These Teens Are Making Thousands Of Dollars A Day In The Least Likely Of Places: Tumblr

Monday night was cardio night for me, I was hitting the treadmill and needed a good ‘long read’ article to help me pass the time. Someone on Twitter enthusiastically sent me an article from NewRepublic titled ‘The Secret Lives Of Tumblr Teens’, so I buckled down and got to reading about the lives of Tumblr celebrities.

Now I’m relatively familiar with Tumblr. I’m on Tumblr every single day, scouring the social network for pictures and jokes, pics I then share with you bros in my daily ‘Must See Imagery‘ photo roundups and in the ‘Times We Laughed Our Asses Off On Tumblr‘ roundups I publish every Monday here on BroBible. And I like to think of myself as a fairly observant person, sensing most things going on around me and noticing patterns and trends over time, but reading through the New Republic article I was absolutely mindfucked to discover that these little Tumblr teens are amassing huge fortunes, turning their sizable followings on Tumblr into cash by applying traditional affiliate marketing tactics.

The Secret Lives Of Tumblr Teens‘ starts out with a very long intro to some of the teen celebrities on Tumblr, most notably this young girl from Australia who went by the name of ‘Pizza’. This intro is used, in part, to set up just how in tune these teens of Tumblr are with their audience, and how the power users on Tumblr interact with one another. The article then goes on to introduce the two teens that basically invented the ‘Relatable’ meme, which I know you’ve all seen (So Relatable, etc etc).

It’s around the time that these teens are introduced Dennis Hegstad, the Tumblr teen that would eventually co-found ‘Exposely’, a network that served as a front for Tumblr’s power users to make insane sums of money off Google’s AdSense and by pushing trashy health supplements (‘lose weight quick!’ and stuff like that).

Here are a few excerpts about how much money these Tumblr teens are making, and for the purposes of the excerpts below you should know that ‘Lilley and Greenfield’ are the two Tumblr tweens from Pennsylvania who created the ‘So Relatable’ world:

In January 2013, they quit college. According to their bank records, in March 2013, Google paid them $25,350.45. It was lot of money for internet jokes, a lot of money for two 18-year-olds from Reading, Pennsylvania. Lilley had wanted to get out of his hometown for years and proposed moving in with Hegstad in L.A.

This I understand, I witnessed this behavior in many of my colleagues back in the day. You see, I was once a power user myself on a social network myself, back when was all user generated content I had a top 10 Power User account, meaning I could drive content to the front page and in turn websites wanted to pay me for the traffic…but we’ll get to this in a little bit.

Elspeth Reeve, author of the article, then goes on to cite more numbers about how much these tweens were making off Tumblr:

The unpredictable waves of virality made the Google payments go up and down based on how many people visited their site—$9,113.04 in May 2013, $18,805.09 in June.

So-Relatable and its associated blogs had a good summer, and in September they made $24,296.26 with Google AdSense. With traffic on the rise, Hegstad suggested they move to DoubleClick, Google’s premium ad network, and the move made October their biggest monthly payout to date: $54,269.33. Lilley and Greenfield’s tax returns showed they made $249,000 that year.

This is around the time that the teens began to recruit other Tumblr users, and formed the Exposely network…This is where the money got REAL, but it was also the first step in the demise of these power user’s accounts….Before we get to that though, let us take a look at HOW these teens were making all this money:

Exposely had a major selling point for kids in a similar position to So-Relatable: Its Google AdSense account would be a way for teens who’d been banned to still make money from ads. Exposely offered its publishers both pay per click and pay per conversion.

I’m pretty sure ‘pay-per-click’ is pretty self explanatory, so I don’t need to include the details on that one…The other form of conversion is where these kids were making huge sums of money, and where they were breaking the Tumblr TOS, an infraction that would eventually cost them their Tumblr profiles:

The pay-per-conversion program could make more money, but it cost its users something else entirely. Hegstad got an account at a health affiliate network—a snake-oil sales depot. The idea was to create an advertisement mimicking a Tumblr post, and the ad would include a link to a diet pill site. If a person clicked on the ad, went to the site, and bought a bottle of pills containing synthetic raspberry ketone, the Tumblr user who reblogged the ad would get $18—after Exposely took a $20 cut.

I pride myself on the fact that I’ve never fallen for a stupid fucking health trend on the Internet. Just because it’s in an ad on some shitty site on Tumblr doesn’t mean it’s good for you, in fact it most likely means it’s a massive waste of money…but apparently I’m in the minority on this, as up to 10% of these affiliate ads were converting:

Exposely’s diet pill scheme got going in April 2014, and it worked—it worked like crazy. got almost 7 million views that month, and with the diet pill ads, they sometimes achieved a conversion rate near 10 percent. Once, across all their blogs, Exposely made $24,000 in a single day.

Then the floor fell out. Tumblr wisened up and realized that these savvy teens were using their influence to peddle affiliate products for cash, products that were complete garbage. This massive group of Tumblr power users had their accounts closed over night, even ‘Pizza’ who had over one million followers.

After they all got banned these Tumblerinas tried to act like they had no clue that they were breaking the Tumblr TOS, that says something to the effect of ‘you cannot make money in sketchy ways’, and on that I CALL BULLSHIT.

As I mentioned before back when was owned and operated by Silicon Valley wunderkind Kevin Rose it was all user-submitted content. Just like Reddit now, people would submit links and write a clever title, if enough people ‘dugg’ that article it would then rocket to the ‘front page’ and that article would then see a flood of traffic. The power users gamed the system, everyone was fearful that they’d lose their accounts at any time because so many of these people I met online were relying on as their only source of income.

There is NO DOUBT IN MY MIND whatsoever that the same thing was happening on Tumblr. It’s happening on Reddit now (though it’s harder to get away with on Reddit it 100% happens all day, every day). Whether it’s power users on Reddit, the mods, or people flying under the radar, they’re pushing their links to the front page of Reddit every single day. In fact I could scroll through the front page of Reddit right now and tell you which sites are spamming simply because I used to know the people getting paid thousands and thousands of dollars every month to spam those sites on these user generated content social networks.

So when these kids cried foul, claiming they didn’t know they were breaking the Tumblr TOS that’s 100% bullshit. They knew what they were doing and they just wanted to get paid. In fact it’s ALL THEY KNEW because most of them were too young to ever hold a normal job or go to college.

The only questions I have now are: where did all these savvy Tumblr teens turn to in order to keep making tens of thousands of dollars every month after they lost their Tumblr accounts?

If you can provide any insight on this I’d love to hear it, in the meaning I suggest each and every one of you bros read the article in full:

The Secret Lives Of Tumblr Teens

Cass Anderson BroBible headshot and avatar
Cass Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of BroBible. Based out of Florida, he covers an array of topics including NFL, Pop Culture, Fishing News, and the Outdoors.