Earlier this month, the UCLA basketball player Jaylen Clark announced $JROCK, his own social token. Holders of $JROCK will get special access to tickets, content, and merchandise.
Clark becomes the first college athlete to have a social token, capitalizing on the NCAA’s recent rules change that lets NCAA athletes monetize their name, image, and likeness. In launching $JROCK, Clark effectively creates a digital economy around himself. This is what makes social tokens so interesting: they remove intermediaries, letting artists, athletes, and other influential people interact directly with fans.
Social tokens are different from non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in that they’re fungible: every $JROCK token is interchangeable with every other $JROCK token. Fans can trade $JROCK in a liquid secondary market; tokens can appreciate or depreciate in value over time.
Over the weekend, Lil Nas X posted a TikTok that he filmed before he got famous. At the time, he had 900 Spotify listeners; now he has 50 million.
Say Lil Nas X had launched $NAS back then, creating 1,000 tokens each worth $100. Early fans would have snapped them up, giving him $100,000 to invest in marketing “Old Town Road”. Each $NAS holder might get a 10-minute FaceTime with Lil Nas X, access to a private tokenholder-only Discord server, and backstage passes to shows. Maybe all 1,000 $NAS holders also share 20% of future streaming royalties.
When “Old Town Road” blew up, becoming the longest-running #1 hit in history, the value of one $NAS might swell to $1,000. Those who thought Lil Nas X would be a one-hit wonder may have sold then; bigger fans held on. Today, a token might be worth $10,000 or $100,000.
Musicians are early adopters of tokens given the industry’s predatory economics. Some artists have innovated in new ways: the Grammy-winning artist RAC launched $RAC last fall, powered by Zora protocol. Fans can’t buy $RAC; they can only earn it. RAC distributed $RAC retroactively to fans based on their fandom—whether they’d been a Patreon supporter, whether they’d bought merch in the past, and so on.
This is a groundbreaking idea: tokenized fan communities reward the most devoted and earliest fans, rather than those with the most money. To my friends’ and colleagues’ chagrin, I’ll again use the example of Taylor Swift. For her Reputation tour, Swift pioneered a new model for concert tickets: only “verified” top fans could get a first pass at tickets, with the goal of ensuring ticket scalpers didn’t take advantage of hardcore fans. But the flaw was that the model was based on monetary markers of fandom: who had pre-ordered the album on vinyl, for instance. A token-based economy would avoid this. A fan in Swift’s top 1% of Spotify listeners—but with no income—could theoretically snag front-row seats.
Social tokens better express the breadth and depth of a community. In the future, instead of measuring a creator’s clout based on her Instagram following, we’ll point to her market cap. Kim Kardashian might launch the $KIM token with 10 million $KIM in circulation, each trading at $100. That gives Kim a market cap of $1 billion.
. In the future, we’ll buy, sell, and compare creator tokens as easily as we buy, sell, and compare stocks today. The experience might live in a Coinbase-like interface for trading social tokens.
Today, social tokens are nascent and speculative; there’s a lot to figure out.
But social tokens are fascinating because they combine investing, patronage, and gated access in unique ways—all in a cross-platform, unified architecture. The next era of the web is bringing a shift away from ads—away from attention as the product—towards digital commerce with native currencies for both individuals and communities. Social tokens will underpin this new digital economy.