Life&Style’s Lula Izzard discusses the presence of paid features on social media, after Twitter revealed plans to add a paid option to their platform

Written by Lula Izzard
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Images by Korng Sok

Do you think your tweets are valuable enough to sell? Since its creation in 2006, Twitter has always been free to use, with few opportunities for users to make money directly from their content on the platform. However, Twitter has announced plans to change this. As well as a new ‘Communities’ feature, which would allow users to join groups surrounding various topics, Twitter are planning to implement a new feature called ‘Super Follows.’ This would be a paid extra enabling Twitter users to charge their followers for exclusive content. By paying a monthly subscription to particular creators, users could receive benefits such as access to extra tweets, newsletters and groups, as well as badges displaying their support for those they have paid to follow.

Features like this, which enable users to pay directly to support content creators…are not a new phenomenon

Features like this, which enable users to pay directly to support content creators and gain access to exclusive content, are not a new phenomenon to social media. Content creators have been using online subscription platforms such as Patreon and OnlyFans to make money. These have been very successful, showing that exclusive content from particular creators is something that followers are willing to pay for. In 2018, YouTube added Channel Memberships to their service – a paid feature which is very similar to the outline of Twitter’s ‘Super Follows’. YouTube users can make monthly payments to support YouTube channels, and receive benefits such as exclusive videos, access to members-only livestream chats, and posts on community tabs. Exclusivity and competition have been used as strategies to engage people with social media. This can be seen with Facebook’s ‘Top Fan’ badges, which reward the most engaged Facebook commenters, and Instagram’s ‘Close Friends’ feature, which allows users to share exclusive stories with a selected group of followers.

It is unsurprising that, following the success of other platforms, Twitter would create their own paid features, combining these elements and making use of the popularity of subscription services. This is both a means of providing an income for the platform, and a way of altering their business model in order to maintain user interest.

Twitter’s plans to add this paid feature to the platform have been received unenthusiastically by many users

This paid extra is perhaps a strange idea for Twitter, considering that the service is primarily used to post short comments which are restricted by a 280-character limit. This is unlike other platforms such as Instagram, which, as a photography-based app, is useful for visual artists, and YouTube, which has proven to be an extremely versatile service for video makers, with everything from hairstyle tutorials to gaming videos appearing on it. Twitter is mostly used to share content such as memes and informal comments regarding pop culture, social issues and politics. These do not offer many options on which to capitalise, although businesses could potentially utilise the ‘Super Follows’ feature by enticing buyers to subscribe for exclusive deals and discounts.

Given the limitations of Twitter as a creative platform, it is easy to see why Twitter’s plans to add this paid feature to the platform have been received unenthusiastically by many users. A poll held by Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, revealed that only 11.5% of users would consider paying for extra content from people they follow. An overwhelming majority of 88.5% would be unwilling to pay, which suggests that most users do not see much value in Twitter content. Since this additional payment for previously free content is clearly unpopular, it is possible that this new feature will lead to a decline in Twitter’s popularity. This could result in Twitter users turning to alternative platforms which do not include paid extras, or the creation of new, free platforms to replace Twitter.

It is possible that this new feature will lead to a decline in Twitter’s popularity

However, considering the current popularity of subscription services and paid features such as OnlyFans, Patreon and YouTube Memberships, it is safe to assume that we will continue to see paid extras like ‘Super Follows’ added to public social media networks. Like Twitter, Instagram is currently free to use, with no paid extras or premium option. But Twitter’s plans to introduce ‘Super Follows’ may prompt Instagram to follow suit, both for financial gain and to ensure that the platform retains longevity and does not become obsolete.

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