Instagram tests creator subscriptions as it navigates a changing influencer landscape

The news: Instagram is testing “Instagram Subscriptions,” a feature that would enable users to access exclusive content from creators in exchange for a monthly fee, per a company announcement.

  • The test is currently available to a small number of creators in the US, although Instagram says it plans to expand access to more content providers in the next few months.
  • Subscriptions have been available to Facebook creators since 2020.

How it works: Creators decide how much they want to charge, while subscribers get three main benefits:

  • Access to exclusive Lives
  • The ability to access and share exclusive Stories, and to use interactive story stickers
  • Subscriber badges that enable creators to hone in on these users’ messages and comments

The war for creators: Until recently, Instagram dominated the influencer economy: In 2021, 97.4% of influencer marketers used the platform. But with TikTok’s rise, as well as the launch of creator funds from YouTube and other social media companies, Instagram’s position has become shakier.

  • In June 2021, Instagram launched a bevy of tools to enable creators to sell their own merchandise and use affiliate links, while also giving their supporters the option to buy badges on livestreams.
  • Both TikTok and Twitter added tipping capabilities to their platforms last year. Twitter is also testing “Super Follows,” a subscription service that gives paid users access to exclusive content and previews, among other perks.

Turning toward the subscription economy: Instagram’s foray into subscriptions comes at a time when freelancers and influencers are embracing services like Patreon and Substack, both of which allow people to support their favorite creators on a monthly basis.

  • Patreon’s most recent fundraising round brought its valuation to $4 billion, a threefold increase since September 2020. The company generates most of its revenues by taking a cut of creators’ monthly incomes, although it is not yet profitable.
  • Neither Instagram nor Facebook will collect any fees from subscriptions until 2023—and when that day comes, that share will be, in the words of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “less than the 30% that Apple and others take.”

The takeaway: While Instagram’s subscription feature does give creators another way to monetize their content, it won’t be enough to keep them loyal to a single platform. Brands should take note: Instead of focusing influencer spend on Instagram, they should be exploring opportunities on platforms less saturated with sponsored posts.

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