Should social media giants move to a paid-for model?

Lee Langford - Research Director Technology, Media & Entertainment – Harris Interactive

With Twitter widely reported to be rolling out a new premium service – Twitter Blue available as a £2.49 in-app purchase – that will offer users an expanded feature set available only to paid subscribers, a *recent study, undertaken by Harris Interactive, points to a willingness among the wider UK social media using community to accept a paid-for social media model.

Whilst Twitter’s new service will initially target power users who tweet frequently enough or otherwise engage with the service to the point that they’d be willing to pay to do even more, we can report that 51% of all social media users would consider paying a monthly subscription service of £1.00 to access one of their favourite platforms. The platforms most likely to benefit from this potential new revenue stream would be, not surprisingly, the most popular ones with WhatsApp (24%) and Facebook (24%) some way ahead of Instagram (12%) and then Twitter (8%), TikTok (7%) and Snapchat (6%).

This interesting and perhaps surprising finding is no doubt driven, to some degree, by greater use of and reliance on social media over the last couple of years – an already increasing trend that has been supercharged by the global pandemic. In fact, our survey found that almost a third (31%) of the UK public check their status on social media platforms constantly throughout the day. This percentage has almost doubled from 16% when we asked this same question in a survey in 2015. In fact, 79% of people agreed that social media platforms have helped me to get through lockdowns over the last 12 months with Facebook (41%), Twitter (37%) and Instagram (20%) most likely to be mentioned.

And it is younger people who are most willing to pay to access social media with 64% of 18-34 year olds likely to do so compared with 49% of 35-54 year olds and 40% of 55+ year olds. For the very youngest demographic in our sample (18-24 year olds), the platforms they are most willing to pay for are TikTok (22%), Snapchat (20%) and Instagram (18%). WhatsApp and Facebook both see relatively higher willingness to pay among older demographics whilst willingness to pay for Twitter is much higher among men (11%) than women (6%).

It is certainly an interesting time for social media at the moment … there are many questions around free speech versus disinformation and users’ right to anonymity. These questions were also tackled in our wide-ranging study and will feature in future blog posts but suffice to say that there are clear generational differences in how these topics are perceived.

*Harris Interactive surveyed a nationally representative audience of 1,063 UK consumers on March 8th, 2021.