Twitter is finally rolling out a way to get paid for tweeting that doesn’t involve putting a Venmo link in your bio, promoting a Patreon, or using the app to hunt for a rich spouse.
On Thursday, the company announced a new feature that could change the way the app functions entirely: Super Follows, which is essentially paid subscriptions for individual Twitter feeds. Users will now be able to paywall certain types of content away from others on Twitter with “Super Follows,” which allows them to charge more for various types of content. According to the Verge, that could include giving paid subscribers access to private tweet feeds, Twitter’s new newsletter feature, or profile badges. Another feature announced on Thursday, the ability for users to create and join groups called Communities, can also be paywalled. Both of these additions won’t be rolled out for a few months, and according to the Verge, it’s not clear how big a cut Twitter will take from the revenue.
This is a big shift in the way Twitter operates: a long-running and pretty tired joke on the site has been that “this site is free,” referring to none of its content directly costing any money whatsoever. The flip part of that equation is that monetising a Twitter presence is impossible without referring fans somewhere else, even if that’s just to pay for access to a private Twitter feed. So this is sort of a big shift, in that it could reshape the incentives for users to participate in the site in the first place and allow Twitter to compete directly with crowdfunding app Patreon and similar payment tools on Facebook and YouTube.
It’s also easy to see how this could open a Pandora’s Box of sorts for Twitter. It’s long struggled to rein in toxic communities like white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and far-right trolls, all of whom could now potentially use the app as a way to make money. The addition of private feeds for subscribers could also let those so inclined hide stuff like harassment campaigns behind paywalls, where such content will be accessible to a smaller pool of paying followers unlikely to report it to the site’s moderators. (It’s already possible to do this via direct messages, locked accounts, and off-site coordination, but still.)
Similarly, the Communities feature sounds pretty close to Facebook Groups. Facebook pivoted from the news feed to an emphasis on Groups in 2019, which had disastrous consequences after said Groups were infested with death threats, harassment, and calls to violence.
Another thing Twitter hasn’t clarified is whether it will allow Super Follows for sexual content, a type of content which is only subject to a handful of restrictions elsewhere on the site (like not posting it in banner images or profile pictures.) Allowing it would put the site in direct competition with places like OnlyFans, though when Motherboard’s Samantha Cole asked Twitter whether or not it will allow users to pay for porn the company responded with a non-answer, claiming that it was “examining and rethinking the incentives of our service.”
The announcement has also set off a wave of am-I-kidding-or-aren’t-I speculation from reporters and other media types about whether or not their employers will allow them to charge for tweets. It’s not any kind of secret that journalists are among the most Twitter-addicted people on the planet and comprise a large percentage of the power users that dominate the app’s feed… and thus easy to see why this is an appealing fantasy for them.
Me on Twitter: "Haha that's so ridiculous, *paying* to see people's tweets."
Internal monologue: "Could I, like,…tweet for a living?"
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 25, 2021
Suffice it to say that while anything that subsidizes, say, tech bloggers buying fancy aquariums is welcome, how big the reader appetite to fund 280-character insights is or how willing news organisations are to let staff run sidelines remains speculative at best.
Twitter has recently rolled out countless features including Instagram Stories-esque Fleets; newsletters; and a Clubhouse-like audio chat tool. It acquired a screen-sharing app called Squad that could be of use if it decides to launch a streaming service, and an adtech firm called CrossInstall which could help fix its notoriously busted ad tools. This could all be related to a failed investor coup led by vampiric hedge fund Elliott Management last March demanding Twitter catch up to its far more profitable competition.
According to the Verge, Twitter said during a business presentation on Thursday that paid subscriptions and the Communities feature are marked as “what’s next” without putting forward a solid timeline for implementation. Per CNBC, Twitter told analysts and investors it hopes the new features will help it hit its goal of $US7.5 ($9) billion in annual revenue by 2023, about double how much money it makes now.