Why a Subscription-Based Twitter Won’t Work

Imagine if Tweeting wasn’t free

Key Takeaways

  • Twitter is inching closer to implementing a subscription-based option on its platform. 
  • Some of the ways Twitter would carry out a subscription service would potentially be removing ads and making certain features available to paying users. 
  • Experts say that a social media subscription service can't work with all of these platforms' problems.
Someone looking at a laptop with the Twitter logo displayed on the screen.
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Twitter is seriously considering a subscription-based option for its platform, but experts say there’s far too much to untangle for it to be successful. 

During an earnings call earlier this week, Twitter revealed it is looking to add a subscription option that would charge users to access specific features, with some potentially including TweetDeck, an "undo send" option, and removing ads. However, many argue social media platforms are not the right kind of services to offer a subscription, because of the many problems that plague them. 

"I firmly believe that right now, Twitter and others have a real problem with trust and transparency," Amy Konary, founder and chair of The Subscribed Institute and global vice president of the Subscribed Strategy Group at Zuora, told Lifewire in a phone interview.

"I believe they're going to need to overcome it in order for large numbers of people to give them money to subscribe." 

What Would a Subscription Twitter Look Like?

Although Twitter has been talking about adding a subscription-type option for years, it has been getting more and more serious about it since 2017. Last summer, it asked users in a platform-wide survey what features they would consider paying for, including custom colors, fewer or no ads, more advanced analytics, insights into other accounts, and more. Some subscribers believe a paid version will have valuable benefits.

However, Twitter hasn’t revealed a concrete plan on how a subscription service would work, and experts have some thoughts on what Twitter could be planning. 

"One idea is a way where if you subscribe, you’re able to see content that might otherwise be behind a paywall," Konary said. "Twitter users who don’t subscribe would only see a summary." 

Konary said another way Twitter could charge for its services is by making its TweetDeck accessible by subscription only. 

"Perhaps there’s also the ability for subscribers to post types of content that wouldn’t otherwise be available," she added. "That would be longer-form content or multimedia content."

But Konary said that before Twitter can actually implement these subscription ideas, they have a lot to address when it comes to social media's underlying issues

"As social networks get bigger, a more diverse set of people are contributing to them, and there isn't that same shared sense of outcome."

"[Twitter] has to solve the challenge that they face around information integrity and around the fact that their customers aren't really people," she said. "Their goal is to use the users to sell advertising—it’s not to inform me or you, which would be the goal of an actual subscription media service."

Too Much To Overcome

From antitrust issues to privacy concerns, Konary said Twitter and other social media platforms have too much to overcome to make a subscription service successful. She noted that Twitter's primary business is advertising, not catering to its actual users. 

"In most cases with social media, the customer is not the individual person—it’s really the advertiser at the end of the day," she said. "I’m skeptical [Twitter] would be able to do [a subscription service] in the current state of the company and their ties with the advertising business." 

While some have argued that a subscription-based Twitter would limit the spread of fake news and troll accounts, Konary said that a subscription would not solve the nature of social media and its chaotic ecosystem. 

The word 'Twitter' highlighted on a dictionary page.
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"Can a platform really come in and create accountability and a shared sense of purpose? Maybe not so much in social media," she said. "As social networks get bigger, a more diverse set of people are contributing to them, and there isn't that same shared sense of outcome—we aren't all trying to achieve the same thing."

She said when you pay for a subscription service, you expect something in return that offers personalized value. 

"I have a hard time wrapping my head around it because, at the end of the day, I don't know if I'm going to trust the provider enough to build a long term relationship that I'm paying for it," Konary said.

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