The recent announcement by the social networking platform Ning that it is going to close all free accounts and start charging for its services came as quite a surprise for its users, and should serve as a warning sign to all of us about the future of social media in general.
While it’s unlikely that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will start charging for their services at some point while phasing out all free accounts, it IS very possible that these networks will in effect force users to pay by making the free accounts bare-bones and only enabling certain attractive features in paying accounts.
In fact, the more we become invested in social media, the bigger the risk that at some point, if social media platforms decide to start charging a fee, we will be in a situation where we simply have to pay.
Of course, for most businesses, use of social media is not truly free anyway – you either pay for someone like me to run your social media, or you do it yourself in your own time, and we all know that time is money. I will also venture a guess that if fees are indeed levied at some point they will be fairly low, much lower than advertising in traditional mediums, and so most businesess will see it as a worthwhile expense.
However, since most private users will likely balk at paying, social media could become – even more than it is today – a place where businesses basically yell at each other without listening, broadcasting their messages to an audience that isn’t there to buy.
Not a bright future for social media.