BOLD PREDICTION: By the end of 2024, all Facebook, Instagram and Twitter/X users will have to pay to continue to use the sites.
Since taking over Twitter/X, Elon has progressively moved the platform toward a pay model. He offered a ‘Premium’ version of Twitter, and has now started adding multiple tiers to the offering. Features that were once available to all, are being incorporated into the ‘Premium’ plans. Now, he has begun charging new users in certain countries a small fee to tweet. This is being sold as a way to ‘combat bots’.
Make no mistake, it’s a way to eventually rollout fees to all Twitter users. That’s where we are headed.
And Elon’s moves to make Twitter pay-to-play has opened the door for other sites to follow suit. Facebook and Instagram will begin charging users in the EU to avoid ads. This move is being sold as necessary to combat changes in privacy laws, but as with Twitter, it will likely be used to introduce the idea of charging all Facebook and Instagram users.
Should Social Media Sites Charge Users?
These moves and their inevitable end point will prompt the logical question: Should social media sites charge users? At the end of the day, like it or not, Elon and Mark are running businesses, and they have every right to charge users to access their sites.
That’s not the question that interests me. What I want to know is Does Twitter, Facebook or Instagram offer an experience that is worth paying for?
In my mind, that is a far more relevant question. And in their present forms? Absolutely not.
The irony is, I would have happily paid $10-20 a month for the experience I got on Twitter from say 2007-2012. Today? No way. And I would pay for Twitter long before I would either Facebook or Instagram.
Which makes this whole episode confusing to me. The time to attempt monetization for these sites has long since passed. Say what you want about Elon, but he’s a very smart businessman. I have no doubt he will figure out a way to turn Twitter into a money-maker.
But I’m not interested in paying for an experience that has been degrading on his site for years.
Social media sites started out as being free for the most part. Monetization came through selling ads. As the saying famously goes ‘If you aren’t paying for the product then you ARE the product’, or something like that. Most of us just accepted that these social media sites were collecting our data and selling it to advertisers, and in exchange we get to use their site for free.
To me, this always seemed backwards. The time to attempt monetization was at first, while the community was being built. Get a core group of enthusiasts, tap their brains and roll out premium features that they want. Charge them extra for extra features that are relevant to how they are using the site.
But What About LinkedIn?
Did you know that LinkedIn generated almost $15 Billion in revenue in 2022? Numbers fluctuate, with some sources claiming 21% of LinkedIn users having a Premium account and some say it’s more like double that. Either way, LinkedIn has done a great job in offering premium features to users that they actually want.
I think a lot of this is due to positioning. LinkedIn isn’t positioned as a social media site. It’s positioned as a career development site that has some social elements. If you are on LinkedIn, then it’s almost certain you are either looking for a job, hiring for a job, or networking to find your next partner, client, etc. LinkedIn is a very purpose-driven site in a way that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram simply cannot match.
Will We Pay to Use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram?
Overall, I don’t think we will. I do think Twitter and Meta will have some success with their monetization efforts, but I don’t think it will be as much as they will need to sustain the model.
So, what will that leave us with?
I would like to think it would lead to many of us changing our behavior and turning back to writing and reading blogs, listening to podcasts and turning away from centralized social media platforms. But I’m not expecting that to happen.
What will hopefully happen is blogs, podcasts and owned media will see a bit of a revival. But past that, it will hopefully lead to new social sites and tools that are more thoughtful about their monetization efforts. Twitter and Facebook should have always been founded with the idea that this will be a money-maker. So to that end, the user experience should have been designed in a way that provides an experience that’s worth paying for. The community should have been involved in strategic planning and development from the jump. This would have led to users being more invested in the platforms and their success. So when monetization options were rolled out, the moves would make sense to the users, and the users would be the biggest sellers of the new offerings.
Think of it this way: How many Twitter users have told you that you need to get the Premium version? I haven’t had a single Twitter Premium user promote the service to me. But I’ve had many LinkedIn members tell me that it’s worth the money to upgrade to its Premium service.
A social media site’s monetization efforts should be driven by providing utility to members that improves the user experience. Not by trying to make a fast buck to fix a broken balance sheet.