Social media revenue opportunities can mean profits for the platform, content providers, and content users

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Q&A social platforms provide ideal models to monetize digital content 

by: Patty Mah, Associate Director, Communications & External Relations

an image of a hand holding a phone
Web surfers googling questions can receive the answers they’re looking mostly for free. With the digitization of content new business models and opportunities to generate revenue such as subscription-based and pay-per-item models are becoming more popular. Digital content consumers may soon need to empty our pockets to get timely answers from well-sourced and respected digital contributors.

A collaborative study by researchers from the universities of Waterloo, Oklahoma, Auckland, and Zhejiang Gongshang, determined that Facebook, Twitter, and potentially other less than profitable social media platforms can migrate from an ad-based revenue model to a paid question and answer (Q&A) model. Theophanis Stratopoulos, associate professor at the University of Waterloo and his group found that successful platforms such as Weibo Q&A, utilize a model that generates revenue from paid viewership within a paid Q&A platform where the askers, answerers, and the platform share in the profits. This unique revenue sharing model among all stakeholders ensures the sustainability of the social media platform and incentivizes both the askers and answerers to contribute quality content and heightens the engagement of viewers and their content purchasing.

“Imagine if nobody posted content on Facebook,” notes Stratopoulos. “We visit social media platforms because we want to consume content produced by other users. Yet, under the existing model, Facebook contributors are not compensated for their work.”

This study is one of the first to validate the direct positive impact of social media status and social endorsement on the sales of paid viewership. Prior to this study, understanding of digital content consumption had primarily been focused on the free content model. Understanding of the drivers of the sales of paid viewership is a crucial component to leveraging and developing viable content monetization models. The collaborative study looked at the unique design features that differentiate the paid Q&A models from the free models – question price and content perishability. In a paid Q&A platform, users pay a viewership fee and revenues from the sales of viewership fees are shared among the stakeholders. The research provided a more nuanced understanding of how question price and content perishability alters viewers’ payment decisions.

“Our study examines a scenario where revenue sharing is beneficial for contributors and social media platforms,” explains Stratopoulos. “Content within social medial platforms tend to behave like hot cookies. They sell better when they’re fresh creating a constant need to entice users to provide new content. Currently, users have no monetary incentive to provide new content.”

social media

While the social media status of an answerer can have a significant effect on the sales of paid viewership, it is critical for the digital content platform to build effective status-ranking mechanisms that can verify the answerer’s social identity and integrity. Interactions and endorsements from other users also affect the sales of paid viewership as more viewers engage and interact to raise content awareness.

“The idea that a user who posts on Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platform should receive a payment representing their contribution to the company’s revenues may sound preposterous. However, the gradual adoption and/or creation of new platforms built on blockchain technology will make the solution to such accounting problem trivial.” – Stratopoulos

The study demonstrates that a revenue sharing model would help platform managers to address the perishability of content problem in a way that is beneficial for both sides. 


by Hua Jonathan Ye (University of Oklahoma), Xueping Yang (Zhejiang Gongshang University), Xinwei Wang (University of Auckland), and Theophanis Stratopoulos (University of Waterloo)