Teenager Makes a 'Life-Changing' $1 Million Using Snapchat's Spotlight: 'My Mom and I Screamed'
Katie Feeney remembers the moment she hit the jackpot on Snapchat.
"I didn't believe it was real at first," the high school senior, 18, tells PEOPLE.
After one week of posting on Snapchat's Spotlight feature, she says she received a notification from the social media platform — her videos had earned her a mind-blowing $200,000.
"I was very, very skeptical, and so were my parents!" Feeney recalls.
The Olney, Maryland teenager is one of the thousands of people getting a hefty paycheck by using Spotlight, which gives prime placement to some short-form videos — ranging from science experiments to comedy skits — submitted by users on the app's homepage.
Snapchat rewards users for posting — the more views and shares their videos get, the more money they can earn. Since launching at the end of November, Snapchat has paid approximately $42 million to more than 2,000 creators, a Snapchat representative tells PEOPLE.
Users can make a minimum of $250 per Snap, according to the app's Spotlight terms, and the money is typically paid out within a week of a video posting. Word has spread fast about the new feature, which is now seeing more than 175,000 submissions for a limited number of spots per day, the Snapchat rep adds.
Feeney — who also boasts roughly 5 million followers on Snapchat competitor TikTok — says she delved into Spotlight in November to connect with a new audience.
"I started posting a ton of stories about my daily life, funny videos with my friends or boyfriend, unboxing new beauty or kitchen products I wanted to try," she says.
In between her daily virtual school classes, Feeney brainstorms new videos to post, like discovering new skincare products from Amazon, or spinning around on a hoverboard while trying on new outfits. Some videos take Feeney five minutes to film, while others might take two hours.
She started posting a couple of short videos every day, and the views quickly added up: within five weeks, she says she's made more than $1 million.
"It's so surreal, it's hard for me to even process the information because I'm 18 years old and getting notifications that I've made $600,000," Feeney says. "My mom and I screamed once we realized this was actually happening, and I cried."
Having millions of followers online, however, also means Feeney faces the occasional mean comment or cyberbully, which she's learned to tune out.
"The hardest part with the hate is just [seeing it] within my community, and being in high school, people can be very critical and opinionated," she says. "But I have a really strong following of great people and I get mostly love [online]."
Unlike other platforms, Snapchat doesn't allow public comments under Spotlight videos, but users can message video creators after subscribing to their page.
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"My favorite part about doing social media is communicating with people, and it's always nice when I hear I'm their role model or that I've made a difference in their life," she says. "It's the best feeling ever."
Feeney says that the money she's made from Spotlight has opened the door to exciting opportunities, like applying to colleges that were previously over her budget.
"Before Spotlight, I had to apply for loans, but now, I can go to my dream school if I get in because it's financially possible," she says.
As for how she's going to spend the rest of her earnings, Feeney says she's going to save the bulk of it and might treat herself to a "nice vacation."
"It's life-changing," says Feeney, who was featured with some of her peers in a New York Times story about the phenomenon. "I'm so grateful that this has happened to me — and the money will definitely help me figure out what I'm doing with the rest of my life!"