Venmo: The Unexpected Social Network

Some social networks are obvious, like Facebook, Twitter (though it’s technically a “micro-blogging” platform/news ticker), and Instagram. Others are related, though less obvious, like social bookmarking website Pinterest and expiring image/video messaging app Snapchat. Then there are things that don’t seem like a social network on the surface but surprisingly are, like Fitbit and Venmo.

What Is Venmo?

Venmo is an app that allows people to accept payments from contacts by connecting their bank account. It’s actually owned by more well-known payment facilitator Paypal, who acquired it through their acquisition of Braintree.

Venmo is beloved by its Millennial users for payment-free transactions, and makes money through a fee charged by businesses that use it’s API. There are no ads on Venmo, but that doesn’t mean it’s without it’s own unique form of entertainment.

The real allure of Venmo, and the reason why people open the app more often than they actually make transactions, is because of it’s unexpected social network.

piggy bankAll users can see transactions between contacts in their network that include:

  •      The name of the sender and receiver
  •      The time of the transaction
  •      An answer to the prompt, “What’s it for?”

It is the answer to Venmo’s prompt that provide the greatest source of entertainment for users of the app. It’s also the medium that provides a level of engagement for others not directly involved in the transaction – they can like or comment on other user’s activity.

But although users enjoy the voyeurism of knowing how their contacts are spending their money, they’re unlikely to admit that they’re actually paying attention. On a related note, there’s an option to make transactions private, but most people don’t take Venmo up on this offer. After all, it’s the social feed of Venmo that is the most interesting aspect of this app.

About the Feed

As of this writing, Venmo’s feed is chronological. This is different from algorithm-based Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds which give more impressions to users that perform well overall in terms of engagement, or users you personally engage with more than others. This means that you can see the activities of everyone in your network, even if you’re not very familiar with them. It doesn’t get much more voyeuristic than that!

Activity on Venmo’s feed tends to take on one of three types of categorization:

  •      Straightforward repayments
  •      Goofy messages to friends that may or may not actually be related to the transaction
  •      Hard to decipher emoji messages

It’s the goofy messages and complex emoji messages that keep people coming back to Venmo for transactions, and entertainment. It’s also widely accepted that these messages are not necessarily targeted towards the payment recipient, but for the enjoyment of the social network audience as a whole.

moneyAbout the Users

Again, as of this writing, Venmo users are predominantly made up of individuals under the age of 30 (also known as Millennials).

As has already been discussed, they’re using Venmo as:

  •      A social network
  •      A form of entertainment
  •      A way to see how other people in their network are spending money (a form of voyeurism)

But another wonderful side effect of Venmo is that it provides an easy and non-awkward structure for accountability. If someone asks you to cover them with the promise of paying you back, you can charge them right then and there. No awkward freeloader and hurt feeling situations after the fact.

Venmo also makes the payment process a lot more fun and easy. Instead of heading to the ATM when you’re out of cash at a cash only establishment, a friend who has enough to cover you can make sure the night keeps going on. No need to stop what you’re doing, and your friend can rest assured that they can seek repayment later.

If multiple people are paying someone back on Venmo (say for a dinner), a reminder for you to pay your part might be seeing someone else completing their payment on Venmo. In the past, splitting checks and other repayment situations might have had an air of awkwardness, but with Venmo, that’s all but erased.

Talking about money with friends can be boring or awkward. But with Venmo, there’s a level of fun and entertainment. Who would have thought that possible? The geniuses behind the app certainly were an innovative bunch, and their efforts have paid off thanks to an acquisition by Paypal.