Paying to be Social: How Possible Changes to Facebook Could Impact Lives and Businesses

An opinion piece by Suzanne Hennessey

This past Tuesday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about the ongoing privacy issues that the social media giant has recently been facing. I didn’t livestream it since I figured that, since it’s Facebook, they wouldn’t get into any real trouble. However, as I was reading about his testimony the following day, I came across something that gave me a true OMG moment.

What Was Said

The question came from Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah. He quoted Zuckerberg’s testimony from a 2010 visit to capitol hill.

You said back then that ”Facebook would always be free”. Is that still your objective?”

I know you’re thinking, “Of course it’ll be, how can they charge for Facebook?” However, in true Zuckerberg style, his response was cool but unexpected.

Senator, yes, there will always be a version of Facebook that is free.”

Wait? A version? Could this be suggesting a possible paid version of our beloved social site? Let’s say that if in the not-so-distant future, Facebook creates an ad-free, subscription-based version of their service. We may have to pay to share our lives and thoughts with the world. Let me explain why this is a terrifying idea.

Scary Thoughts

First, the cost. I can only imagine Facebook becoming a paid subscription service like Netflix and Hulu. The price would start out low, considering there are over a billion people on Facebook, so a $1 a month charge sounds reasonable (fingers crossed).

However, if these subscription services have taught us anything, it’s that it won’t be long before we start seeing small price increases or “other pricing options available for a better experience”.

So now I’m asking myself if I want to pay a monthly fee to be social. Is one more subscription tied to my bank account worth feeling more connected to the world?

Now, let’s think about this more from a business prospective. What would pricing be for business accounts? I imagine they’ll have to pay much more, but would having a Facebook page without being able to promote your ads be enough to get your page noticed? If Facebook started seeing less users because of this new, possible version, would it even be worth the effort?

The Bigger Issue

And then there’s the biggest issue of all; a huge company that spends millions of dollars a year to advertise wouldn’t blink an eye at paying for a Facebook account, but what about smaller businesses? We’re talking small, mom-and-pop shops and companies with less than 20 employees.

Will they be forced to remove themselves from the best advertising platform ever because they can’t afford it? Or will those that can even benefit from Facebook without being able to advertise?

This brings me to my final thought, let’s not forget that there are other FREE options out there. I’m not taking anything away from Facebook. It’s a one-of-a-kind social platform that forever changed the world, and when you break it down, there’s nothing truly like it, but let’s be real. Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat all allow us to get our selfies, thoughts on last night’s Scandal episode and business ads out to the world for free.

Yes, there’s an option to pay for a better reach on Instagram now, but that’s exactly what it is, an option! Could we see these free social sites eventually become a new, possible subscription-based Facebook? Or worse, what if this possible Facebook model is a huge success? Will these other platforms soon follow its business model?

One Last Thought

There are so many questions that a subscription-based Facebook poses that it makes my brain hurt. The thought of paying for my digital life to be ad-free while it protects my privacy (and sanity) has me a little uneasy.

But I wonder, as a society who’s made social platforms (specifically Facebook) a way of life, would we really be able to revert back to a pre-social media life? Could our lives and businesses successfully continue in a world without access to millions of people at our fingertips? Or will we give in to the Zuckerbergs of the world and show them that we’re willing to pay whatever we can to keep our social footprints alive and ad-free?

The answer to these questions are yet to be seen, and I for one am hoping Mr. Zuckerberg can rally his team of geniuses to provide us with a more private and less chaotic version of Facebook that doesn’t involve our bank accounts.

Suzanne is a social media strategist and occasional writer with Imagine It Studios.