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Which brands will actually pay for Twitter’s pay-to-play verification?


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

April 6, 2023 | 6 min read

Elon Musk’s ownership has driven advertisers from the platform. Can it at least keep brands posting with its new verification scheme?

The Twitter logo, with the white bird replaced by flames

Will advertisers return to Twitter under the new Twitter Blue subscription service? / Twitter

This week, Twitter’s labeling on its ’blue tick’ certification was changed to obfuscate whether the user pays for Twitter Blue or is a legacy blue tick. It has made it more difficult for the average user to discern these differences.

It’s the latest change to a system that’s causing problems for companies operating on Twitter. ​Verification – the source of the ‘blue tick’ on users’ and brands’ profiles – was seen as a flawed but serviceable part of Twitter’s brand safety approach pre-Elon Musk takeover. But under his leadership, it has been one of the most contentious changes and has contributed, in part, to advertising revenue falling off a cliff.

Various reports put the collapse at around 40% after major advertisers paused spending and rowed back even further after Musk rolled out a shortlived pay-to-play verification scheme that resulted in many major brands being impersonated.

For individuals and organizations with legacy blue ticks, the goalposts have been repeatedly moved. Musk announced they would lose the ticks at the beginning of April, then stated in a now-deleted tweet that they would have “a few more weeks“. This vacillation is probably driven in large part by a widespread refusal to pay: according to a report from Similarweb, less than 1% of users pay for Twitter Blue.

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It is compounded by confusion regarding what will actually cause brands to lose the blue tick. After the New York Times stated it would not pay, Musk ordered the removal of its verification, though other organizations that have made similar statements have not had theirs removed.

Mike Allton, head of strategic partnerships at social media management platform Agorapulse, says: “I don’t see this having any long-term impact on brands or advertisers at all. At least not from the perspective of the blue checkmark itself, and whatever status it may or may not have endowed those with it. My real concern is whether this ploy has a positive impact on user retention and usage or not.

“The benefits of Twitter Blue are there to encourage users – particularly content creators – to invest more time and energy into the platform and be rewarded with greater reach and visibility, which in turn would improve how much time their followers spend on the Twitter platform. That is the real issue for advertisers and one that must be addressed through a combination of new features, improved usability and fostered relationships with creators.”

Twitter has since implemented a tiered system of verification, from the standard blue tick to gold ticks for brands. Now, as users can pay for the blue tick, impersonations are on the rise again.

Richard Oldfield is vice-president and executive director of media and connections at RGA. He says: ”It has added to the confusion, unfortunately. We’ve already seen fake accounts get verified. In the short term at least, by solely equating authenticity and credibility to those willing to pay, Twitter seems to have created a more chaotic environment.”

Per Musk’s statements on Twitter, the most recent changes are in service of making Twitter more meritorious (though this is widely disputed) and brand safe. But for much of the marketing industry, the changes do not address the issues they have with brand safety on the service.

Chaos bird

Andrew Graham, founder and head of strategy at Bread & Law, says: “It certainly doesn’t help Twitter become brand-safe again. I’ve been on the record for a while now saying that the instant Elon gutted moderation on the platform and re-platformed its most toxic users ensured brand safety on Twitter was going to plummet to absolute zero. I don’t think it’s quite at zero yet, but it’s getting close. Assuming the changes can be rolled out at scale without breaking other parts of the platform – and that’s no sure thing, but assuming that’s the case – then all it does is make verification pretty meaningless.”

He does, however, suggest that the new pay-to-play blue tick has a secondary use: “There are a lot of brands on the planet and I do believe some will sign up for Twitter Blue. That’s because paying the fee is a quick, cheap way to signal that you’re pro-Musk and pro-Republican without actually saying that.”

Meanwhile, the issues around brand safety are compounded by Musk’s Twitter confusing ’verification’ with subscriptions. Jasmine Enberg, a principal analyst at Insider Intelligence’s eMarketer specializing in social media, says: “Charging loyal and frequent users of a social platform for access to premium features isn’t inherently a bad idea, but verification is inherently a security, rather than a premium feature. The value exchange isn’t there for most users to subscribe and Twitter Blue will not make up for the ad revenue losses Twitter continues to incur.“

The Drum asked Twitter: ‘How would the Twitter team describe the current state of brand safety on the platform following the deployment of Twitter Blue?’ The response we received was simply a poop emoji.

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