In January, Instagram announced that they’ve begun testing subscriptions with a limited number of U.S. creators through subscriber lives, stories and badges. The next day, TikTok joined the party and confirmed that they’re also testing paid subscriptions. Their latest move doesn’t come as a surprise as they already have other features like Creator Fund or Tips to help their creators monetise their content. But why are all the social platforms starting to roll out subscription models? Let’s dive in.
Where did the idea of monetisation come from?
Membership isn’t new, it’s an inbound marketing tactic used by many advertisers. Gated content trades access to exclusive content in exchange for an action from consumers. In most cases, the user will provide their name and email address. In some other cases, a fee is involved, giving you access to even more content. Some examples are Medium, Stab, or any news outlet.
However, it’s slightly new on social. We allude to it in our article about OnlyFans but let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane with a quick history of Patreon.
In 2013, musician Jack Conte was about to release his latest video on YouTube when he realised that for all the sweat and money he poured into the production, he wouldn’t get much back. Pretty gutted, he started thinking —what if there was a platform where content creators have the freedom of sharing their work without their creativity being limited by brand deals? This platform would allow his fans to pay him directly for the value he was giving them and generate greater revenues than he would get from YouTube Ads. That’s how Patreon was born.
Today, 250,000 musicians, visual artists, gaming creators, podcasters and more are sharing exclusive content with 8 million+ monthly active patrons. Fans pay a monthly amount of their choice that goes directly towards their favourite creators helping them create more of what they love.
As many content creators are making the move to platforms like Patreon, OnlyFans, Twitch to cite but a few, free social media platforms are looking to roll out their paid subscription models to retain users and content creators. Twitter led the way when launching Twitter Blue in June 2021, and it’s no surprise that Instagram, TikTok, and the likes are following with their versions.
Pay to play: the end of free social media marketing?
The attraction of social media is that it’s free. Everyone can access it. Okay, one could argue that it’s not totally free. You need a laptop or mobile with an internet connection and you’re also giving away your soul, sorry, your data to advertisers. But technically, it’s free.
So why would we change that?
“One of the best decisions I’ve made recently was going premium with my YouTube account. Having to watch one and sometimes two ads per video grew increasingly annoying. Paying $12 per month was a no brainer in avoiding this irritation.”, wrote Jamie Mah in his article Should We Want Subscription Based Social Media? He has a point. Just try it now, log into Instagram and have a look at how many ads you’re seeing hiding in your feed. You’ll be surprised.
Of course, there are also some pros and cons whether you’re a content creator or a consumer.
Let’s state the obvious, subscription-based models are creating a recurring revenue stream. Some months can be a bit dry for influencers, with fewer brand deals so they have to rely on ad revenue or affiliate links but it doesn’t always pay the bills.
With a subscription-style payment model, creators can nurture their relationship with a niche audience, providing additional value, exclusive content and making them feel they are a part of a community. They also have creative freedom without needing to plug a product here and there to generate some revenue or have your content being reviewed by a brand. It seems more genuine.
Most of all, creators and consumers are in control. There is no algorithm wedging its way between the two. And the subscribers can easily resume their membership if they don’t feel like it’s worth their while anymore.
As an influencer, you’ll be reaching a limited audience who can afford joining your community or turning away a new potential audience. Not everyone is willing to pay for content that they could find somewhere else for free. Additionally, to maintain this relationship with your patrons, for example, you need to be consistent, provide real value so you won’t lose their trust.
What about brands?
It’s all fine and dandy, but are paid social media subscriptions also the next step for brands? We don’t talk much about them. It looks like these memberships are developed towards influencers and content creators. Yet, it’s never been harder for a brand to maintain relevancy with its fan base.
Only 5% of 18-35-years-old trust brand messages. More than sales, brands are constantly looking for ways to attract attention online through engaging and meaningful content. However Sprout Social Index found that 51% of consumers unfollow brands on social media because they get irrelevant content, 43% said they get too many ads and 29% feel that brands ignore them.
Social media platforms offering premium content experiences could be a new opportunity for brands to nurture their relationship with their consumers, to make them feel special, give them more powers over brands’ business decisions and be a part of it all.
Nowadays nothing is free. The more we accept and use platforms based around this free model, the less control we get over the content we consume and our overall experience. Could social media monetisation be the solution? Should brands be included and launch their own paid memberships? We’d love to hear your thoughts, talk to us!