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The Evolution of Social Media: Is Paid Social Media Advertising Dead?

In the ever-evolving world of social media, change is the only constant.

In recent developments, Meta is shaking things up with the introduction of its premium ad-free versions of the platform. This move has sparked a debate about the future of paid social media advertising and its implications for brands.

Are we witnessing the demise of paid social media, or is it merely a transformation in progress?

In this blog, we'll explore the changes introduced by Meta, TikTok and X, the current state of paid social media, and what brands should do with their organic content to ensure continued growth.

What You Need to Know about the Proposed Premium Versions of Meta, TikTok and X:

Meta's Subscription-based Ad-Free Option

Although only a proposal at this stage, Meta is considering adding a premium subscription for its European market. For those not in the know, the European Union introduced the GDPR: is a strict set of regulations which restricts the ability of online platforms to target users with personalized ads based on their online browsing activity.

Meta’s business model is largely supported by advertising, which has taken a hit with a decrease in advertising spend largely due to the decrease in advertising effectiveness. Meta’s new proposal would offer European users two options: continue using free versions of Instagram and Facebook with personalized ads, or pay for ad-free subscriptions.

Currently, there are no plans to extend the premium version outside of Europe. However, if it proves to be a successful business model for Meta, advertisers outside of Europe should bear in mind the possibility of premiumised Meta in all markets.

TikTok’s Proposed Ad-Free Option

Everyone’s favourite short-form video platform, TikTok, is currently trialing an ad-free version of its platform for $4.99 USD per month. The subscription allows users to enjoy the app free from ad placements, however, influencer/content creator one-off or campaign videos will still feature in the premium version.

“But why would anyone pay for TikTok?” you might be thinking — which is fair given you can easily skip ads. However, it has been speculated that the introduction of a premium plan could bring the introduction of non-skippable ads (think free YouTube), which could drive avid users to subscribe to premium.

X's Potential Premium Ad-Free Offering

From a premium version through to being entirely pay-walled, it’s hard to keep up with what X (formerly Twitter) is doing. X fan or not, their shift in the business model is another trend indicator of the biggest players in social media moving towards subscription revenue over advertising revenue.

The fact that three influential players in social media are looking to offer a premium ad-free experience is something that should be at the forefront of advertisers’ and marketers’ minds

How will this Impact Advertisers?

If you’re reading this blog, it’s highly likely you’re currently using, have used, or are considering using paid social media marketing. And why not? It’s a cost-effective, targeted and measurable way to get your ads in front of your target audience. When your digital marketing funnel is optimally set up across your platform/s of choice, you can generate an ongoing flow of revenue for your business without spending a cent on traditional advertising.

Or at least, that’s how things used to be.

Cut to 2023 and the digital marketing space is packed with fierce competition. There are more businesses, and more ads than ever before, competing in an arena which is being constantly decreased by privacy regulations, iOS opt-out of tracking and a rapidly evolving audience appetite for content. Paid advertising is more expensive and less effective than it used to be, and that’s without a premium version of apps.

The introduction of a premium version of apps will naturally mean a smaller audience to reach, but will also force brands, marketers and advertisers to reconsider the demographics reached with these ads. Is your customer persona one who would switch to a premium ad-free version given the choice? The answer to this question may cause many advertisers to abandon certain platforms entirely, which in turn will make advertising cheaper for those who remain. However, it’s only worth staying if you’re sure your customer is still present and targetable.

So is Paid Social Dead?

Key players in the digital arena, YouTube and Spotify, have long had premium ad-free versions of their service, yet still are popular places to run ads. Therefore it’s safe to say that a shift to premium versions won’t completely kill off the effectiveness of paid advertising on social media platforms. Furthermore, premium versions of Meta, TikTok and X are only in the early phases of consideration or development, and there’s a chance that this roll-out may never eventualise.

However, digital giants have the power to roll out dramatic changes very quickly, and the trend of subscription-based social media is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Forward-thinking business owners and marketing managers should no longer solely rely on the power of the conversion campaign or boosted posts to get their ads in front of their dream customers on socials.

So what can you do to mitigate the impacts of premium channels? We thought you’d never ask!

We’ve got a blog about how you can leverage Organic Social Media and the Power of Community in the face of premium social media channels > keep your eyes peeled!


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