Social media platforms are what you call Web 2.0. In short, it means the users of the platform, not the creators, are responsible for making the content. People don’t go on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see what Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey have posted. It’s user content that makes social media platforms billion-dollar advertising spaces. The activity of we, the people, is literally worth billions. So when I see talk on Twitter about the fear of users being charged for use of Twitter, I get pissed.
twitter can be so hilarious idk how it’s still free
— Cait (@HelloItsCaitlin) July 12, 2017
How is this app still free?😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/GjyXnkJe1t
— Awais (@fabregasesque) July 1, 2017
How is this app still free pic.twitter.com/BaskjMSr0Q
— Birch Park Owner (@r_cagle) September 7, 2017
Twitter users are quick to talk about the power of “The Culture,” and are quick to remark how Twitter (i.e. Black Twitter) is “undefeated” when it comes to commenting on and documenting the most perplexing current events of our time. We know this body of culture is powerful, yet we still only view it as fun and games. Tweets like the ones above actively devalue our contributions to this rich realm of content, a realm that a select few are getting rich off of while the passionate builders of it get a few laughs and severe anxiety from information overload.
There’s a reason why Vine shut down. There’s also a reason why a platform as widely-used as Twitter wouldn’t dare start setting the precedent of financial compensation for its users. Everyone would feel like they have a say. Everyone would feel like they’re poppin’ enough to deserve some kind of check. As a CEO or COO, why would you show your faithful customers the light just to have hundreds of millions of people at your throat for letting them live in the ignorant bliss that they’ve been in?
You, Twitter executives, have already cemented the brand by milking Viners, Black feminists, social justice activists, viral parody accounts, Boonk Gang members, lil’ dude from across the street, and more wildly creative microbloggers. Why make things complicated?
Sure, Twitter has lost plenty of money in operations costs since its creation. But paying users doesn’t have to be a loss to Twitter. As lit as Twitter already is, imagine the quantity, quality, and intentionality of user content given monetary incentive. If people knew they could get paid for creating Twitter’s best shit, the platform’s recent problems with adding users and getting ad revenue out of them would be greatly alleviated.
Merit-based compensation for Twitter’s most influential users would have its challenges (e.g. quality control, authenticity). But tracking the platform’s greatest influencers wouldn’t have to be much different from how it already happens via top-tweet filters by location, hashtag, or keyword. Anyone who visits Twitter at least several times a week already has a good general sense of where the platform’s most trusted, viral, reaction-inducing tweets come from. The typical user can also categorize credible sources for a variety of content including comedy, breaking news, social commentary, gossip, and various forms of lifestyle branding. If we already know who these people are, how difficult could it be to accurately assess which ones drive the most traffic and quality engagement to Twitter?
What’s slippery about this slope is that traffic and engagement do not always equate to positive traffic and engagement. Monitoring bigotry and trolling would be part of the quality control challenge, and a good chunk of Twitter consists of bigots and trolls. But compensating users across a spectrum of identities and beliefs can still happen without encouraging socially irresponsible behavior. Any future debates about paying controversial influencers would probably mirror debates about giving those same influencers access to the platform. Doesn’t make the issue cleaner, but it wouldn’t be as unfamiliar of a problem as it may seem when first considered.
There’s also the question of how public figures factor into this hypothetical Twitter compensation model. It doesn’t take celebrity status to become a Twitter star, but many of the platform’s most attractive names are ones that we know beyond Twitter. Does Chrissy Teigen really need to get paid for her weekly anti-45th-president tweets and jokes about marriage? Does any sitting president or prime minister need to get paid for tweeting? The phrase ‘most influential users’ needs a big bold asterisk to clarify who has the most to gain from a Twitter user compensation system.
Ideally, users whose branding, marketing, and content creation are primarily served by Twitter should be the ones eligible for any payouts this company would give to users. In the same way King Bach or Logan Paul made their livelihoods on Vine, people that are best-known for what they do on Twitter should be earning something for that. People would be able to move in and out of being eligible, and it would encourage online content creators to develop loyalty to Twitter as a platform.
I’ve recently become aware of Twitter’s test-run of a $99/month subscription advertising service aimed at helping serious users boost the visibility of their tweets and accounts. Great, charging the users that attract other users to Twitter for the value of greater exposure to those users. Sure, some people who promote on Twitter are obnoxious and should be punished for having such synthetically popular accounts. But chances are users of the sort (i.e. fringe YouTube stars, “gurus” and online (insert skill) experts) are already paying for advertising. Even if more valuable influencers stand to benefit from a paid in-house advertising program, it doesn’t do them justice the same way some cash would.
I can easily use another 10,000 words picking apart and piecing together an ideal system where Twitter’s most loyal and impactful users are rewarded for their work. But as I approach 1,000, I think there’s enough here for you to start thinking about how you view Web 2.0.
Is it a travesty that social media influencers don’t get paid by the platforms they contribute to? Or is that just how the market for creative content should be, a lot of unique freelancers making no money and a few business-minded ones that make a bunch of money? Does it matter? Should you just go ahead and create a competing platform that actually values what users bring to it?
As rhetorical as those questions sound, feel free to answer them in the comment section below, on ATC’s Facebook page, or at ATC’s Twitter account with the hashtag #WhyPayForTwitter. No, we won’t pay you for a great answer. But maybe your response can get Twitter—or ATC, for that matter—there one day.