Irene Zhao: SO-COL to empower content creators via web3, AI

SO-COL, which has raised US$4.5 million in new funding, aims to explore deeper integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the web3 social platform as part of its plans for 2023.

"As a creator, we know that time is our most limited resource. With the rapid improvements of AI, I think creating a digital avatar is starting to get super interesting. AI can be used to create the avatars and 'pilot' them. As AI advances, the creator avatar can become incredibly smart. They will analyze the community sentiment and know when to make jokes, when to be serious, etc. as perfect entertainers. The fans can also use the avatar to create content for the creators, and thus reap the rewards together. Streamers know if you stop streaming you are at a disadvantage. Being robots, they can stream 24/7, have no need (or desire!) for breaks, and improve the more they stream," SO-COL Founder Irene Zhao told Digital Life Asia.

From web2 to web3

Short for "Social Collectables", SO-COL allows creators and brands to build membership-based communities and offer exclusive content via non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which it calls collectables.

"We just received new funding from DWF Labs. We will continue to prioritize working with creators together to build a more thriving SIMP ecosystem by having more token incentives to onboard more creators," Zhao said.

She said SO-COL will also explore ways to fuse on-chain communities with different devices to create a seamless experience.

"The blockchain should not be an extension of our phone or laptop only. It should be part and parcel of our lives, including QR codes, ticketing, sports gadgets, and so on," she said.

As a key opinion leader, Zhao understands all too well the pain points of content creators.

"I now have more than half a million followers across Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. In that process, I have built deep connections with big brands like Huawei, Grab, and Shopee. I also built a strong influencer network in Southeast Asia," Zhao said.

"Even though I have a huge following on social media. I don't get most of it. I don't own my content or my community. The only way for me to monetize is through advertisement. I don't really enjoy producing sponsored content. It dilutes my personal branding," she said.

Social experiment

How did Zhao end up founding SO-COL?

"As I entered the crypto space earlier last year, I learned about NFTs, and how NFTs allow creators and fans to own a part of the creators' work, and also to form a community by using NFT as a proof of identity.

"I know I have a devoted fan base and I wanted to create a community around the fan base I built. So, as a social experiment, I created IreneDAO as a meme. It's the first ever creator NFT in the crypto space, and it's a huge success. Then I asked myself why can't everyone do it. There are many creators who are hotter and have millions of fans, and are more talented than me (e.g. musicians, artists who are struggling to make money). However, at the moment, to launch NFTs and then to manage the NFT community are very technical. We want to put all of these features into one platform and make it very accessible for fans to participate and contribute, which allows us to create better versions of IreneDAO," she said.

SO-COL aims to make it simple for web2 creators to migrate to web3.

"We are making sure that the entire platform is web2-friendly. We use intuitive and straightforward UI without web3 jargon. We allow users to create a non-custodial wallet using their web2 social handles. We are working on allowing primary sale with credit cards," she said.

"Web3 is truly impactful on content creators in two big ways. First, creators can truly own their community, on a decentralized platform not subject to fast-changing social media policies. Second, with DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), they can build deeper, more meaningful, and more two-way interactions with their audience, instead of fans simply liking and commenting on their posts," she said.

SO-COL complements the existing social networks of content creators. Zhao pointed out that content creators can learn from gamers.

"In the gaming industry, streamers use Twitch regularly, post it occasionally on YouTube, and engage with their community on Discord. Out of gaming, the concept of building and engaging with a community is still rather foreign for content creators.

"SO-COL is built to complement existing social media channels where creators already have a large following. They can engage with the top 10% of their super fans, who are willing to buy their premium collectables to enjoy additional benefits, on SO-COL. Creators can identify these super fans or OG fans on SO-COL and spend more time and resources interacting with them, and earn an additional income stream beyond advertising," she said.

Simp to earn

IreneDAO proved that content creators can turn their superfans, or "simps", into NFT holders and DAO members.

"The striking Zhao had long been at the center of a kind of online deity-worship cult in which male superfans, known as 'simps,' lavish attention on her in the vain hope of getting her approval. Though 'simp' began as a somewhat misogynist term demonizing men who were simply kind to women, it has since found popular use as a self-deprecating put-down by superfans of influencer types on patron-friendly platforms like OnlyFans, TikTok, and Twitch."

Simp to earn, or what Zhao has also dubbed SimpFi, has become the model for SO-COL, which has its own SIMP token.  

"A creator NFT token changes the attention or traffic that a creator attracts to 'ownership'. Creators can truly own their content. So as a simp, or a fan, they can buy a share of that ownership. They can own an Instagram post, a piece of a song, or a moment in the gamer's stream. They don't just own it, they invest in it. Imagine you've always liked Jeremy Lin’s game since he was in high school, and own a piece of his clip of him dunking on somebody 15 years ago. Now, how much would it be worth at the height of Linsanity?

"Now imagine that with pop group idols with an exclusive concert, an influencer with a meet-and-greet session, or a gamer with a 'fans only' tournament. On web2, no matter how long you spent watching a YouTube video, you are not part of it. On web3, however, if you start following early enough and pick the right YouTuber, you can join the growth and reap the reward."

Asked what message she would like to share with aspiring content creators and influencers, Zhao replied: "The most exciting thing about the blockchain industry was to be personally challenged, and to have an opportunity for personal growth in the areas of entrepreneurship, investing, and team management. It's been an incredibly rewarding and humbling journey so far. Being in this space, I’ve met so many hardworking, disciplined, creative, and bright thinkers. I would really encourage people to step out of our comfort zone to explore something new. It really feels like we’re working at the frontier of a new platform and I’m glad to be part of it."

So, content creators. Are you ready to turn simps into DAO members?

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Founder & EIC, Digital Life Asia. Waiting for the Singularity. Championing web3 & technology for good. Follow him on Twitter: @thebabelmachine
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