The idea that you can make money from Facebook or Instagram posts isn’t exactly new. It’s been possible to make money from the platform for a very long time. All you need to be is famous, and all you need to do is sell products. That’s how “influencers” were born, and that’s why brands are willing to pay celebrities so much money for a single picture with the right hashtag. Unfortunately, being famous is a pretty high barrier to money-making entry for most users of the platform. Things are about to change, though. It’s soon going to be (theoretically) possible for anybody to make money from their Facebook content – but the idea and process still comes with several caveats.
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As of the end of September, Facebook Reels has exited beta testing in the United States of America and is ready to be rolled out across the world. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’re an Instagram user. “Reels” has existed on Instagram for well over a year now, and its success as a money-making endeavour has been mixed (at best), but that hasn’t stopped Mark Zuckerberg’s flagship company from incorporating it into its architecture. Whether we’re talking about Facebook or Instagram, Reels does the same job. It gives creative users a platform to produce and publish short-form video content using various filters and musical add-ons. Reels that are published on Facebook can automatically be posted on a linked Instagram account and vice versa.
Facebook couldn’t possibly have come up with a better name than “Reels” for this concept. It’s intended to be a reference to reels of film, but it could just as easily be a reference to the reels of an online slots website. That could be the more apt comparison. You can spin the reels of an online slots game as much as you like, but you have no way of knowing whether you’ll ever win anything by doing so. You could spin the reels a hundred times and win nothing, but someone else playing slots online right next to you could spin them once and win a fortune. That’s the nature of gambling, and it applies to this as well. The quality of your content might not necessarily mean it goes viral and makes money from you. Someone else might have a similar idea and execute it nowhere near as well as you did, but they go viral and make stacks of cash instead because the right person saw, liked, and shared their video at just the right time.
Unsurprisingly, Facebook doesn’t want users to think of its latest innovation in such terms. Instead, they see it as a level playing field where everybody has the opportunity to get paid for making and uploading content. To show that they’re serious about rewarding people for their work, the company has declared that it’s earmarked one billion dollars to pay creators between now and the end of 2022, and it intends to spend all of it. Even with that bold ambition, though, it should be noted that some of the strategy tied up in that seemingly generous pot involves paying creators to run adverts rather than creating entertaining or informative videos.
Other than the announcement that Facebook Reels is ready to go live and the billion-dollar bounty is available, the company is leaving us light on details. What we do know is that anybody who gets one thousand views on a Facebook Reels video across thirty days will be paid something. What we don’t know is how much they’ll be paid. Presumably, the payment for such a comparatively low number of views would be little more than a few cents. There’s no information about what the rate per view is or whether the payouts are subject to a capped maximum or minimum.
Aside from lacking important financial details, we’re also unclear on when creators in other parts of the world might be able to join the party. As of the time of writing, Facebook Reels is available only to those in the United States of America and works on an invite-only basis. If you weren’t invited to take part in the beta, you might be waiting a while to get an invite to the alpha. You’ll probably be waiting even longer if you live outside the USA, with Facebook only confirming that Reels will become available in the rest of the world “eventually.” That could mean next month, but it could just as easily mean next year.
In a move that’s likely to be popular with people who make Reels but less so with people who want to watch them uninterrupted, creators will be able to include both sticker and banner adverts in their videos, with commissions payable per click and per purchase. Longer-term, it’s clear that Facebook doesn’t want to carry the whole cost of paying its most successful creators. A system called “Stars” will allow viewers to “tip” their favourite creators directly. This system works very well on live streams with Twitch, and something similar is currently in beta testing with Twitter. We know from Instagram Reels that full-screen adverts run on the platform between videos, and they’ll be an important part of the cost-bearing and marketing strategy, too. This is a brave new era for Facebook’s many creative users, but it’s also a brave new era for the platform’s seemingly unstoppable advertising department.
It’s clear that introducing Reels to Facebook is yet another attempt by the social media company to counteract the popularity of TikTok, which was the most downloaded app in the world in 2020. That momentum has carried through into 2021. At the end of July, TikTok became only the second app in history to exceed three billion downloads. The first app to break that barrier was, of course, Facebook. Facebook is still the most popular app in the world, with a monthly active user count of 3.51 billion between Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, but TikTok is gaining ground quickly with an active user count of just over one billion. TikTok is significantly more popular with younger people and creatives than Facebook is, and it has been for a long time. Whether effectively bribing young creators to give Facebook a try is an effective counter-strategy remains to be seen, but the company is prepared to put its money where its mouth is in an attempt to find out.