Written by Zakhar Protsiuk and Anton Protsiuk

Telegram, an increasingly popular messaging app turned media ecosystem, has emerged as one of the most productive spaces for developing membership. 

With bespoke solutions often unaffordable for smaller outlets, the platform is increasingly being used to host member-only content or as a tool for developing broader membership programs. It represents a trend towards democratising the membership model. 

Telegram as a media platform

Although primarily a messenger, Telegram has emerged as a prominent global media platform —  from Iran to Belarus news outlets and journalists are relying on the messenger. 

Telegram provides an unusual set of tools for publishers, allowing them to combine privacy features and mass distribution firepower. In countries with authoritarian regimes, the platform also provides a good way to circumvent internet censorship. 

Telegram groups allow communication with up to 200,000 people in a group chat mode and provide fine-grained technical tools for managing the communication flow, such as various admin rights, “slow mode” that limits the amount of messages that could be sent at once and more. Channels meanwhile, which can be both public and private, make it possible to broadcast to unlimited audiences.

Telegram is also increasingly used as a platform for community building. As discussed at The Fix’s #MediaRevolutions conference, Telegram communities have proven to be more engaged than on other social media platforms. For example, Hromadske, a prominent Ukrainian digital media outlet, says that nearly half of its paying members predominantly engage with its content on Telegram. This is extraordinary, given that its Telegram channel has around 30 thousand followers – a fraction compared to other social media (almost one million followers on Facebook and close to 500 thousand on YouTube).   

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Paid member-only spaces on Telegram

Telegram has not yet offered a simple way to natively build monetisation into its member-only spaces. Thus, publishers mostly rely on external solutions for enabling paywall or other monetisation tools.

For example, InviteMember allows outlets to start a paid subscription service via a “subscription bot,” or a third-party app that operates inside Telegram and serves as a layer between the publisher and users. The service works with major payment providers such as PayPal and Stripe and also accepts cryptocurrencies. For its basic plan, InviteMember takes a 10% commission for every transaction.

InviteMember’s example of its user interface

There are other similar services – such as Paywall.pw, which operates primarily on the Russian market and uses a similar mechanism. The service works with major credit card providers and charges a 20% transaction fee.

A paywalled Russian-language blog enabled by Paywall.pw

Most news publishers that have a membership model, however, use private Telegram channels and chats as a communication tool with their members and don’t primarily rely on the Telegram ecosystem. 

Hromadske, for example, hosts its member-only chat in Telegram and uses it as the main direct communication tool with its paying members. 

Another Ukrainian outlet, The Ukrainians, has its member-only channel to share internal updates and information about community events. They also use a private Facebook group for similar purposes.

More from The Fix: A community solution to a flawed media market / Top Ukrainian media builds travel, payments industry solutions into unique membership model  

Perspectives for Telegram

In April, Telegram announced it would introduce a new payment platform, enabling channel admins to set up native payment that can be used for selling goods and services.

Although not directly related to member-only content, this update brings new monetisation opportunities for publishers. The new feature allows merchants to accept payments relying on several payment providers, including Stripe. Unlike the current options, it’s commission-free. It also offers greater privacy than existing solutions and has added benefits, like the ability to save payment and shipping information.

Using this infrastructure for enabling a native solution for member-only content seems like a logical next step for the platform. 

Member-only content on social media

It’s not clear whether Telegram will enable recurring payments in the near future. However, there are reasons to believe that messaging apps and social media platforms will further lean in this direction as part of the ongoing trend of launching member-only content projects via social media messengers.

Last year, WeChat, the Chinese messaging and social media super-app, introduced WeChat Paywall, which allows verified creators to put up paywalls for their posts. Similarly, Facebook launched its Fan subscriptions, which allows recurring monthly payments for access to creators’ content. Twitter also now allows users to host paid live shows inside audio rooms on Spaces. 

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