Tsū is the latest social media platform claiming to be an alternative to Facebook. What’s new about Tsū is that it will apparently pay you to use the service. That’s right, not only is it free to use but you’ll actually make money by using it. Well, if it sounds too good to be true it almost certainly is. However, there are some reasons why tsū is an important example and why it says a lot about what mainstream social media are and how we can define alternatives.
1. If it’s free to use, then you’re the commodity…
A lot of people seem to think that the way Facebook makes money is by owning the content you create (the photos, etc.) and selling them to advertisers. This is not how it works. Facebook isn’t selling content to advertisers, it is selling future clicks on adverts. Based on what you have clicked on in the past, Facebook sells a profile of predicted future clicks. TV advertising works in exactly the same way, and the concept of the audience commodity has been used by theorists like Christian Fuchs to explain how Facebook makes its money. The main difference is that with TV advertising, companies had to do the work of creating demographic profiles of audiences and using these to determining programme and time-specific prices. With Facebook, you do all of this work; all Facebook needs to do is track your clicks and how long you dwell on content, package this data and sell you, as a potential clicker to advertisers. You do (almost) all of the work and Facebook gets (completely) all of the revenue.
2. … but not that much of a commodity.
One fact of this model is that the advertising revenue per user is miniscule. Facebook only makes money from this because it has so many users – so many potential clicks – to sell.