In a bare apartment on Danforth Avenue, one man is living off social media alone. Literally.
Zach Bussey, 27, has lost ten pounds, and has only just expanded his T-shirt collection enough not to gross out friends and acquaintances. Through January, however, he has proven he is able to clothe, feed and entertain himself through the networks, personal connections and sponsorships that the Internet can provide.
Mr. Bussey has been living off the advertisements and product reviews he wins for his blog. He intends to keep living this way through the end of 2013, when he will donate his gains to charity.
Advertisers can buy space on his site or can sponsor him with things like meals, clothing, yoga classes and the like, in return for a mention on his blog. An ad on Jan. 1 cost $1 and every day, as the project expands, the cost will go up, until Dec. 31, when it will cost $365.
The idea came from the dozens of pitches for product reviews that Mr. Bussey, a blogger and social-media consultant, receives every week. He decided to test whether those pitches, and the Internet-based communities they target, could sustain him for a year.
Mr. Bussey put aside $12,000 to pay for his rent and Internet connection, and then emptied his apartment.
“I felt for this to actually have legs I had to commit 100 per cent, I had to get rid of everything,” he said.
His inspiration came from other “life experiments,” as he calls them, including a recent one by filmmaker Joe Garner, also known as Craigslist Joe, who lived for a month entirely off items posted on Craigslist.com.
Another one of his inspirations, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, managed to fund a film entirely through sponsorships in the documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Last year, two travellers, one from Singapore and one from England, detailed on Facebook how they traded cities to live for a week on offers they received through social media alone.
Mr. Bussey’s approach is a hybrid of these experiments, and unusual in that he intends to keep it going for a full calendar year. Aside from a suitcase full of supplies, including toiletries and basic clothing, a foam pad and a sleeping bag, he will be starting from scratch in an entirely bare apartment.
He has decided not to accept sponsorships from individuals, only from companies. The exception is his grandmother, who likes to make him dinner about once a week.
“My grandmother thinks I’m pretty crazy,” he said. “When I explained it to her she said, ‘Why don’t you get a nice job in manufacturing?’ ”
Mr. Bussey’s blog – which he says received 9,200 unique viewers last month – sold out of ads for the month of January, and interest for February has grown. Mr. Bussey has won T-shirts, sponsorships from a website for new homes, and in celebration of Super Bowl Sunday, Nissan gave Mr. Bussey $500 to give away in NFL.com gift cards.
One of his sponsors has been a swank east-side restaurant, Lolita’s Lust, which serves Mediterranean-style fare, three different kinds of mojitos and a vodka-based martini called “blind date.” Owner Sam Scanga heard about Mr. Bussey‘s project through Twitter, and decided it would be a good way to reach out to a demographic he hopes to target – diners who choose restaurants based on the information they can scout on their smartphones.
He invited Mr. Bussey to eat at his restaurant as often as he wanted in exchange for reviews on his blog.
“I’m new to the social-media world, but I just found it interesting,” Mr. Scanga said. “I think the exposure has been good, I think it will keep increasing.”
Mr. Bussey’s review of the restaurant was glowing, but he says he doesn’t let the free food – or his hunger – influence his writing.
“Just because a company is providing me with something does not mean that I’ll give them a favourable review,” he said. “I have to maintain my integrity.”