“What we do is build private mansions in the social media space.”
2019 is shaping up to reach peak Instagram, as brands and consumers begin to push back on what has become a cynical culture of visually novel experiences designed expressly to inspire sharing; of influencers who buy their followers; and of curated lives that create FOMO and anxiety. In April 2019, Lush UK took a bold step, announcing that they were swearing off social media. Later that month, Instagram began covertly experimenting with a new feature that would hide likes, in response to the toxic validation culture that is plaguing social media.
Escapex is creating a new model for social media that hopes to reverse this backlash and make social media social again. The platform creates personally owned platforms (POPs) for celebrities and influencers in an effort to foster intimate, community-centric spaces for users to connect with their idols and fellow fans.
We caught up with Shamik Talukder, chief business operator at Escapex, about the inspiration behind this new model, the power of superfandom and how Escapex is helping to counteract the culture of inauthenticity that’s plaguing social media.
How does Escapex work?
Escapex is a free app that gives users access to engage with celebrities. But, let’s say you’re going to a concert and it’s free entry, but you’re in the third row and you want to get to the first row. If you want to get in the gate it’s free, but if you want premium access then there’s a fee.
That structure is big. The celebrity or content creator has the ability to do either an open post or a locked post. An open post is available to all the fans and there’s no restriction. A locked post is only available to the subscriber. Most of the celebrities who are with us do a combination of open posts and locked posts. There’s no cost to downloading the app, there’s no cost entering the app, there’s no cost to watch content on the app. There’s only cost for any premium content on the app that the celebrity decides to do.
What was the inspiration for Escapex?
We started by looking at the way influencers and celebrities were using social media. The first problem was with the structure, the way it was all built up. As a user on social media, I have a defined timeline. If I follow 2,000 people, my timeline is not broad enough or deep enough to see everyone’s posts. We realized there was going to be a problem with the reach that the celebrities would get on Instagram and Facebook.
So, for example, let’s say I follow 50 singers and I want to see their posts from the Grammys. Do you think I would get all 50 posts? The answer is no, because my timeline is defined and limited. So, which are the 50 posts that are shown? What I’m shown is determined by the algorithm, which decides you should see these posts and not see these posts. So, we looked at this and we said listen there’s going to be a problem with the way the reach is going to affect the celebrities – it’s a structural issue and we need to solve that. So that was the first inspiration.
The second bit was the fact that the only source of monetization for celebrities on Instagram and Facebook was dependent on a third party. The only source of monetization is if a brand comes to them and says ok, we’d like you to do a branded post and we’ll pay you for it. But there is no organic generation of press. And, on top of that, each time a fan views a page it generates advertising revenue, but the celebrity never got a single penny of that – all of that went to the platform.
The third was how unsocial social media is becoming. Social media is supposed to be social, where people would engage with each other and talk to each other. For celebrities it was key that they could engage with their fans. But if you see today, it’s become more of a broadcast media than social media. All they are reduced to right now is to post and then see how many likes they’ve got, and those likes become like television channel ratings. So, if someone’s ratings are higher, their likes are higher than the other person’s likes and their rating is better and they have better rates from the clients on the branded posts. But there’s nobody who’s engaging with their fans, which was supposed to be the primary reason why social media came into being.
When we looked at all of this, we believed that – whether it’s a celebrity or an Instagram public figure – they would need to move to their own personal platform.
How does Escapex address these issues?
My favorite way to describe this is that celebrities are not supposed to live in rented condos but in private mansions. So why would they need to live in rented condos in a social media space? What we do is build private mansions in the social media space.
If I had a rented condo, I can’t design it the way I want it, I can’t break down the wall to create stuff inside the rented condo. But inside my own private mansion I could do whatever I want. That’s my space, I can invite the people that I want to invite, and nobody can restrict what I can or can’t do.
How does engagement among Escapex users differ from other social media platforms?
It’s more real. I’ll tell you a story. There’s one app that has a fan feed that allows fans to post their pictures and videos (unlike on Instagram, because on Instagram you can only comment, but here you can actually post your pictures and videos). And it built a really strong community, because fans know they’re inside the “house” of that celebrity. So, one of the top fans, a 25-year-old woman from Ontario, Canada, one day posted a picture that said “guys, I want to share some very good news – I just want for my medical check-up today and I am cancer free.” And when you post something, other people can transfer their orange stars that they earn by spending time inside the app to another person inside the app. She got more stars on that post than any of the celebrities in the app. And this is just one of the stories, there are millions and millions of stories like this.
That’s the kind of community we create. I met one of the users and they said, you know we exchange gifts, we meet up with each other, it’s built a very strong community – it’s unbelievable. These are real things that are happening; it’s not artificial, just liking a post on Instagram. We are real.
We are bringing the social engagement, real engagement back into social media. It is true that authenticity is an issue and we are bringing that back into that space.
Do you think the future success of social media lies in this space of super-fandom?
I think the future success lies in decentralization. Super-fandom of course is key, but what we are really doing is decentralizing social media and putting power back into the hands of the creators and the people who are beyond the creators. So, the celebrity is a celebrity because of the fans; if there were no fans, then they wouldn’t be a celebrity. But there are third parties controlling that relationship on social media. So, we are decentralizing social media and giving power back to the creator, the celebrity, and the user or the fan.
How can brands leverage Escapex?
Brands can leverage celebrities and Escapex would be a medium for that. We have over 200 apps live right now across the globe. Our medium allows brands to reach out to a large number of celebrities in a new way. In a way, it is integrated with the branded use of the product and the brand values of the celebrity and then we deliver communication to the audience.
What are your future plans or hopes for Escapex?
Well as of now we actually do not have any competition so we’re creating a market. We started off with a couple of apps in the US, and today we have more than 200 apps live across 13 countries.
We’re creating something that we believe is extremely important in [the social media] space. The whole economy was not fair; we want to give power back to the content creators. The side that nobody ever looks at is who holds the IP of the content that you generate? Especially when you are a celebrity that’s very important, when you are going on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook you actually give up the IP of the content that you publish there. That’s not fair.
So, we believe in actually decentralizing and giving power back to the content creators, the celebrities and to the fans.