social media | Jan 27, 2022 |
Instagram is introducing subscriptions. Should designers care?

For most interior designers, the value in maintaining a social media presence comes indirectly. Posting beautiful interiors can score you clients or land you lucrative partnerships with brands, but you don’t get paid just for posting great content. Now, however, platforms like Instagram and TikTok are exploring another option: a feature that would allow creators to monetize their content directly through the app.

Last week, Instagram announced it was rolling out a new Subscriptions feature with a select group of content creators. Following a model that initially debuted on Facebook in 2020, the service allows creators to provide followers with exclusive content in exchange for a monthly payment, set at a price chosen by the creator. Subscribers will also get additional perks—their comments under a post (and DMs directly to a creator) will be marked with a badge. In a similar vein, according to TechCrunch, TikTok is testing out its own subscription-based feature, though further details have yet to be released.

Subscriptions are nothing new. Creators and influencers can already charge for newsletters and other content through platforms like Substack and Patreon. However, offering the feature to users directly on apps like Instagram and TikTok, where many creators have built an audience and are already producing a steady stream of content, poses an interesting new opportunity.

In the interior design world, these are the creators who are well-positioned to take part in the new feature, according to Laiza Cors, founder of influencer and digital marketing agency Embello. While Cors doesn’t expect Subscriptions to draw designers who aren’t typically very active on social media, she thinks the program’s in-app monetization features could entice design influencers who are balancing the management of several different platforms along with their regular design work, and might be more inclined to try out subscription-based services on an app they’ve already mastered.

“For a lot of content creators, it definitely is hard to keep up with all of the platforms, and do all of them really well. The more a platform—like Instagram—is able to offer a whole sort of ecosystem for them, I think content creators will definitely gravitate towards that.”

Cors points out that the feature would provide creators with a more direct route to making money on Instagram—instead of going through brands for influencer marketing campaigns, they can get paid for the content they’re already producing independently. Plus, the type of content home influencers typically produce on their own—like DIY tips and tricks, and online design courses—is at an all-time high demand, as homebound users are renovating in record numbers.

Not all designers are champing at the bit to sign up. For Houston designer Marie Flanigan, the idea of having an additional revenue stream through an already established social media channel is interesting. But the designer says the time investment for crafting premium content would have to pull in a sufficient dollar amount to convince her to opt in. Also, while the service would monetize her superfans, she wonders what the impact would be on sponsorship deals.

“Currently, brands and collaborators tend to look at follower counts when considering partnerships, but Subscriptions may change the importance of that metric,” says Flanigan. “I’d like to understand more of how engagement will be tracked within Subscriptions, and whether that will be attractive to brand partners.”

Los Angeles–based designer Anne Sage feels similarly. Between operating a full-service design firm, raising a child and navigating a recent move herself, she says the feature interests her as a way to explore directly monetizing her own content without the added time and effort of learning to navigate a new platform. Still, she has reservations about putting content behind a paywall in a field that’s already saturated with creators posting similar offerings for free. With the often unpredictable nature of content performance on the app, too, she’s not sure it would be worth it to put in the extra effort without knowing for sure what followers would consider premium.

“I could be putting time and energy and my best work into something that no one is seeing, which is already something that really frustrates me about Instagram: views and engagement,” says Sage. “If I’m going to do a subscription model and put up some really great longer DIY or in-depth information video—honestly, are people really going to watch it, when they can just scroll Reels and watch a super gratifying before-and-after video take place in a course of seven seconds?”

Additionally, Sage notes that not all facets of home and design content lend themselves well to the monthly subscription model Instagram is testing out. Fast-moving fields like fashion and food may be able to produce quick-hit content on a daily basis, but the nature of design and home renovation projects is often bound to a slower, more long-term timeline.

“It’s especially tricky because I think that audiences are conditioned to the quick gratification of beauty, fashion and food. And they’re expecting the same from home content, but this industry inherently takes time,” says Sage. “The expectations are totally different than the reality, so it’s exhausting for home content creators because we’re expected to turn out content at the same pace.”

In its announcement, Instagram noted that it would not collect any fees from creators on Facebook or Instagram Subscriptions purchases until 2023 at the earliest—but for Sage, the uncertainty around a content model that’s already subject to frequent change isn’t an encouraging factor. For now, as the initial trial program unfolds, designers still have some time to decide whether it’s worth it to dive in on Subscriptions or keep their content open to all.

Homepage Image: ©Wichayada Suwanachun/Shutterstock

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