Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

Social media use has grown rapidly over the last decade. According to a 2019 report, more than 3.4 billion people actively use social media, amounting to a whopping 45 percent of the world’s population. While this means that more than half of the planet is relying, at least in part, on their phones for communication, the skyrocketing growth of online communities has had another social side effect: the rise of social media influencers.

Social media influencers are personalities who’ve typically built a reputation for having knowledge on a specific topic, and tend to make regular posts about that topic across their preferred social media channels. Over time, these individuals garner significant followings of enthusiastic users readily invested in the ideas and opinions expressed by the influencer.

Moreover, it has become common practice for influencers to monetize their fame through sponsored posts, partnerships with brands, and other similar collaborations. Now, though, many are looking to cash in on their reputations in another way: by establishing paywalls through which followers buy their way to more “personal” online content.

Despite it being common practice for influencers to share close to their entire lives on social media, there’s a growing demand among followers of these personalities for more behind-the-scenes content from their beloved influencers. Influencers are responding accordingly.

Take the case of Caroline Calloway, a 28-year-old University of Cambridge student with more than 716,000 followers. Calloway hit the news late last year when the complicated details of her working and personal relationship with her ghostwriter, Natalie Beach, went viral. On the back of the scandal, she announced her upcoming book titled “Scammer.” For fans unable to wait, access to her “close friends” list on Instagram can now be bought.

Calloway’s paid access scheme launched last August via Patreon, where fans can pay a monthly fee of $3 to have access to her “close friends” content. Calloway has defended the move, claiming the content fans receive is worth the money and that she isn’t the only one putting a price tag on her private moments.

At the very least, influencers adopting paywalls in the style of the New York Times or Washington Post is a fascinating development in influencer marketing. Other influencers are charging their followers anything from a few dollars to hundreds in hard-earned cash, selling access to a range of content, merchandise and, in more than one case, used bath water.

There are concerns, however, that the increasing number of influencers deciding to monetize their own contact is going to have a negative impact on the paid collaborations between influencers and brands. If Patreon and other subscription platforms become influencers’ main source of income, they may not be as available to work on external collaborations with brands as they once were.

Still, there’s hope: perhaps this shift may herald a new opportunity to form long-term—and more effective—partnerships with influencers behind their respective paywalls.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5W Public Relations.