Keeping up with daily content and monthly renewals can be hard in an age when there’s a subscription for just about everything, from plants to sex toys. But the business model continues to expand its footprint, reaching social media platforms like Instagram, which in January started rolling out the feature for selected creators—like artists and designers—to expand its monetization tools. Professional accounts with more than 10,000 followers are eligible to charge a monthly fee (between 99 cents and $99.99), which will offer paying subscribers exclusive livestreaming, Stories, Reels, posts and group chats. At the moment, Instagram takes no cut from subscriber revenue, but Google and Apple collect 30 percent in fees for in-app purchases.
Because the model relies on the customer’s willingness to pay for exclusive access, and the monthly fee can range widely, creators are challenged to find a sweet spot of how much to charge for their content. Business of Home checked in with designers who meet the minimum follower quota to find out how this business model might look for their subscribers.
BEHIND THE PAYWALL
Exclusivity and educational value was a common thread among designers who plan to offer the new pay-for-play feature. Los Angeles–based Rydhima Brar of R/terior Studio is inspired to focus on financial education material after her recent visit to High Point Market, where she learned about upcoming trends, new vendors, price hikes, inflation and market behavior. “I want to leverage that information and provide some sort of education,” says Brar. “If you’re contemplating renovation, if you’re contemplating home furnishing by yourself and you’re not sure if you should make certain investments, [this information] can provide insight on where the market is headed.”
Similarly, North Carolina–based designer Ashley Ross hopes her subscription service will offer mentorship to other designers, representing a level up from the relationships the firm currently cultivates through regular Instagram grid posts and Stories. Her team at Muse Noire Interiors is still in the planning phase of its subscription model, as they weigh which audience they want to tap. “[Our firm] is super young, but people rarely realize how young we are because of what we have been able to accomplish,” says Ross. “We get a lot of attention from designers who started at the same time as us trying to pick our brain about how we got this far this quickly.”
Creating a space to connect with other designers was top of mind for Joy Williams, too. “I get a lot of questions from designers who are just starting out, and they’re not really sure how to charge or what to consider if a builder wants them to select finishes and stuff, so I was thinking about having my service answer those kinds of questions,” says the Chicago-based designer and owner of Joyful Designs Studio. She has been seeking inspiration from other design influencers like New Jersey–based home and garden blogger Alisa Bovino, who uses her Instagram (@aglassofbovino) to provide buyers scouting tips for securing vintage pieces, specifically through Facebook Marketplace. Although Williams isn’t looking to emulate the same model, she hopes to use subscriptions to engage the design community. “I’m also trying to think of a way to engage my clients or potential clients who may not be able to afford full design services, so that they can join my livestream and get some of their questions answered,” says Williams.
For Brar, in addition to marketing content to clients, she hopes to reach a more niche audience: vendors. “I think certain vendors have been interested in hearing my perspective, so they might be interested in subscription-based information,” says Brar. This sparked another idea for her to collaborate with vendors to promote their products, taking the influencer model one step further into exclusive subscribed content. “If vendors are following you, and vendors are willing to work with you, we might be able to create exclusive content where I could potentially be in conversation with them regarding their product.”
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
The search for an appropriate monthly fee is a whole other challenge, given the feature’s newness and a lack of data on engagement and return on investment. Brar has opted to start with a conservative $2.99 a month. “I’m going in on the lower end to see if followers will even bite,” she says. “Once I see the activity and responses, I will reassess pricing, but for now, I went with what I would be comfortable paying if I was on the other side.”
Williams currently charges $9.99 a month as an introductory fee, but hopes to increase that to $19.99 once she builds a subscriber base. Because there is a limit to how much individual help she can provide through a subscription service due to her staffing bandwidth, Williams sees this as a gateway to her 45-minute video consults, which cost $1,195 per session.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ross will require followers to complete a set of courses, similar to private consultations, before they can subscribe to her content. She plans to roll out mentorship classes in December that focus on charging for your work, fleshing out internal processes and navigating social media. These 90-minute courses, which were created in response to all the direct messages Ross’s firm was receiving on Instagram, are priced at $400 for one class, $1,200 for three classes and $2,400 for six. After customers complete a class, Ross plans to offer them a discounted rate on the subscription.
“The point is for us to literally filter out people who are not serious about what they’re building,” says Ross. “When we first offered the blocks of time that [clients] could book on our website, I was waiting for them to close the gap that they had in their business, and then they would start posting stuff that didn’t even align with their company. I want people to be just as serious as I am about it. If you’re not going to invest in your business at this price point, then you’re probably not ready to take our classes.”
TESTING THE WATERS
While designers are intrigued by the prospect of expanding their businesses through Instagram’s new subscription offering, they also shared a sense of hesitancy about Meta’s involvement in their business. While Williams worries her bottom line may be impacted by the tech giant when the algorithm has issues, she understands the importance of social media as a way to promote her company. From an ethical standpoint, Ross doesn’t want to veer away from her firm’s mission by rushing into subscriptions too quickly because Muse Noire doesn’t have a solid line item for serving business to business and other designers right now.
In a similar vein, Brar is taking time to research the feature before moving forward. “I’m trying to find the right balance in terms of providing valuable content for subscribers,” she says. “I don’t jump into something right away. I have to come up with a strategy, so I can tell where I’m providing value. Hopefully, once I execute all of this in the next couple of weeks, we’ll start seeing some results.”
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