“If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product” has long been a popular saying about the business of social media.

The saying goes that users aren’t paying for apps like Instagram or Twitter, but rather offering something else: attention (and sometimes content) that is sold to advertisers. implying that it is not.

But now this social media free model (supported by advertising) is under pressure. Social media companies can no longer make as much profit from free users as they used to. A weakening ad market, privacy restrictions by Apple that make it harder to track users and their preferences, and constant regulatory threats make it difficult for social media apps to sell ads.

So we’re seeing the beginning of what could be a new era in social media: pay-to-play.

On Sunday, Meta became the newest and largest major social media company, announcing the paid version of its product using the “Meta Verified” program. Facebook and Instagram introduced blue verified badges, increased protection against account impersonation, access to “real people” in customer support to help with common account issues, and most importantly, “reach”. We charge users $12 per month each for “Performance and visibility”. This means that paying users will see more of your content in searches, comments, and recommendations. The company said it is testing the feature in Australia and New Zealand this week and will roll it out to the US and other countries soon.

Meta’s news comes months after Twitter released an $8/month paid verification program as part of new owner Elon Musk’s revamped Twitter Blue product. Meta is notorious for cloning competitors, but its subscription service is more than just another case of imitation. This is part of an industry-wide trend. In recent years, Snap, YouTube, and Discord have introduced or expanded premium products that charge their users special perks. Snap gives subscribers early access to new features, YouTube serves them fewer ads, and Discord offers more customization options for people’s chat channels.

Meta, which now owns the world’s largest social media app, examines the two-tier user system trend in social media. With this system, only paying users get services they would normally expect for free, such as proactive protection from scammers trying to impersonate them, and direct contact with customer support in case of technical problems. can do. Meta says it still offers some basic support for free users, but will have to charge to cover costs beyond that.

But the most newsworthy part of Meta’s paid verification plans isn’t how paying users get verified or get better customer support, but how they get more. . Visibility on Facebook and Instagram.

Until now, in theory, everyone had the same chance to be seen on social media. Paying $12/month on Meta Verified now increases the chances of others discovering your account and posts. This is an attractive system for creators who run professional businesses on Instagram and Facebook, but be careful. Failure to do so may compromise the quality of the user experience.

With this new program, Meta is blurring the lines between advertising and organic content more effectively than ever before. It has also made people more commercialized, as many users have already complained that Instagram can feel like a virtual shopping he mall full of creators plugging in their content and products. It’s hard to imagine enjoying the experience.

It remains to be seen what impact Meta Verified will have on Facebook’s ecosystem. But going forward, it’s clear that if you want to be fully seen, trusted, and cared for on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms participating in the premium model, you’ll have to pay.

Security and support are now luxuries, not taken for granted

If someone steals your credit card and impersonates you, you expect your bank to protect you. If you go to the supermarket and buy rotten milk, I think you’ll get your money back at the cash register. Consumers expect a basic level of customer service from businesses.

So it’s understandable why some users reacted to Meta’s news and insisted that basic services like customer support and account security should be free.

“This should be part of the core product. Users shouldn’t have to pay for this,” one user commented on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page after the announcement. — but checking people’s government IDs to verify them and providing on-call customer service comes at a cost, and Meta has to charge to cover that cost.

Social media customer support and security services have always been somewhat broken and unreliable. Apps like Facebook, which serves 2 billion people a day for free, have effectively expanded basic programs such as a customer helpline to help people locked out of their accounts. , validation was always selective. In many cases, users who receive personal attention are VIPs, such as government officials, celebrities, media personnel, and people who happen to know someone who used to work for a company.

So while it may seem like Facebook is charging for what it used to do for free, it’s actually charging for what didn’t work.

The average user might not want to pay $24 a month for a blue badge on Facebook or Instagram, but if you run your business on those apps, that’s a different story.

Mae Karwowski, CEO of a social media influencer marketing firm, said that “so many people running business empires” on social media are paying for meta-validation packages as the “logical next step.” I said it’s easy to check. more business. The social media influencer industry was worth an estimated $16 billion in 2022. TikTok is growing, but Instagram remains the most popular influencer marketing platform for brands. Facebook and Instagram are also particularly popular with business owners, and on Facebook alone he has over 200 million businesses, many of which run their businesses on the network.

The blue badge is important to creators and business owners, Karwowski said.

Before Meta announced this paid tier, Karwowski said clients often ask her for help getting verified on Instagram. You can apply for verification on Instagram if you claim to be a prominent public figure.

“Before, it had to be like, ‘Oh, like someone’s best friend’s cousin works on Instagram,’ and then find them on LinkedIn and message them,” Karwowski said. says Mr. “There was very little standardization. At least now we have some processes.”

Still, some influencers Recode spoke to said they didn’t see enough value in Meta Verified.

“There aren’t many people impersonating me, so it’s not that important to me,” said Oorbee Roy, a skateboarder and mother who goes by the handle @auntyskates. “And the other I feel like I’m getting closer [verified] by myself. “

What Roy thought was worth it was Instagram’s promise of raising awareness.

“I have content dedicated to a particular niche, and I want to be able to reach that niche,” she said.

For perhaps the most valuable part of Facebook and Instagram pay-to-play perks, let’s move on to the next point.

Paying for Reach

Prior to this announcement, if you wanted to promote your post or account on Facebook or Instagram, you had to do it as an ad. Anything that is clearly labeled to the user as either advertising, sponsored, or “paid content.” , it was unintentional and the user was essentially violating the rules of the platform.)

Now, Instagram and Facebook are building features where people actually pay for eyeballs, but they don’t mark their promotions as ads.

Jason Goldman, Twitter’s Vice President of Products from 2007 to 2010, said: “It’s just a different way of pricing.”

These subscriptions could help boost revenue on Instagram and Facebook, where traditional advertising businesses are struggling, but they could also jeopardize relationships with users who don’t want to see more promoted content. I have.

“It’s kind of disappointing to see Instagram starting to lean toward more commercial, more money-seeking businesses,” said the New York City-based girl with more than 12,000 followers who goes by the handle @girlmeetsnewyorkcity. lifestyle influencer Erin Sheehan said.

“I wanted to switch to TikTok and enter that organic market, but I feel this might take me a step further. Because you may notice that it is being done.”

TikTok has attracted a new generation of creators. Many of them switched to the platform from older apps such as Instagram. Because creating what Sheehan called “organic content” can easily go viral, even if it’s relatively amateurish. The app currently doesn’t have a premium his subscription model, but it has successfully expanded its advertising business at a time when the growth of competitors like Meta and Snap has slowed.

Other social media incumbents such as Meta and YouTube have battled TikTok for younger users and creators. Instagram, in particular, is rolling out a new program to acquire creators from its TikTok clone, Reels. As such, it is imperative that Instagram and Facebook ensure that users are not turned off by promoted content from paid subscribers and that creators want to share their content on their apps.

Meta told Recode that it’s still focused on surfacing content that people want to see.

“Our intention is to show content that we believe people will enjoy, and this continues with the increased visibility provided through Meta Verified,” said Paige Cohen, spokesperson for Meta. Some of them are said in a statement. “As we test and learn from Meta Verified, we will continue to focus on ensuring greater visibility of our subscribers’ content in ways that are most valuable to the ecosystem as a whole,” she said.

Meta also said it doesn’t prioritize paid content everywhere. However, since he’s competing with TikTok in the short-form video space, prioritizing it over feeds is important in some ways because reels are a major focus for the company.

This developing paid social media model is still in its early stages. But from what we know so far, it’s likely that only a small percentage of users will be willing to pay. As of mid-January, Twitter reportedly paid only 0.2% of its total user base for Twitter Blue. (Service started in November)

Meta has more users in verified programs due to its sheer size (Meta has more than 10x more users than Twitter) and the fact that there are more influencers running real businesses on the platform. You may be more likely to find customers. It’s being deployed in a more discreet way than Twitter.

But there are big risks with this paid model. Whether it’s common to post pictures of dogs and babies, or professional influencers building careers with their followers, social media networks are built on their users. Creating a hierarchy of these users may prevent some users from sharing. With many young people shying away from social media and either logging off entirely or looking for another app that feels more trustworthy and less commercial, Meta has the users who need it most to stay relevant in the future. may be keeping away from

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