The Gist

  • Primarily pros. Social media feeds are now primarily programmed by professional creators who require identity verification, customer service and visibility boosting, which is why paid social subscriptions are becoming popular.
  • Pushed aside? Ordinary users are being pushed aside as social media companies move away from them and toward professional content creators.
  • More features. Paid social subscriptions appeal more to professionals than amateurs, and the most successful ones will likely offer enough features to appeal to a somewhat broader audience, but there may be a cap to their growth.

The take machine went into high gear after Meta said it would charge $11.99 per month for verification and added customer service. 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

Social Media Companies Target Pro Creators for Subscriptions

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, told me via text. “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.

Related Article: What Social Media Trends to Expect for 2023 

Social Media Moves Away From Amateurs

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% of users created 90% of its content.

Learning Opportunities

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.

Related Article: Deciding on the Best Social Media Platforms for Customer Connections

Snapchat+ Outperforms Twitter Blue in Paid Subscriptions

Snapchat seems to have done the best job so far with Snapchat+, which has 2.5 million subscribers. But that still represents just .3% 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.