The term “penny poke” may sound like something only Baby Boomers would be interested in, because who under the age of 60 actually believes a penny has any value? Well Millennials, if you have heard of the app Venmo then you are going to be formally introduced into the world of penny pokes and how you can actually make a little money off of them. For those who silently scoff at the idea of pocket change, just remember there are still 100 pennies in a dollar. Most people who use Venmo know that you can doing a bit of scrolling and peer into a tiny window of the financial lives of other Venmo users. Some people think it is a bit creepy, but if you have nothing better to do on the train ride home it does have the advantage of being a time waster.
So here is what a penny poke is: it is a small charge, less than $1, that are basically attention-getters, a common practice in today’s social media world. Some people use it just to say hello, while others try to gain the attention of a celebrity. If you think this is just a silly idea, welcome to the world of apps where there are likely more silly things than not. As a wake up call, the practice of penny poking is actually very common amongst those who have Venmo. How common? According to a recent internal count by the company, the silly number is 3.8 million transactions (not dollars). But the idea is not as silly as you might think. Do you have a favorite sports team? One Venmo user actually sent Chicago Bears quarterback Tribusky $8 via Venmo every time the team won a game. So it cost him less than $100 a year (this year) to personally support the team and his favorite player. That is less than the cost of a single game ticket and has the added advantage of separating yourself out from the crowd. Ask yourself how much is $8 out of your weekly paycheck.
Celebrities have been known to turn their pity into penny pokes. The infamous episode of “The Bachelor” where Becca Kufrin was publicly embarrassed by Arie Luyendyk had shocked supporters sending her penny pokes to the tune of more than $6,000. According to Kufrin she donated the money to charity, but it was a simple and cheap way to support her after a thorough public humiliation. Venmo does not officially discourage the acts, which means there is a good reason they allow these nearly 4 million transactions a year continue without interference. They certainly don’t make any money on them since the 3% fee is a paltry 3 cents maximum per transaction. That is, of course, for users who are charging their penny pokes using a credit card. Then there is the Venmo 1% charge when users opt to poke pennies with their Instant Transfer feature that is directly deducted from their bank account.
While Venmo’s internal count tells us about the 3.8 million transactions, it doesn’t tell us the total dollar value was, though it seems if it is relatively low. What is likely never to be measured is the success rate of attracting a celebrity’s attention using penny pokes. For example, does Bears quarterback Tribusky even drink $8 beer? Kufrin obviously didn’t need the money or thought keeping it would be a huge social media faux pas (she was right). Here’s the thing. People spend millions, if not billions, of dollars on recharging their gaming apps so they can continue playing. What is a few dollars to support someone or something, especially if you don’t have an ulterior motive? Even if the money ends up in the coffers of your favorite celebrity’s favorite charity, isn’t that better than giving it to a company that is making millions from your gaming addiction?
That just leaves the question of whether you can – or should – try to line your pockets with the beneficence of others. Well, if you are not a celebrity you will need to have some type of following. Social media would be a logical starting point. Then you would have to get the Venmo app if you don’t already have it. Finally, there would have to be a certain amount of personal information available, such as your birthday, for people to target. How much you would potentially make, and for how long, is the next question. Public donations generally come with public disclosure, at least to a certain degree, so it’s not likely you could pocket all the money without the penny poke well running dry. Keeping birthday money seems socially acceptable, but beyond that things could get dicey. Maybe the baby Boomers have it right – there still are 100 pennies in a dollar.