What does Facebook and Instagram's subscription mean for the future of social?


Make Honey



Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate, connect and share content. As platforms have evolved they’ve been looking for new ways to generate revenue, especially in light of sluggish growth. Enter… subscription services.

Facebook and Instagram, two of the world’s largest social media platforms, have announced that users will now be able to pay for blue tick verification. Initially launching in Australia and New Zealand it’ll set you back $14.99 on iPhone. “Meta Verified” has arrived. 

Not yet available for businesses, “blue ticks” will give paying users increased visibility of their posts, protection from impersonators and easier access to customer services. So far, so good. Or is it?

Paying for blue ticks has caused headaches for other platforms. Twitter in particular, had to roll back its pay-for verification feature last year when people started impersonating brands and celebrities by paying for a badge. But Meta is not alone in its march towards pay to play – YouTube, Discord and Reddit all use similar subscription models. 

But why now? Like everything social, it all comes down to the d-word: data.

Our data is how platforms like Meta make their money. All those late night searches for the perfect fancy dress costume, frantic scrolls on your commute for a new set of headphones and last minute dog themed birthday presents make you the commodity. 

Primarily your information is shared with “partners” – organisations that pay for the right to get your data, mostly advertisers. Then there are “vendors”, marketing and research companies that buy and distribute ads for the partners. Finally, it’s a dive into the shadowy realms of “third parties” who Meta identifies as “researchers”… Think Cambridge Analytica and destabilising governments.

In some cases users can find targeted ads helpful, especially if they solve a problem or help them discover something new. But, more and more people see it as an invasion of privacy. 

The difference is now we all know it’s happening and we’re savvier than we’ve ever been. No one likes the eerie feeling that your phone is listening to you talk about that new fridge you need to order whilst tee-ing up some white goods related promoted content. When Apple launched an optional feature stopping your online activity being tracked it turned out if you ask people whether they mind companies watching what they do and where they go online, most of them chose to opt out. 

That presents a problem for platforms who use targeted ads as their main revenue stream. What subscription services do is keep platforms like Meta’s revenue up without targeting ads at users who pay for the privilege. 

But what if the gamble doesn’t pay off? What would it mean for Meta if users don’t buy into the new subscription services? Will brands have to look at other revenue streams or will they slowly strip platform access back and keep the big features for paid-only users?

This new move hints at a lack of innovation at Meta, which has spent billions on a push into the metaverse which has no clear business model for brands. Meta is trying to monetise their installed base in a move that could completely backfire, stalling already limited growth and alienating consumers.

Times, it seems, are tough for Big Tech with redundancies almost across the board and lacklustre post-pandemic growth but times are also tough out here in the real world. Cozzie livs, anyone?

Will users cough up a tenner for an enhanced experience? Are the subscription add ons enough to get people onboard? If your data is more protected is it worth the outlay? Watch this space.