It’s been no secret that Black Influence drives conversations and activity on social media. In fact, Nielsen recently released a report called Increasingly Affluent, Educated and Diverse: African-American Consumers–The Untold Story that highlights the growing influence of Black content creators on social media and their overall impact on global culture. From the rising voices of BlackTwitter to the young Black viral video creators on platforms like YouTube and Vine recently profiled in The Fader, the voice of young Black America is seen millions of times in hashtags and loops across the world.
But what happens when content creators don’t own their own work?
When you create content on social media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat, your content is owned by the network it was created on. That means the individual content creator isn’t necessarily making money off of his own content, unless he is a site partner like some content creators on YouTube. But their numbers have to reach astronomical proportions to see any real money from it. YouTube Tech Reviewer Marques Brownlee is one such young YouTube star who’s managed to turn his views into profit. But he’s an anomaly more than the norm, and that’s where co-founders Adrian Grant and Patrice Drew come in with their new platform SENNA.
Seeded by Dreamit Ventures, the platform streamlines the experience of finding urban millennial content on-demand and gives credit to content creators while monetizing them for the traffic they drive. “Cultural critics and creators of hip-hop inspired memes, videos, and music have racked up millions of followers on social platforms yet desire greater distribution as their content remains siloed. We started the company because we were frustrated with the way a culture we love was being co-opted in the mainstream without the original content creators being known or praised,” says Drew. “Essentially we are creating a figurative watercooler and community around content that is siloed in various places, places where they may not get the recognition they deserve because they don’t meet the threshold for followers or don’t have the co-sign of a major brand. How many followers did Zola have before her stripper story went viral? How long did it take for YouTube to really include personalities of color on their billboards?”
A market research analyst by trade, Drew is the Co-Founder and COO of SENNA and spent 10 years scaling data and brand monetization efforts for powerful media companies like Hearts, Meredith, and The New York Times. In that work, she leveraged demographic trends for successful partnerships with brands like Hulu, Netflix, and Microsoft. Her partner, Adrian Grant is the original founder and CEO of SENNA. Grant a self-taught engineer, who worked as a developer at BET, has a decade experience building, commercializing and scaling social software. A former platform manager at IA Ventures, a $155MM Fund dedicated to investing in companies that use data to create competitive advantage Grant also previously founded Venture Assembly, a private social network monitoring the flow of $2 Billion of venture capital utilized by over 30 venture capital firms. The two met during undergraduate studies at NYU’s Stern School Of Business.
Here, Drew shares more of SENNA’s story.
EBONY: Why SENNA? Where does the name come from?
Patrice Drew: The name SENNA was chosen for its uniqueness – which has the added benefit of no preconceived notions – and inviting sound. Those are the all the qualities we strive for!
EBONY: You guys came out of the DreamIt Accelerator? Can you talk about that experience?
PD: SENNA participated in the DreamIT Accelerator summer 2015 program in NYC. DreamIT really helped us structurally get our ideas and business plan together. There we were able to fine-tune our official pitch that we would go to market with.
EBONY: How does SENNA aim to capture and curate all of the content? What's the science behind it?
PD: Well “we” play a very small part; it’s really our users that shape the content that appears on SENNA. Whether you access SENNA on your mobile device or a streaming platform like Apple TV, the content you’re seeing comes from our users and partners who are all participants in urban culture. Sure, we have areas where we highlight what’s trending or cool posts from our users that everyone should see, but at the end of the day our mission is first and foremost community.
EBONY: Isn't this just one more social network for users to join? How does it differ from having a YouTube or Vine or Instagram profile?
PD: We got tired of having to dig through hash tags to find each other. So we created an optimized experience to find urban content and connect with other fans. Typically social networks are for everyone, but SENNA is just for people that know twerking wasn’t created by Miley Cyrus and know when to properly use “on fleek”. Our audience is 100% creators and consumers of hip-hop culture. We reach everyone from the YouTube comedian to the kid in middle America who wants to learn how to ‘dab.’
Users also have the freedom to syndicate content they have elsewhere to extend their reach even further as SENNA currently has a presence on smartphones and set top devices like Apple TV.
EBONY: How are you getting people to see the value of making SENNA their home base?
PD: The average vlogger/podcaster/meme maker is not only competing with other artists and entrepreneurs, but the latest Taylor Swift video. SENNA enables creatives to cut through these loud and crowded marketplaces to directly reach their target audience. We’re not mutually exclusive with other platforms, we’re just a tool catering towards a particular purpose; reaching hip-hop culture fans.The idea is not to be the next big social network, but to be a network “just for us.” SENNA aims to be the community for hip-hop culture. Anyone can sign-up, follow people, chat (both publicly and privately) and post whatever content they like without any character limits. What makes us different is that we’re 100% focused on hip-hop culture, so soon you’ll start seeing features…customized to what we know our audience likes. Also, if you’re creating original content we can help you make money and distribute your content our network. We’re a social platform like Twitter, but we really want to showcase all the awesome content users — which range from tastemakers to media companies — are posting on our platform.
Each item you see on SENNA is something someone posted. We don’t aggregate content or regurgitate feeds from other platforms, as we don’t believe that would be an ideal experience.
EBONY: How will you work with influencers to develop content and drive traffic to the app?
PD: It’s less about traffic and more about providing a platform for creatives to see their work on new media platforms and monetize their content. Unlike other platforms, SENNA wants to give people credit for traffic they drive to our platforms. This includes making them ‘featured’ partners and providing a structure for compensation. As long as you’re creating – or interested in folks creating – urban culture we aim to make SENNA the place for you. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 followers or 10 million; we just want to create a home for our collective voices.
That being said we’ve worked on vlogs with online talent like TopRopeZeus and SENNA Live! Q&A chats with influencers and entrepreneurs in the space like radio personality Devi Devi, author Rob Hill Sr., television producer Carlos King, comedian Damien Lemon, and co-Founder of ‘Black&SexyTV’ Numa Perrier this year already.
EBONY: And you're also partnering with companies?
PD: Hip-hop culture is mainstream now so as you can imagine there are many brands – spanning spirits, media, music, fashion – that have an interest in the urban market and are willing to invest to get closer to that audience. SENNA provides a seamless bridge to that audience but we’re all about doing it in a way that’s authentic and beneficial to both the company and our audience.
EBONY: There's been criticism that #BlackTwitter is just about the memes and viral videos that are all about laughs and fun and entertainment, but there's also a serious side that breaks news and creates social action — like #BlackLivesMatter and other movements. What can Senna do about showing that side of black culture as well?
PD: SENNA knows Black culture is not monolithic and that’s why our platform caters to all conversations. The same people that are arguing over who had the best trap song of 2015 one day want to read about the rise of folks like Tristan Walker the next.
Also, SENNA Live! is a series of real time Q&A chats with creatives, online influencers and business professionals that we do weekly. Our Featured area highlights topics that may not be trending, but are conversations our users are having that we want to spotlights. These are just a couple features we’ve built to assist in showcasing the diversity of black culture.
Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of music and technology since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences. Follow her on Twitter @lynneluvah.