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Social Networks and the Right to Monetize

We loved Facebook because it was free. The first of its kind, the social network exploded into something that no one could have really predicted. The world’s first almost viral online community, the design of Facebook enabled even those with minimal computer literacy to engage with family and friends, share interests and photographs and connect. There did seem to be a lot of white space on the margins of the sites layout but no one seemed particularly concerned with it.

When Facebook began to monetize the complaining by users began. Turns out that the new revised layout of Facebook had much to do with improving user navigation but also in retooling the site for advertising. When the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising began the social constituency reacted negatively. Unwilling however to give up their use of Facebook, the community learned to accept the banners and targeted advertising prominently featured on the right hand side of their screen.   Users didn’t like it but they learned to cope with it.

The outrage expressed by users of Instagram was fast and quite expected when it announced that it would be changing the terms and conditions for its subscribers. Photographs on the site would be able to be used for sale by Instagram (although how they intended to use the images or commercialise them was not articulated to the public). It was enough for the organization to announce that it owned some rights to the data it was processing and storing on its network. The backlash only seemed to surprise the people at Instagram and Facebook, who own the network.

Read more about the furor on the Guardians article “Instagram reassures users over terms of service after massive outcry”

A debate began. Users and subscribers were frustrated because they wished to maintain absolute copyright and ownership of their images.  But did they have the right to them?  After all, use of Instagram is free.  There is no monthly subscription and there are currently no advertisements on the social network. But they do provide a service, customer support and storage for photo uploads from around the world. Do digital users expect this to continue as a measure of philanthropy?  Is that expectation fair?

There are advertisements on radio, print and television and we promise you there will be advertising on all social media channels eventually.  With the monolithic traffic that the most successful sites gather, it is to be expected that they would like to capitalise on it. Remember that social networks are first and foremost a business. Like the rest of us, they are in business to make money and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What we do see is social networks faced with a rather difficult situation when it comes time to move to a formal monetized model. Some users may feel animosity that the advertisements have been forced upon their user experience. After all, social networks are “ad free” in the beginning deliberately in order to grow a large and successfully engaged audience. Some people feel strongly about the changes and may even reject them angrily, leading to a social media backlash which is exactly what happened to Instagram.  Nonetheless all social networks will and must move to this model in order to survive.

But before you consider Instagram or Facebook to be unique in this hurdle, we would draw your attention to the white space layout in Google+ and Twitter. Those left and right margins seem rather spaced out and empty also, don’t they?  Care to venture a guess as to what that space will be for in the future?

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POSTED ON January 8, 2013 BY Mike IN Marketing



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