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. This was the end of free social media, some said. It was Facebook’s unimaginative copy of Elon Musk’s Twitter. Or perhaps a mob-like 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, 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.
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.
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% 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 two billion+ 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.
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Deep dive into the troubles at Salesforce [WSJ]
Salesforce is now disbanding its M&A division and predicting greater profitability [WSJ]
How the new Twitter algorithm works [Garbage Day]
Brazilian men are getting robbed — a lot — on dates set up on the apps. [Rest Of World]
New YouTube head Neal Mohan creator-heavy his vision for the service [YouTube Blog]
OpenAI makes its ChatGPT API available at 10x cheaper than existing models [OpenAI]
Snapchat’s already built an AI chatbot on ChatGPT’s API [The Verge]
Famous Footballer’s NFT scheme cost fans dearly [The Athletic]
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Bing’s search engine market share in February, down 20 basis points.
“The worst take you could have from watching me go all-in on Twitter 2.0 is that my optimism or hard work was a mistake.”
Twitter product executive Esther Crawford reacting to her exit from Twitter, reportedly via layoff, which came after she slept on the office floor in the early days of Elon Musk’s takeover.
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Ben Smith is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Semafor, and the author of Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral (available for preorder now). He joins Big Technology Podcast for a discussion of social media’s divorce from the news industry, and what it means for the platforms and publishers. We talk plenty about Semafor, including how it’s working to build an audience, distribute its work, run a business, and get scoops. Stay tuned for the second half where we discuss Elon’s Twitter, chatbots, the lab leak hypothesis, and Trump’s potential in 2024. Yes, we cover a lot. Hit play for a fun listen!
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