Is the future of social media subscription-based?

Stephen Hateley, Head of Product & Partner Marketing at DigitalRoute

Meta is the latest tech giant to embrace a subscription-based model, and its new Meta Verified offering follows hot on the tails of Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s brainchild, Twitter Blue. But will Meta Verified shake up the social space forever, or could it catalyse a mass exodus of users from its platforms?

As Twitter, and now Meta, has proven, subscription-based services are gaining momentum and have the potential to make a seismic impact on the social media sector. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described Meta Verified as a move to “increase authenticity and security across our services,” but the move is also likely to have a huge impact on other areas such as user experience and, of course, revenue.

With two social media heavyweights now embracing subscriptions, questions are being raised about whether free social media as we know it will one day be a thing of the past. Subscriptions could change the social media game forever if features like Meta Verified can dramatically enhance user experience. A drastic shift in consumer attitudes might mean paid-for social media isn’t quite as unappealing in the future if it means you get a better service in return. 

Or the effect could be quite the opposite. While there is no suggestion right now that Facebook and Instagram will completely drop its free service, the removal of free services altogether might drive people away in droves. As tech companies continue to adapt to a difficult economic environment for revenue generation, they will be walking a tightrope to keep stakeholders on side while remaining profitable over the coming years.

Will Meta Verified be a win for user experience?

Meta Verified has drawn comparisons to Twitter Blue, as both subscription-based ventures appear to champion user experience as their biggest selling points. For $7.99 per month, Twitter Blue users benefit from a verification check mark. Whereas previously ‘blue ticks’ were earned on Twitter, now the accolade has become a paid-for feature. Twitter users who have spent time amassing a customer audience on the platform might now need to consider Twitter Blue to protect their brand from impersonation. As well as benefiting from the verification, Twitter Blue users will also be able to edit their tweets and use text messaging two-factor authentication to keep accounts secure from March of this year.

Meta Verified is also offering subscribed users a host of enhanced features including a coveted blue badge in return for approved government ID, extra impersonation protection against false accounts, and direct access to customer support. These are all factors higher-profile Facebook users may find immensely valuable, but even non-subscribed users could reap the rewards of the rollout. Stricter authentication allows trusted voices to cut through the ‘fake news’ noise, potentially making Meta Verified a weapon against disinformation on social platforms and subsequently enhancing user experience all round.

But Twitter Blue proved steaming ahead with ambitious changes like a subscription-based model can cause some turbulence for users. The option to pay for Twitter Blue was paused shortly after its launch last November as the platform was swamped by impersonators. While back in action now, Twitter Blue proved the road to excellent user experience isn’t always smooth.

With Meta Verified initially rolling out in Australia and New Zealand, only time will tell if Meta can seamlessly transition to a subscription-based model or face similar hiccups to those faced by its rival.

Could Meta Verified have a huge impact on profits?

Amid Apple’s recent privacy curbs and the immense cost of running a global platform for free, Meta Verified, of course, has financial motivations. Apple tightened its policies in 2021 to give users greater control over their data and how it is tracked across apps, changes which pinched Meta significantly and contributed to its stock price plummeting 26% in February 2022.

By equipping Facebook and Instagram users who frequently use the platforms with a more efficient, paid-for service, Meta appears to be following in the footsteps of other software organisations that are optimising a usage-based pricing strategy.

If enough users take up Meta Verified and pay $11.99 on the web or $14.99 on Apple’s iOS system or Android per month, this recurring revenue could provide a huge boost to Meta’s coffers. Meta is clearly diversifying its revenue sources to allow more income to be generated away from advertising. For people who use Facebook or Instagram, for free, to run their businesses, Meta is signalling that payment will now be required in return for a ‘blue badge’ of authentication.

Whether Meta Verified will be Meta’s only foray into usage-based pricing remains to be seen. But something Meta is likely acutely aware of, is the fact that Facebook and Instagram are free, making them more accessible and incredibly popular. If paid subscriptions become the only option, it could drive people away from the platforms. So, it is hugely important that Meta gets its pricing strategy right to prevent its loyal users from leaving in droves.

That being said, if Meta Verified is a huge hit, this could only be the tip of the iceberg for usage-based pricing going forward for the social heavyweight. With Twitter Blue offering enhancements to its service in recent weeks, Meta Verified will likely continue to evolve in the future as well and may explore tiered pricing depending on how much users want to optimise their presence on the platform. And by harnessing the power of usage data from its subscribers, Meta can continue to offer new products informed by user behaviour that drive engagement on the platform, not to mention profits.

Is the future of social media subscription-based?

 In the wider context of tech and software as a service (SaaS) companies, subscription-based services appear to be here to stay.

Many businesses are already innovating in the subscription area, with streaming giants like Netflix and Spotify constantly adapting their subscription models to better serve the needs of their customers. Through a tiered pricing system, users who don’t spend a lot of time on Netflix can pay for an ads-based, cheaper service, for example, while more engaged users can enjoy ad-free streaming and multiple profiles for household members.

Despite initial issues with the service, Elon Musk has remained steadfast in his commitment to driving Twitter Blue forward. With Meta Verified being an equally seismic move for the organisation, it seems unlike Meta will give up on it easily if teething problems also arise.

Stephen Hateley, Head of Product & Partner Marketing at DigitalRoute.

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