‘Gamified Giving’: Roar Social App Targets Gen Z by Blending Game Functions and Charitable Donations
Robert Weiss, a TV producer-turned-executive-turned digital entrepreneur, calls it Roar Social, and he’s spent the past three years fine-tuning the app experience that he has dubbed “gamified giving.” Backed by $10 million in seed funding, Roar Social is set to launch beta form later this year on Apple’s App Store.
Weiss has been nurturing the big idea behind Roar Social for more than 10 years. But it was during the hard early months of the pandemic, in August 2020, when he felt the time was right to dig in to developing an platform designed to bring one-swipe ease to making charitable donations via an entertaining digital media experience. The emergence of the TikTok video format changed everything.
Now Roar Social has a video vehicle to encourage blue-chip brands to support social media creators who post content via the app. Roar Social will be organized by issues and causes, with users selecting their “Hero Cause” and other attributes to guide the algorithm. Users will be encouraged to put money into a wallet that they can tap a la an in-app purchase to dispense charitable donations in small or large increments around various posts affiliated with causes or broad themes such as climate change, animal welfare and hunger. The more engagement a Roar Social post generates, the more charitable donations raised for its associated cause, via both users and brands.
Roar Social asserts that it will never take any cut of the donations facilitated by its platform. The company’s plan is to monetize its user base through advertising and brand partnerships. Instead of “likes” or heart symbols, Roar Social users will bestow “gives.”
Although the social media landscape is increasingly crowded, Weiss has confidence that the mix of gaming and doing good will be catnip to Gen Z. The company’s initial marketing effort will seek to persuade social media creators to post content that has already produced for TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts on Roar Social as well, if only to generate charitable dollars for favorite nonprofits.
“It’s my belief that we don’t have to offer any incentives other than the platform. It’s a place where you can have fun and make a difference at the same time,” Weiss tells Variety. “We’re leveraging the generational shift with Gen Z. Almost every person we’ve opened this up to in the 16-36 demo can’t believe something like this doesn’t already exist. This generation will not need any convincing to add this to their portfolio of social media platforms.”
Roar Social is based in West Hollywood and has about 50 employees in total. The initial seed round of funding came from a mix of wealthy individuals, serial-investor types, family offices and “a bunch of people of private equity whose firms normally don’t get involved at this stage have personally invested money in Roar,” Weiss said.
Weiss intends to conduct a Series A round of fundraising later this year. For now, the company is collecting signups in order to raise the curtain soon to allow beta users to begin test-driving the app.
Weiss’ background in digital media includes a stint as chief operating officer of EQAL, the early influencer digital media venture that worked on websites and digital fan communities with Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Bethenny Frankel and other celebrities. He’s also lead or worked with such software and consumer technology startups including FanDragon, RockYou, BANG and PollPals.
Earlier in his career, Weiss worked as a producer and programming executive at VH1, FX, Fuse and Ovation. He’s tapped his longstanding industry connections to assemble an advisory board with the goal of having each member bring specific expertise or industry connections to aid Roar Social’s launch. The board includes longtime Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes, philanthropist-entrepreneur Mark Rockefeller, MTV co-founder John A. Lack, Brandtech Group partner Emma Cookson, Richard Sarnoff, KKR’s chairman of media; social networking pioneer Andrew Weinreich, YouTube and Hulu alum Heather Moosnick and former UTA digital agent Barrett Garese.
Weiss emphasized that the early reception to the Roar Social from the advertising community has been strong. The company is in early conversations with Target and Starbucks to become partners with the platform. Among Roar Social’s goals is to tap into Corporate Social Responsibility marketing budgets down the road, when advertising is more directly integrated into the platform.
“I’ve never been involved with a business where you’re having a conversation with a brand and the answer on the other end is not ‘If’ but ‘How soon,’ ” Weiss said. “Brands are going to want our data and want to work with us in an active fashion.”
Curation and moderation are clearly going to be a big priority for the fledging venture, given how ugly conversations and communication can get on social media platforms. Weiss vows to keep the platform accentuating the positive and advertiser-friendly, and he won’t be shy about eliminating the negative if need be.
“We’re setting a high bar in every instance including with data privacy,” Weiss said. “We’re taking the time to cultivate a different kind of community. We’re not naive. We know that every platform has to deal with the issue of moderation. We’re putting all the usual resources in place to detect and remove objectionable content. We will have very strict community guidelines.”
At a time when there’s been so much focus on the negative aspects of social media, Weiss feels the moment is perfect for Roar Social. He recently became a father, and having a 10-month-old son to care for has helped sharpen his vision for the app. It was important to Weiss that the team spend many months developing and stress-testing the idea, long before he engaged engineers to build the infrastructure.
“You get one chance to get it right. It’s been to our advantage to work under the radar over the last three years in a thoughtful and deliberative way,” Weiss said. “Right now people seem really open to adding more social platforms. We’re taking advantage of this generational shift.”