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Adland on alert after Meta Verification announcement sees surge in ‘deactivate’ searches

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By Kendra Barnett | Senior Reporter

February 21, 2023 | 9 min read

Following news that Meta will roll out a subscription tier promising pay-for-play verification and enhanced reach, experts explain how the move will impact the tech giant’s ads business.

Verification checkmarks

Meta plans to hand out blue checkmarks to paying users in the coming months / Adobe Stock

In the wake of Meta’s announcement Sunday that it plans to follow in Twitter’s footsteps and introduce a subscription service that lets users pay for a coveted ‘verified’ checkmark, searches for ‘deactivate Facebook’ and ‘deactivate Instagram’ are up by 1,900% and 1,566%, respectively, per data from VPNOverview.com.

It’s clear that many consumers aren’t pleased with the tech titan’s decision. It may be due in part to the fact that consumers see pay-for-verification schemes defeating some of the primary purposes of verification on social media – a guarantee that a profile is authentic and belongs to a notable user and a signifier that makes content discovery easier for everyday users. “That’s being lost here unless Meta has good plans and ideas to signal in other ways what accounts are noteworthy,” says Matt Navarra, a leading social media consultant and analyst – and the source who uncovered the company’s internal plans to launch Meta Verified, forcing the tech giant to announce the product this week.

Plus, experts – including Navarra – don’t think the deal is even worthwhile for paying customers. “It will appeal to people who desperately want to have a blue tick and want to see if they can boost their reach. The other things [it promises, however], seem pretty frivolous and unexciting and unenticing,” he says.

In particular, the algorithmic preference promises to paying subscribers, Navarra estimates, will be underwhelming, considering that “Meta seems to be setting people’s expectations quite low in terms of the language they’re using around reach and visibility-boosting.” And starting at $11.99 per month via web or $14.99 per month on iOS, “the price point is high” for what you’re getting, says Navarra.

Despite such skepticism, the company characterizes the new subscription service as just a small part of a broader strategy. “We’re making good progress in our core ads business in a challenging operating environment – with more than $100bn in revenue last year,” a Meta spokesperson tells The Drum. “We’ve previously shared our intention to explore other ways to add value for our partners and generate new sources of revenue for our business.”

The role of ad revenue

On top of the potential downsides of the steep price tag and less-than-fabulous perks, Meta – unlike Twitter – has not shared any plans to offer an ad-free or reduced ads subscription option.

And it’s this point in particular that hints at Meta’s primary motivation: it can’t and won’t give up ad revenue. Meta’s ads business is responsible for the majority of the company’s revenue – in 2022, advertising brought in more than $113bn for the social media giant.

But the business is bleeding. When Apple rolled out its AppTrackingTransparency framework in early 2021 – a feature that allows users to easily block cross-app tracking (thereby inhibiting user-level ad targeting) – it hamstrung Meta’s supremacy in the world of advertising. In fact, at the time, Meta estimated that the change would cost it $10bn in ad revenue in 2022.

Combined with a slowdown in the rate of monthly active user growth, Meta’s weakened ads business may have forced the tech company’s hand. “This is a quick win, low-hanging fruit, easy-lift piece of work for them to generate a new revenue stream in a time when there are strong economic headwinds and when they are needing to … diversify some of their revenue streams,” says Navarra. Plus, he notes, Meta has seen the success that competitors like Twitter, YouTube, Discord, Snap and others have had with paid subscription tiers, which helps eliminate some of the risk factors. “Why wouldn't you grab that extra bit of revenue?”

It's worth noting that not all experts share the view that Meta Verified was designed to help alleviate ad losses. Some – like Luke Lintz, chief exec at HighKey Enterprises, a digital marketing firm specializing in social media verification – believe the revenue generated by this kind of program will be little more than a blip on the radar for Meta and was rolled out only to buoy “a support budget” for subscribers.

Meta, for its part, sees the new service as a way to add value, but doesn't “expect it to be a significant driver of our revenue as we test and learn,” a spokesperson says.

The spokesperson also notes that Meta’s ad performance is improving – in the last quarter, advertisers on Meta platforms saw conversions jump 20% compared to the year prior. Plus, investments in its TikTok-like short-form video product Reels and its AI discovery engine are driving up user engagement.

In the best-case scenario, Meta Verified could help bolster Meta’s ads business further. “They've created a paid tier that's expressly targeting creators – creators who are not self-identifying as businesses, by the way, [since the program] is only for personal profiles. In theory, if more creators returned to Facebook, not only would that amount to more users to advertise to, but they might also build more audience on the platform, resulting in even more advertising potential,” says Mike Allton, a social media influencer and head of strategic partnerships at social media management platform Agorapulse.

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A flash in the pan?

Despite its potential for attracting more ad spend, the program detracts from what should be bigger business priorities for Meta, Allton says. “At a time when consumer usage is struggling in the face of competition from other apps, and advertising revenue is taking a hit, Meta seemingly should be working on innovative new features and design which could lure mainstream consumers back to the platform – Facebook, in particular.”

In fact, Meta’s verification scheme could quickly become a relic of the past, Allton ventures: “I predict this is a service that will be deprecated within 12 months.” He’s in agreement with Navarra that the perks for subscribers aren’t all that appealing – and may actually prove to be more of a hassle than anything. “While verification, personal support, and ‘increased reach’ sound nice, it comes at a rather hefty cost to creators. I suspect many creators will find the idea of paying to use Facebook and build an audience there distasteful,” he says.

Not to mention that the announcement is somewhat ill-timed considering the state of the economy. “Meta has announced this program at a time when their target audience is likely already struggling financially,” says Allton. “Advertisers might appreciate the effort from Meta to bring more users to the platform but, ultimately, I don’t see it resulting in any meaningful increase in advertising inventory or effectiveness.”

In any case, the announcement of Meta Verified is part of a larger trend – one that could upend the current ecosystem by normalizing a mix of free, ad-supported offerings and paid subscriptions.

“With more companies adopting strategies like this,” a VPNOverview.com spokesperson said in a statement shared with The Drum, “It will be interesting to see in the future if the social media landscape will change and become fragmented as opposed to the centralized model we have now.”

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