Geneva allows groups of people to talk in different themed rooms, similar to chat apps like Slack or Discord. Absent subscribers matter and like, members are free to interact without the pressure of public metrics, algorithmic feed, or corporate surveillance shaping their conversations. Fans of the platform say it offers a more intimate and communal experience than traditional social networks.
In their Geneva community, called “home,” Glavan and Roepke have a laid-back relationship with the members. They swap music and TV recommendations in long threads, they marked National Eating Disorder Awareness Week by swapping personal stories about their mental health struggles, and even met members for a picnic. IRL.
“It’s more about what the community wants instead of just posting the two of us,” Glavan said. “On TikTok and Instagram… there is a hierarchy there. In Geneva, Emma and I are present, but it’s not just about us.
For nearly a decade, social media has been dominated by broadcast-based social platforms where creators put out a constant stream of content for subscribers to watch and comment on, often without response. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok all operate under this model.
But now content creators are creating accounts on chat apps, like Geneva, Discord and Telegram, where they can connect privately and directly with people they know to listen to. Some say the toxicity and poor moderation on massive, open social media has pushed them into these more controlled spaces, where they can speak freely without worrying about bad faith attacks.
Justin Hauser, the founder of Geneva, said he anticipated this change when he started building the platform, which launched publicly last spring. Hauser, a tech entrepreneur who previously co-founded the CBD drink Breaksaid he noticed people seemed to be rebelling against the top-down ecosystem of content creators that dominated the 2010s, in favor of smaller platforms that didn’t emphasize public metrics, including likes and the number of subscribers.
“People are fed up and they’re looking for salvation in safer spaces,” Hauser said, “and I don’t mean safer in a political sense, but places where they know they’re not being tricked into playing. someone else’s game.”
Geneva has become popular especially among Gen Z women and TikTok stars: lifestyle creator Chrissy Rutherford recently launched a house in Geneva for women to discuss dating, astrology and careers, while TikToker Belle Perez founded London Town Girlies, a community of over 7,000 young women living or moving to London. Users can switch between different communities, each offering a variety of chat channels. Geneva also allows private messaging, where users can add friends from different Geneva houses to have a one-on-one conversation.
Hauser argues that Geneva users do not bind to any one piece of content, or to any particular content creator, they bind to common conversation and interests. And because home builders aren’t directing the conversation — they just provide a place for people to connect — users are on an equal footing.
“Geneva has no public square,” Hauser said. “It doesn’t have a follower count or likes. What it’s designed to do is give people a place online to hang out with their communities every day and feel like they know who they are talking to.
Facebook recognized this change in 2017, when the company started promoting its Groups product. The company hosted its first “Communities Summit” for influencers embracing the movement toward smaller, gated communities the same year. Around this time, a fleet of services offering intimacy with creators began to gain popularity. Platforms like Cameo, which allows fans to buy personalized celebrity shoutouts, as well as OnlyFans and Patreon, which allow users to charge monthly subscription fees for exclusive content, have swelled.
But the next generation of social apps, such as Discord and Geneva, allow for a deeper connection with both the content creator and other members of their fandom. For big influencers, building a house in Geneva, a Discord server or a Telegram channel strengthens their ties with their audience.
“Creators have always had a very passionate and engaged audience…but for the first time ever, the tools are starting to be developed so they can directly access and interact with the community,” said Zack Honarvar, CEO of CreatorNowan online boot camp for content creators.
He cited the Backstreet Boys as an example. In the early 2000s, the Backstreet Boys had an intense fandom, but ways to connect outside of in-person events were limited. Today, Honarvar argues, fans of the band would have a room in Geneva or a Discord, where they could share song lyrics and gossip about band members, or arrange rides to upcoming shows.
For some, lag is also a protective measure against de-platforming and an increasingly fickle algorithm. Telegram and Discord are particularly popular among influencers who have been booted from apps like YouTube or Twitter, sometimes to promote misinformation, violent extremism or targeted harassment. Hauser says Geneva has yet to struggle with moderation issues, and he thinks design choices, like Geneva requiring real names, make it less hospitable to bad actors and trolls.
While many YouTubers have founded Discord servers, TikTokers seem to gravitate towards Geneva. Nina Haines, 24, from Brooklyn, NY, who first rose to prominence on TikTok by posting about books, now runs a house in Geneva built from the BookTok community for Sapphic women and people who aren’t. binaries.
“TikTok also has this transience, you can’t pin it down, and a lot of people want more stable communities in the long run,” she said. “I’ve seen the same people commenting on all of my videos, and now we’ve moved to a space where we can all interact with each other really intentionally, rather than randomly thanks to the TikTok algorithm.”
The community can also be profitable. Bringing fans into intimate spaces deepens their connection with each other and, ultimately, with the influencer who created the community. “From a business perspective, community is a way to build customer loyalty,” writer Terry Nguyen recently wrote in Voice. Lifestyle and fashion companies like Peloton, Glossier and Victoria’s Secret PINK have all made efforts to foster online communities to increase their sales and relevance to a younger market.
Some brands are already settling in Geneva. Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of August, a menstrual care brand, helps oversee a community of 3,000 people that she says has been critical to the success of her business. “There is a difference between an audience and a community,” she says. “An audience is when one person has a mic and you talk to a group of viewers, a community is when everyone has a mic and we all talk to each other. Many brands l ‘use to describe their social media audience. They say, ‘oh our community is 10,000 people.’ But they mean they have 10,000 subscribers.
Discord servers and Geneva houses also provide an instant chat group for creators looking to boost their latest product. “When I post to Geneva, I can get immediate feedback,” said Serena Kerrigan, content creator and entrepreneur in New York, NY. Incorporating community feedback builds consumer loyalty and allows creators to market more effectively to their audience.
“What initially made creators really appealing to brands was that they could define their audience and brands could get a bullseye,” said content creation strategist and former lead Liz Perle. of the teen community at Instagram. “Now we have TikTok and other algorithmic feeds popping up, where the main way to grow is virality. So creators no longer have these really defined audiences that they deliberately grow and can talk to people about. brands.”
Hauser is less concerned with the marketing applications of his platform and instead hopes that Geneva can help the internet return to its roots as a tool for connecting people. Users of his platform agree.
“Everyone is drowning in content,” said Casper ter Kuile, an author who used Geneva to co-found a community for people interested in spirituality called The Nearness that has more than 200 members. “What we need are containers, we need containers for relationships to deepen.”