Instagram is Moving to a “Pay To Play” Model and Why I’m Pissing Mad About It

Y’ know, I never wanted to be an influencer.

From the moment I created my social media accounts—every single one of them—my desire was to use them to grow my business. I used Instagram to highlight product launches, sales, and new information for my customers. I used TikTok to show the daily behind-the-scenes of the business, and to help people get to know me (the owner of the business) so they could feel like they were buying from someone they knew and trusted.

Along the way, I’ve gained a pretty substantial following. My content has changed over the years, especially after watching my business slow-burn in the economic downturn following the pandemic. These days, I use my social media accounts to talk about women’s empowerment, feminism, mental health, and parenthood. I have a book on these same topics coming out later this year, and my socials have been a wonderful tool for connecting with potential readers. In every way, I have curated and pruned my social media platforms to work for me. Now, with Meta’s recent announcement that creators can enroll in a program that will “guarantee” more views and engagement, it feels like now we’re supposed to be working for social media.

The Meta Verified program for businesses is rolling out a tiered program where business accounts can, essentially, pay for views and engagement. These plans start at $14.99/month and go all the way up to almost $500/month at the highest tier. The priciest tiers promise Search Optimization and enhanced visibility—essentially making you easier to find by people who are searching for something like what you offer, and more easily stumbled upon by people passively scrolling through the app.

Imagine; $500/month just so your audience will actually get to see your content.

I have several issues with this. First, these prices are absolutely inaccessible for most small brands and businesses, thus allowing bigger brands with more expansive budgets to crowd out the smaller businesses who are struggling to survive. Second, they have been planning this for some time, and have been bread-crumbing their users in preparation for the launch of this program.

Many of us creators and businesses have noticed our engagement slowly decline over the last few months. Whereas we used to get good or even great views, comments, likes, and sales proportionally to our follower count, now many of us are struggling to get our content seen at all. This was done with a purpose: it was done to get those of us who rely on Instagram to grow our brand and business to feel so defeated and discouraged that the roll-out of this greedy and predatory program would feel like a welcome opportunity. They hoped that we would happily shell out these absurdly high monthly rates to get our desperately-needed engagement back.

And I’m just absolutely pissing mad about that.

Why does everything in this country have to operate under this capitalistic hellscape mentality that only benefits the people who are already at the top? Why is it okay that celebrities and multi-billion dollar brands will be able to shell out these costs without so much as a drop of sweat and rake in the profits as a result, while small businesses have to swim in the shark infested social media waters without so much as a life preserver?

It’s not right. It’s infuriating. And what makes me the most angry of all is that I don’t think it’s ever going to get better.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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