Have you ever seen a paywall on a website? You may not have known it was a paywall at the time, but odds are, you’ve seen one before. Paywalls are especially common on media websites, like The New York Times or Vogue, where they hide their articles until you have subscribed to the publication.
However, paywalls have become more common among influencers as they try to diversify their revenue streams. This is affecting the whole influencer industry, but also has a direct impact on brand deals with influencers.
A paywall is anything that restricts access to paid users only. That means that users will have to subscribe or pay a one-time fee in order to view the content.
Often, paywalls are built into the website that people are visiting and may even display a preview of the content that it is asking the user to pay for. In the case of influencers, most influencer paywalls are managed either directly on the social media app where they post, or through a 3rd party service, like Patreon.
Patreon is the most popular option for influencers to start charging a fee from their fans. Patreon was launched in May of 2013 and allows creators to charge a subscription fee from users in order to access tiered content that the influencer shares within Patreon.
Patreon allows creators to create levels within their content creation, so that people pay for the level of access they’d like. For each tier, the content creator adds value and additional content for their subscriber base.
Instagram’s Close Friends List was originally created to be Instagram’s response to the “Finstagram” phenomenon. Instagram’s Close Friends allowed users to designate those people that they wanted to see all their content, then hid the more personal content from the rest of their friends. It was meant as a solution for people who were followed by co-workers, strangers, and other users that they didn’t want to see all their content.
Influencers have been re-branding this feature as the “Inner Circle” for their fan base. Paired with a Patreon subscription, influencers only add subscribers to the Close Friends List, which allows them to offer exclusive content to paid subscribers only.
The Close Friends List has become a way to segment an influencer’s audience between paid subscribers and free content.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook announced that they would offer a feature to charge a fee for virtual events, allowing businesses who typically offered in-person workshops and other services to charge for equivalent virtual services.
When creating a Facebook event, users can now select to charge a fee for the virtual event, which will hide the details of the event until the fee has been paid.
Influencers have been offering virtual conferences, workshops, and activities for their subscribers, and charging a nominal fee for attendance.
YouTube added the Join Button in 2018 so that viewers could support creators. This button appears next to the subscribe button on some YouTube pages and allows fans to pay $4.99 each month in support of their favorite YouTubers. It allows viewers to become “Members” with this YouTuber.
When a user pays this fee, they gain fan access to exclusive content and other perks, such as merchandise discounts and early access to videos.
Influencers who want to take part in Memberships must hit pretty steep requirements, such as having 30,000 subscribers and being eligible for monetization. They can set up this Membership component of their channel within YouTube.
Paywalls will affect different influencers in different ways. For some, paywalls open up opportunities to monetize their content without having to seek out brand deals. For others, paywalls are just one component of their monetization and they’ll continue to accept deals with brands.
Influencers will need to be aware of how their content is organized and structured within paid tiers to provide the best experience for their fans. For example, if only brand sponsored posts end up in the freely available content, and everything else is behind a paywall, they may have trouble nurturing their followers and may lose some of their fans for not offering quality content outside of subscriptions.
One trend is that influencers are being more selective with their brand deals. This was happening before paywalls as well. Influencers need to be discerning about what offers they accept because they want to maintain their authenticity, only work with quality brands, and continue to offer amazing content to their subscribers. This may make it harder for smaller brands to work with macro influencers with large followings, but it also shows that the industry as a whole is working on transparency. Influencers are doing a better job of building trust with their audiences, even when presenting them with sponsored content.
Paywalls shouldn’t be a deterrent for brand sponsorships. Instead, influencers need to keep a multi-faceted approach to their influence and their content so that their fans stay engaged with both their free and paid content. Paywalls are a way for influencers to monetize their content, but influencer marketing and working with brands will continue to be a major source of revenue for influencers on nearly every social media platform.