Photo: ALDECAstudio retrieved

Ditching the old tires of his sedan for brand new wheels, with a high-end new cellphone and new glasses. That’s how Mario Pérez Chacín started his 2018 in Venezuela, the only country in the world currently suffering hyperinflation. With his journalist wage, based on the last wage hike decreed by Nicolás Maduro (just about a dollar a month), Mario would’ve had to work over 17 years to acquire these basic goods.

He’s not an enchufado, he’s not Cilia Flores’s nephew or Diosdado Cabello’s son-in-law. He’s got a different secret.

It’s a social network called Steemit that pays its users for the time they spend in it, either posting, sharing, voting or commenting. When he signed up in late 2017, the first posts Mario saw were made precisely by Venezuelans, all thanking Steemit for the year it gave them, adding how their lives saw financial improvement just by sharing pictures, personal experiences, cooking recipes or poems.

“Back then, I was forced to drive a taxi due to the economic situation” says this father of three. “One day, right when I was wrapping up my eight-hour workday, a friend of mine asked me for a ride and I was close to his location. When he got in, amidst the updates on what we were doing in the context of this country in December, he told me: ‘Mario, you’d do well writing for Steemit: you’re a photographer and you surely have stories to tell behind each picture, and you could get paid in cryptocurrencies doing that.’ I replied like you’d expect: ‘Crypto-what?!’”

It’s a social network called Steemit that pays its users for the time they spend in it, either posting, sharing, voting or commenting.

The first thing Mario did while understanding how the platform worked, was dusting off some pictures he’d taken over the years, to organize and post them.

“I started writing on this social network in December 2017 and, by January, I could see I was earning more per week  than what I earned at my former job in a month, where I worked for 15 years.”

His daily routine has completely changed: “I must dedicate extra time to it at night and on weekends, to at least guarantee three to four weekly publications. As soon as my children or my wife are free, I sit in front of the computer to write and select pictures.”

Alright cool, but why and how do they pay you?

Both questions go hand in hand. The why is simple: Steemit is a social network whose main goal is to increase the reputation for its two cryptocurrencies. Since their value depends on supply and demand, their creators thought of a way to merge Facebook with Blogger (in 2016) to attract people willing to use this mechanism to earn foreign currency.

Which cryptos are those? Steem Dollar and Steem.

In order to exchange them for bolivars, there are dozens of exchanges that have built their business around the purchase and sale of those currencies, since they can be exchanged for Bitcoin. An operator from Cambio, Steemit’s biggest Spanish exchange community, tells me he makes between 100 and 200 operations a day on average.

These transactions mostly come from Venezuelans who try to navigate the crisis with this miraculous option.

These transactions mostly come from Venezuelans who try to navigate the crisis with this miraculous option.

According to the operator, “the value of these altcoins is mainly based on how much they’re worth compared to Bitcoin” which, by May 21, was $2.23 per Steem Dollar and $2.97 per Steem.

“We estimate the value in bolivars based on dollar prices in Venezuela, which vary due to the great demand.”

Even though by the time I wrote this article, the value of these cryptocurrencies is below $3, sources point out that “The highest value the Steem Dollar has reached was $27.31 on July 18, 2016, only ten days after its launch. The next day, on July 19, 2016, it went down to $1.53.”

After that, it reached $16.4 on December 7, 2017, but starting 2018, its value hasn’t broken the $10 mark. This means that it’s not profitable to keep an account as a main source of income in a country with a stable economy. But it’s profitable in poor countries like India, Haiti or Venezuela, where most of their users are from.

However, although generating revenue with Steemit is relatively easy, there are no fixed fees and earnings depend on how many votes each post gets or who votes them, since there are people called “curators” whose vote could be worth as much as 20 Steem Dollars (while votes from new members are worth, at best $0.003 Steem Dollars).

This is why some can produce money fast, like Mario, or get discouraged in a week.

Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez, a social media expert, explains that this happens “because we’re good at starting projects, but we’re not very constant. We expect quick and large earnings with minimum effort. I also want a job that pays well, with little work and never on a weekend, with a Google slide and shares in Facebook, but most jobs aren’t like that. We’ve got to have long-term vision, just like someone who opens a bakery or a furniture store, knowing that after overcoming ups and downs, we can learn about the business enough as to endure.”

This is why some can produce money fast, like Mario, or get discouraged in a week.

Gutiérrez says: “I confess I was overconfident when I joined. Sharing content, making it more or less viral and position myself was something I’d learned in Blogger, Facebook and Twitter. But it turns out the hierarchies of Twitter and Facebook aren’t transferrable to Steemit. If you’re famous in the former, you come in here and you don’t have hundreds or thousands of followers just because you announce yourself on the other networks.”

Many Venezuelans agree with Gutiérrez that the secret lies in dedication, and interaction on the platform is in your best interest.

Liseth Freitas, another user, still can’t believe “that a social network allows you to meet people, share information and also earn money.”

Freitas, who works as an assistant for commercial campaigns in Sun Channel, earning a bit more than minimum wage, says that with Steemit she’s earning somewhere between three and four times more in a month than with her actual job.

“Recently my mom required a surgery due to a broken femur and hip, and thanks to Steemit I could cover part of the expenses” she says. “I’m still paying for the medicines with money I earned with my posts.”

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