Social media is constantly evolving. Even when people continue to use the same basic platforms — as has been the case with the dominant duo of Facebook and Instagram for many years — the look and function of these sites undergo regular adjustments. These days, for example, Instagram is less about curated posts and more about authentic Stories and silly Reels.
The next big change is on the horizon: a greater emphasis on subscriptions. Already, services such as Patreon allow influencers to build closer, more intimate connections with their supporters. Likewise, YouTube has experimented with both a Premium option and channel memberships.
Twitter recently joined the trend with a solution known as Super Follows, which charges followers for bonus content from their favorite accounts. Next in line? Instagram, which is rumored to have a subscription option known as Exclusive Stories in the works.
The growing influence of subscriptions represents a more significant shift than many people realize. For years, we’ve held the mindset that all content on social media should be free. As more platforms take on subscriptions, however, that perception may change. This, in turn, could create a dichotomy in which premium content is available to all those who are willing or able to pay up — but the rest of users need to navigate even more paywalls than they already encounter while surfing the internet.
As with any shift in social media, there are definite benefits and downsides to this evolution. Regardless of your stance on the matter, however, it’s important to understand how all this is unfolding and what it will mean for the future. Below, we’ll explain why Instagram’s planned Exclusive Stories represent a major step forward for the subscription-based take on social media — and how this can be both beneficial and problematic.
Instagram: The Latest Platform to Join the Subscription Hype
While subscriptions are far from new in the social media world, they’ve previously been an alternative to the dominant model of free content. One could argue that this is never truly free, but rather, that platforms — and the businesses that rely on them for marketing purposes — seek attention rather than payments.
As is often the case, however, Instagram may be the platform to transform how we interact online and what we expect from digital content. This already occurred with Stories, which, although closely modeled after Snapchat, brought the concept of the disappearing, casual update to a larger and more diverse user base. Now, Stories could once again shake up our approach to interacting online by offering a paid option.
Under the exclusive model, only paying members will be allowed to see certain updates. To address prominent influencer concerns, Instagram is actively developing solutions that will prevent users from taking screenshots of these Stories. Meanwhile, groups of subscribers will function a lot like online clubs, capable of viewing a wealth of content rather than needing to wait for each individual Story to be posted — or wondering when it might disappear.
Early screenshots from mobile developer Alessandro Paluzzi suggest that Exclusive Stories will be designated by a purple icon. This approach reflects the current use of a green icon for posts from Close Friends.
While this feature remains in the early stages of development, it’s clear that Instagram intends to further explore subscription solutions. Highlighting the potential benefits of this model, Instagram head Adam Mosseri explains, “Being able to subscribe to some differentiated or unique or exclusive content actually feels more additive as a fan than seeing an ad.”
How a Subscription Model Can Boost Engagement
Subscriptions carry a surprising variety of advantages that users, businesses, and influencers may all find valuable. The most noteworthy of these from a marketing standpoint? Engagement.
Increasingly, many social media gurus find that a smaller, more engaged audience is preferable to holding a large, minimally interested following. While segmentation can improve engagement to a point, subscriptions may be more effective in that they can instantly filter out those who are unlikely to respond to marketing efforts.
The convenience of subscriptions could be particularly valuable for service-oriented businesses on the hunt for a new revenue stream. Some anticipate that, with the release of Exclusive Stories, they will be able to directly charge Instagram users for online services that previously necessitated signups on outside websites.
For example: rather than needing to send followers to a separate website or encouraging them to sign up for emails, health coaching businesses can charge users for Exclusive Stories, which will provide targeted advice in a more convenient online setting.
The Downside of Subscriptions for Social Media Marketing
Despite the many opportunities they present, subscriptions present significant challenges for all types of social media users. Access tops this list.
As more accounts shift to subscription strategies, fewer users will be able to access the wide range of content they were able to view under the ‘free’ approach to the internet. Some simply cannot afford to pay for subscriptions to every service or influencer they find compelling.
From the standpoint of the business trying to build a large base of followers, the limited access prompted by subscriptions could be worrisome. Under this approach, it may be far more difficult to build brand awareness. Still, proponents argue that efforts to boost brand awareness should not involve casting the widest net possible, but rather, should focus on getting the right prospects at the right time — something that is more easily achievable when subscriptions are available.
Subscriptions Are in Our Future, But Free Content Is As Well
It’s impossible to predict the extent to which subscriptions will take over social media. If enthusiasts are to be believed, however, subscriptions will prove surprisingly popular, as users realize that they can significantly upgrade their social media experience while supporting their favorite businesses and creators.
Despite all this, the traditional “free” model remains valuable. This approach supports the original perception of the internet as an open, democratic resource capable of breaking down barriers. How free and subscription-based approaches are used will ultimately depend on what each influencer or business wants to accomplish — and whether followers find this content valuable enough to warrant separate payments.
It’s impossible to know exactly how all this will play out, so it’s important for business leaders and marketers to stay abreast of the latest changes. As additional subscription features are unveiled on top sites, strategies for both free and paid content may need to shift to ensure maximum engagement and marketing ROI. Look to Instagram and its eventual release of Exclusive Stories to set the pace.
Vinci Digital: Your Guide to the Latest Trends in Social Media Marketing
At Vinci Digital, we make a point of remaining at the forefront of the quickly evolving world of social media. Our firm grasp of social media marketing helps us discern which trends are worth pursuing and when it’s better to take an alternate approach.
If you’re ready to update your marketing strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are happy to provide guidance as you navigate the complications of modern social media. Contact us today to learn more about our services. We’re eager to get you set up with a consultation.
PS: What do you think of the new subscription-based approach to social media? Do you intend to build subscription services into your marketing strategy? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and plans.