We get it, a companies responsibility is to it’s shareholders, and there’s a lot of pressure to cut expenses (see the recent massive rounds of tech layoffs) and find new revenue streams for the business. But sometimes this runs the risk of grasping for straws, and there’s no better example of this right now than seeing Twitter and Facebook attempting to monetize the blue checkmark.
Before we start, a quick recap on what the blue checkmark was.
The blue checkmark was a way to prove that not only was an account the real account of a person using the platform, but that they were a known authority or celebrity in their field. It was tough to get the checkmark unless you could clearly prove that you were a well known figure in your profession, and it required you in most cases to have a strong public facing presence. This could include everything from being a regular speaker, to publishing per reviewed scientific papers.
The difficulty in obtaining the blue checkmark gave it a significant value to users, both those who often faced scammers creating duplicate accounts, and for users, who could trust that the user was who they said they were, and that they were an authority in their field.
But then what happened?
Then the recession hit. A huge number of companies started reporting missed earnings and downward trends in the business, some people found themselves between a rather significant rock, and an even harder hard place, see Elon Musk. Twitter and Facebook both saw large drops in advertising revenue as the economic crunch hit and a large number of companies slashed their advertising budgets.
Not unsurprisingly, as is apt to happen during a recession, many companies, especially in tech, a rather bloated industry in terms of valuation, and much more volatile,, started making moves to improve their bottom line. We saw the layoffs, and the price bumps, from software fees to the price of food. But for some companies, this wasn’t enough.
Twitter, and shortly thereafter Facebook, implemented the subscription model for the blue checkmark. True, the requirement for proof of identity retained the value of ensuring the profile was owned by the company, or person. But suddenly, anyone could buy this verification for less than a Netflix membership.
The value of knowing that the person was well known, or authoritative in a field, suddenly disappeared. The product that was being sold, suddenly no longer had that value. Instead the blue checkmark became a subscription service for confirming your identity, and helping remove fakes, and at $84 a year or $124 a year for Facebook, it’s a pretty pricey option at that.
Both Twitter and Facebook tried to prop this up with some fringe benefits, but in truth it as clear to everyone that this was a crash grab. For many of us, it was equally clear that those making the decision to monetize the blue checkmark didn’t understand it’s core value.
Many previous blue checkmark holders are not paying for this verification, after all, they don’t really need it. Instead thousands of want to be celebrities and scammers are jumping on the blue checkmark as a way to create perceived value, further eroding the actual value the blue checkmark used to provide.
The decision to monetize the identity verification, and support removing fake accounts might be worth it to some, but in reality, this is a whole new product line, monetizing a basic service that existed before.
The product misunderstanding here was not what the product did (verified a user was real), but that the products value differed from it’s output.
But what’s going to happen next?
Given the financial stresses on Facebook and Twitter, it’s unlikely we’ll see this go away anytime soon. The scammers and the wannabes are buying subscriptions in droves, which is going to make a small but significant improvement to revenue for these struggling tech giants.
The base misunderstanding of the blue checkmark product means that the product has changed, and going forward, it’s unlikely to ever return to what it used to provide. We’ve already seen Twitter launch Gold and Grey checkmarks to replace the lost value of the blue checkmark, but this complication is unlikely to regain lost ground, and it doesn’t help the thousands of people who are notable, but don’t fit in to the business or government/military classification system.