This article is from Big Technology, a newsletter by Alex Kantrowitz.
The take machine went into high gear last week after Meta said it would charge $11.99 per month for verification and added customer service on Facebook and Instagram. This was the end of free social media, some said. It was Facebook’s unimaginative copy of Elon Musk’s Twitter. Or perhaps a moblike shakedown for protection money.
The reactions all missed the underlying shift behind the move: Social-media feeds, once filled with content from ordinary users, are now programmed primarily by professional creators. These creators need identity verification, customer service, and visibility boosting. And they’re willing to pay. Meta is simply filling the need.
“The subscription model, in my opinion, is built to attract spend from professional creators and businesses,” Meghana Dhar, a former partnerships head at Meta and Snap, texted me. “It’s a write-off for their business anyway.”
Nearly every large social-media company has released a premium subscription product within the past year, all built with professional content creators in mind. Twitter Blue, for instance, lets users post longer tweets and videos. Snapchat+ lets them share Stories that last up to a full week. And Meta, along with the perks mentioned above, promises some increased visibility on Facebook and Instagram.
These benefits appeal more to professional creators than amateurs, and they coincide with social media’s swift move away from the latter. After long relying on ordinary users for content, social-media companies are giving up on them. Regular people either post too infrequently, are too boring, or both. And now they’re being pushed aside.
TikTok effectively forced the issue, using an algorithm, not a follow model, to fill its feed with (very) compelling videos. In doing so, it put so much pressure on Instagram that its leader, Adam Mosseri, said it was “no longer a photo-sharing app.” Soon after, Instagram introduced a set of algorithm changes that brought it closer to TikTok and deprioritized content from friends and family.
It’s not like ordinary users post much on social media anyway. At least compared to the early days of social media, when they ruled the feeds. Ahead of its sale to Elon Musk, Twitter found that less than 10 percent of users created 90 percent of its content.
The most successful paid social subscriptions will likely then satisfy the professionals’ needs while offering enough features to appeal to a somewhat broader audience. There will probably be a cap to the growth, however.
Snapchat seems to have done the best job so far with Snapchat+, which has 2.5 million subscribers. But that still represents just .3 percent of its 725 million-person user base.
Twitter Blue, meanwhile, is struggling to be the transformative force Musk expects. Fewer than 300,000 people have signed up. It is hard to sell longer character lengths to people who don’t tweet.
Meta does have some opportunity here. If it converts even a small percentage of Instagram’s 2 billion-plus users, it could bring in significant revenue. And Dhar, who worked on Instagram’s shopping initiative, assumes it will be appealing. “The additional reach on Instagram, in this case, is meaningfully more enticing than the Twitter model,” she said.
So, rather than an oppressive tax on everyday people, let’s see these paid social subscriptions for what they are: a product for a new social-media era serving those still posting.