Recently, I’ve come across a question in a business meeting; “Do I have to pay to join a special group on Facebook?”

At first, I must say I couldn’t quite comprehend the question. I started to think, “A special group on Facebook that has a paid membership option?” while the lady continued; “There’s a closed group that I want to join but the administrator demands a registration fee. Should I pay?” Of course, my first reaction was thinking that the guy is a fraud. Afterward, I’ve realized this subject has more than one aspect and decided to analyze it.

The founder of Facebook, Zuckerberg has a clear statement about its expense policy: Facebook will never be a paid platform. For whom? All the users, whether it’s a personal or corporate account. Everyone will be able to create an account, add friends, follow pages, and share content freely.

In the last 10 years, Facebook being in the first rank, most of the other leading social networks seem to follow the same principle. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest… None of them requests a fee for registration. On the other hand, we’re aware that these platforms have a very large amount of income. A simple question pops in one’s mind: “Where does all this money come from?” The answer sounds very simple as well: advertising. It’s true but not entirely.

The correct answer is: “information”

Information vs Money!

Back in my college days, this was one of the most frequently-discussed topics. Surely from a totally different point of view. “Which one is more valuable; money or information?”, we were asking this question to each other.

Although our motivations varied, we were on the same page about one thing; information can buy money but money can not always buy information.

In fact, debates offer a lot of subjective points, which makes them interesting. “How much money are we talking about?” For instance, Coca Cola’s recipe hasn’t been sold yet but does this mean it will never be? What is the “selling number” of this information?

From a business perspective, of course, it is possible to find a monetary compensation. But that does not mean we can buy that information anyway.

Let’s take it from here and have a closer look at Facebook’s income methods. Millions of members of a free social platform, share their personal information, daily practices, likes – dislikes with their friends.

In doing so, a person uses photos and videos as much as text. She produces her own content in every direction. She re-shares shared content with different social identities. Everyone interprets them and a “re-mix” comes out. In fact, our lives are just like that. There are only fewer borders and things are progressing much faster.

Let’s remember whom Time magazine chose as “The Person of the Year” in 2006: You! Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your own world.”

The cover is a nice one. An iMac computer has a YouTube interface on its screen and the big “You” part has a mirror-like glow. When you want to read the magazine, you see yourself on the cover. As a matter of fact, it shows everybody as content producers of this age and argues that we are the ones who shaped this era.

 

Would you sabotage yourself?

Imagine yourself as Facebook and think for a second, how you would make money? Using the information, of course! And it’s the information which doesn’t belong to you!

At this point, it is not right to criticize Facebook. Obviously, there is an added value. There is an interpretation of the relations, bringing together the groups which are far away from each other and putting them into context. So there is a transformed service format. Facebook tells us; if you want your content to reach more people, there will be a fee. If you want to reach specific people (age group, location, specific interests, etc.), which means if you want to make targeted communication, you will be charged more. That’s all. Think twice: Would Facebook ask their users to pay for membership? Of course “never”! Oh yes, they are smarter than that.

The Nature of the Platform

I will not get into a deep discussion on purchasing habits and behaviors, but I think we might agree on one thing; adding a value is important in the purchase of a service. Returning to the previous question that I’ve been asked, I do not know what that closed group promises nor what it does, but obviously, there is an added value. Otherwise, the lady would not even think about paying. However, something is missing, which makes her skeptical about the payment.

Let me tell you immediately what is wrong; producing a business model that is contrary to the nature of the platform. A simple example is trying to rent the apartment to someone else although you stay free of charge. Provide as much value as you want, it’s a kind of piracy. However, you can create your own business/service infrastructure and earn money using many free services on the internet. Only then you will have to pay to reach these people. Don’t you think that the problem starts with the fact that you’re unwilling to do this?

Social media will never be a paid service in total in an environment where content is produced by the user. For this to change, it must be transformed into a structure that provides added value directly. This would mean the death of social media the way we know it.