From Twitch to Cameo, we’ve created an extensive virtual tipping directory showcasing all the platforms that support virtual tipping and tip jars. Here’s to the rise of untraditional creators monetizing their platforms:
Tipping feature: Tip after receiving a Cameo
Availability: All Cameo creators
Platform cut: Unknown
Users can tip Cameo creators upon receipt of their order as a token of thanks. In 2018, Cameo told Cosmopolitan that 15% of Cameo videos are met with a gratuity, with an average tip of 55.5% of the Cameo price. It’s unclear if Cameo takes a cut of a tip, but it does take 25% of a Cameo video price.
Tipping feature: Clubhouse Payment
Availability: All Clubhouse creators
Platform cut: 0%
To show appreciation, users can send donations of their choosing directly to Clubhouse creators over the app. 100% of the payment goes to the content creator, but the user will be charged a Stripe card processing fee.
Tipping feature: Stars
Availability: Members of Level Up and managed partners
Platform cut: 5%-30%
Facebook keeps it simple: users can purchase “Stars” to send to creators during live streams. One star earns a creator $.01, and packs of tens and hundreds of Stars can be purchased.
Tipping feature: Badges on Instagram Live
Availability: 50,000 select Instagram creators
Platform cut: 0%
While watching Instagram Lives, users can purchase “badges” that will appear next to their names as hearts to help them stand out in the comments and signify their support. Instagram began testing this feature in the spring of 2020, and announced in October of last year that it had expanded the feature to 50,000 international creators. Payment is structured around how many hearts have been purchased: one for $0.99, two for $1.99, or three for $4.99.
Tipping feature: Support Me links
Availability: All Linktree users
Platform cut: 0%
When setting up Support Me links, Linktree users can designate their own donation tiers and the payment partner they’d like to use. In addition to Linktree’s Support Me links, which allows users to collect tips or charge for workout sessions—amongst other services—users can maximize payments by making Support Me links a priority link, with animations that will ensure links stand out from the rest. Linktree’s Support Me links attract a wide range of creators from musicians to spiritual advisors and psychologists to food outlets.
Tipping feature: Tipping on streams, posts, and through DMs
Availability: All OnlyFans creators
Platform cut: 20%
There are several ways to tip through OnlyFans, which is likely why the company takes a 20% cut of any tips. A user can show appreciation for a specific post from a creator via a tip, send tips during live streams, tipping through direct messages (some creators only allow messages from accounts they don’t follow if they’re accompanied by a tip), or tip more generally by selecting the option on a creator’s profile.
Tipping feature: Virtual gifts
Availability: Creators in the The TikTok Live Stream Program
Platform cut: Estimated 50%
Viewers who have purchased virtual coins can use them to send “virtual gifts” on TikTok to creators during live streams, similar to Stickers. However, based on these gifts, TikTok awards creators with “diamonds” that can then be exchanged for monetary compensation.
Tipping feature: Cheer Chat badges
Availability: Creators in the Twitch Affiliate program
Platform cut: Unknown
Creators in the Twitch Affiliate program are eligible to receive a share of income “Bits,” a currency purchased by users—similar to Instagram “badges”—that are exchanged for a “cheer” that’s sent during streaming. Twitch takes an undisclosed cut of the revenue, but The Information reports that a creator receives $.01 for every Bit purchased to send a Cheer.
Tipping feature: Tip Jar
Availability: Select Twitter users
Platform cut: 0%
Eligible users can set up the Twitter Tip Jar to appear on their profiles. Users can tip as much as they want, subject to the terms and conditions of the third party apps the creators feature, which can include Cash App, Patreon, PayPal, Venmo, or Bandcamp.
Tipping feature: Super Chat, Super Stickers, Applause
Availability: All monetized channels of creators 18 years or older
Platform cut: 30%
Similar to Instagram, YouTube has facilitated the option to tip through its live video feature. Super Chat and Super Stickers are features that can be purchased during live streams. A Super Chat is when a user pays money to have their comment pinned on the feed, and more money changes the color of the pinned comment. Similarly, users can donate money in order to pin a Super Sticker—animated emoticon images—in the chat. Or, if a user doesn’t want the fanfare of a pinned chat or sticker, they can send a one-time payment of $2, $5, $10, or $50 via the “Applaud” button.
So, What Does the Future Hold for Virtual Tipping?
The more virtual tipping is made widely available across platforms, the more audiences can not only support the work they know and love from traditional creators, but also encourage them to monetize their unconventional side hustles and habits online. This diversifies the types of creators in the industry and makes online success even more accessible, ushering in a new era of thoughtful, genuine, and surprising creativity online.
“The Support Me feature gave people an easy way to say thank you,” Allgeier says. “It has been great to make a little extra for something I was just doing to be nice.”
Want to see Commerce Links in action? We’ve set up a Linktree to show you how it works.
About the author: Kathryn Lindsay is freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more at kathrynfionalindsay.com.