Casey Newton is the very model of a modern technology reporter.
He breaks news, has mastered Twitter, and he built a newsletter so popular at the Vox Media tech site The Verge that he left in September to write his own newsletter for Substack called Platformer. Newton reports on major tech platforms, but he’s also figured out how to use them to build a loyal, paying audience.
So when Twitter announced Super Follows, a way for users to paywall some of their tweets for those willing to pay a few bucks, Newton was intrigued. He’s not set on doing it, but it may make sense given his existing commitment to what he calls “tiered-access journalism.”
“I’m not particularly worried about a Twitter paywall because I’ve sort of already paywalled myself,” he said, “and the main thing I’ve learned is that people value my work.”
Twitter’s paywalled approach reflects a social media industry more aware of the evolving needs of professional and up-and-coming creators. In recent years, platforms like Substack, celebrity shout-out app Cameo, adult-centered OnlyFans and creator marketplace Patreon have grown popular by bridging the gap between creators and their fans. On social media, tipping creators on sites like TikTok, Instagram and Twitch has become more commonplace. Snapchat, famously private, has started paying creators on its Spotlight feature, and Facebook recently announced a suite of new web and newsletter tools for writers.
The creator economy is maturing rapidly. Users are more readily paying their favorite influencers, and apps are changing up their formulas to court the best creators and drive more revenue. But platforms are also competing to offer the best deals for creators. When Twitter acquired newsletter company Revue in January, it made the platform free to use and cut its fee to 5% to compete with Substack, which takes a 10% cut on transactions.
But with Super Follows, Newton is concerned about the finances. Unlike email newsletters, Super Follows will depend on the mobile app economy, which is a source of tension for app developers.
“Apple is going to take a 30% cut, and Twitter is also presumably going to take a cut, and there may be payment processing fees on top of that,” he said. “So there’s a world where like 45% of Super Follower revenue goes to someone other than me.”
A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment on the payment structure, which has not yet been announced. But in an interview with The Verge’s editor in chief Nilay Patel, Twitter head of consumer product Kayvon Beykpour said that “for Super Follows, our goal is not for Twitter to make money,” but rather for creators to make money. Beykpour said Twitter may take a cut to “cover our cost,” but its goal isn’t to “maximize revenue.”
While Twitter hasn’t finalized the specs of Super Follows, it signifies a greater push to build a creator economy on the platform.
“We’ve always had influencers on Twitter, but as far as marketing directly to those influencers with monetization, I feel like Twitter’s been behind on that,” said Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. We are seeing every social platform “double down” on wooing established and up-and-coming influencers.
Platforms need popular creators on their apps to keep users engaged, said Jessica Liu, senior analyst at Forrester.
“It’s somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between the social networks who benefit from creators producing content, populating it on their platforms and keeping users engaged and spending more time in the app,” Liu said. Creators benefit as they build a brand, seek endorsements and “make a career out of their social media presence.”
While he does the math and waits for more details, Newton is still thinking through ways he could use Super Follows. He sees the benefits of writing tweets for a much smaller crowd of paid subscribers, particularly because it can be a more manageable conversation with a group of people who have “shared context” for the discussion. Super Follows could allow him to tweet in a different way for a crowd that wants something beyond the Twitter chatter.
“Small groups create shared context, and shared context is not only good for conversation but arguably necessary,” Newton said. “Twitter is great for a lot of things, but it also totally destroys context, so everyone is miserable all the time because no one feels like they’re talking to a sane or rational person. [With] Super Follows, I hope we can bring that back.”