Influencer marketing is a growing and evolving industry, set to almost double in the next couple of years. The latest trend in this dynamic landscape is the use of “paywalls” and private subscriptions for fans. Analysts are now pondering over the effects of this new feature, raising the question of how it will coexist with brand partnerships.
A growing number of influencers with big followings are starting to make use of Instagram’s ‘Close Friend’ as an additional source of income. The in-app feature allows users to create a list of best friends and share certain stories only with them. However, influencers use this option not for their actual close friend, but rather for their most dedicated fans, willing to pay for access to exclusive content.
Influencers determine the price their followers must pay and often use Patreon, a platform that lets creators set up pages for regular subscription payments from patrons. Other platforms offer similar services. For instance, Twitch allows users to buy virtual goods as gifts for creators, while TikTok live streamers can be “tipped” for their content. In 2018, YouTube added a “join” button for subscribers who pay $4.99 a month to have early access to new videos and members-only content, as well as merch discounts. Chinese social messaging app WeChat also began rolling out optional paywalls on a trial basis earlier this year.
Caroline Calloway, an influencer with 716,000 followers on Instagram, is one of the social media stars to put up a paywall. She charges fans $2 a month via Patreon to see her ‘Close Friend’ stories, or $100 for even more special content plus a monthly 25-minute FaceTime session with her. Caroline’s content is monthly, planned and advertised in advance.
“This month I will be doing two loooooong Instagram stories for my Patreon. On Tuesday I will be going down to my Dad’s house in Virginia for the last time before we sell it and I will show (my Patrons only!) the hoarded mess where I grew up and talk about that experience. Next week I will post on my Close Friends about my secret boyfriend I had for two months this winter that no one even knew about. If you want to see either of these stories, join my Patreon today,” Caroline said in an Instagram post on February 17.
Speaking to Vogue Business, the 28-year-old influencer, who often makes scandalous headlines, explained her decision to monetize her audience: “What I do provides value and I should be compensated for that service, just like anyone else”.
According to some analysts, the paywall trend, could incentivize influencers to focus on creating quality content for closed groups of subscribers, rather than sponsored posts. Thus, presenting a threat to brand partnerships.
However, experts also gather around the idea that while these payments add another revenue stream for influencers, brand partnerships will remain as a source of credibility. Furthermore, brands could benefit from the paywalls, as the influencers they work with could be more likely to create long-term ambassadorships, presented to a more dedicated group of fans.