The Gist

  • Verification please. Meta is introducing verified social media profiles on Facebook and Instagram.
  • User interest. Social media is at a crossroads for retaining user interest.
  • Taking stock. Marketers remain interested yet cautious about what kind of social media environment will emerge.

Social media has reached a critical crossroads this year. Major platforms continue to demonstrate their vitality through consistent daily user engagement; however, the robust audience growth experienced in their early years has begun to wane. This shift can be attributed to the increasing variety of options available for virtual community-building and connection. Enter verified social media profiles. 

Some social media platforms have begun offering verified accounts — subscription versions of their free profiles — that include premium features. These account choices won’t solve every audience problem platforms have, so marketers should consider these offers with caution. But verified accounts can be valuable assets in the long run for brands that have already invested heavily in social media.

Meta Leads the Charge in Verified Social Media Profiles

The biggest news in social media profiles comes from Meta. In February, Meta announced a verified profile program for the U.S., like the trial version it has been running in Australia and New Zealand. Users will pay $14.99 for increased visibility and reach, a badge indicating verification and a monitoring service to prevent impersonations. 

Meta joins Twitter and Snapchat in offering verified profiles. Twitter Blue is a comparable program offering longer tweets, the ability to upload longer videos and prioritized tweets in its algorithm for reach. Snapchat operates based on metrics. If an account’s stories reach 50,000 views, then the profile is eligible for verified status.

More verified profiles are on the way. TikTok is reportedly working on a subscription version on which users can watch 20-minute-long videos, significantly longer than those on the free platform.

Related Article: Social Media Is Changing, and Paid Accounts Are the Response

Verified Social Media Profiles' Enhanced Reach

The enhanced reach capabilities are the most intriguing aspect of verified profiles. Free profile access has kept social media users satisfied with their social media choices over the last 15 years, attracted by the possibility of how far any posted conversation can be shared beyond one's profile audience. Achieving the most post reach, organic or paid, has always been the aim of campaigns. 

However, the myopic pursuit of reach has led to both positive and negative consequences in how people communicate. 

While social media has provided innovative platforms for self-expression and given a voice to those who might have been overlooked, it has also empowered scam artists and attention-seeking trolls, and critics, raising concerns about mental health. This mixed outcome has taken a toll on some users.

Related Article: What Social Media Trends to Expect for 2023

Challenges Amid Verified Profile Adoption

Verified profile accounts arrive just as user metrics are indicating some weariness among the public. According to Pew Research Center’s 2021 fact sheet on social media, the number of U.S. users has been leveling off since 2019. 

Instagram and Facebook continue to be the largest communities among social media platforms. However, together with Twitter and Snapchat, they have shown the highest percentage of users engaging less frequently on their preferred platforms.

Usage Leveling Off: Impact on Customer Experience

If you believe these numbers merely reflect sentiment during COVID — online fatigue resulting from limited activity during the pandemic — consider the 2023 Rival IQ benchmark study. The study identified 150 brands experiencing a leveling off or decline in average engagement rates across major social media platforms. 

TikTok was the sole exception, with significantly higher engagement. This trend may jeopardize the adoption of new features, such as verified profiles, and could impact brands that rely on social media as an integral part of their customer experience strategy.

Innovative Features Advantage?

Moreover, social media platforms face increasingly shorter periods in which they can maintain an advantage through innovative features. Many recent updates offer refinements to user experience, but each new feature introduced by one platform is quickly replicated by another. 

Both Reddit and Spotify have developed features that resemble TikTok, in addition to YouTube Shorts, which also mirrors TikTok's short video platform.

Significant Challenges for Social Media

The combination of slowed audience growth and a shorter window for platform innovation creates significant challenges for social media. The decline in user interest obstructs platforms' efforts to develop advanced strategies or crucial business models, such as Meta's entry into the metaverse or evolving into the next "superapp." A multifaceted app like this could attract more user time and serve as a gateway for cryptocurrency transactions.

Learning Opportunities

Questions for Brand Marketers

Verified profiles present questions for brand marketers, especially those whose brands have heavily invested in social media to support customer experience strategies. 

The concept of verified services, offering dedicated support and features, is attractive from both budgetary and logistical perspectives.

Verified profiles provide an added sense of credibility for brands, and even more so for influencers associated with well-liked brands. People place significant trust in influencers for recommendations and suggestions. 

Verified profiles signal that an influencer's or brand's profile is secure and not compromised by spam attempts, thereby reinforcing customer trust in the messaging within posts and videos. 

However, critics argue that many features offered by verified accounts should have been provided when accounts were free. A significant portion of the criticism leveled against social media platforms by brands concerns their handling of account trolling and transparency in ad metrics. 

Moreover, the monthly subscription, while minimal, may not persuade brands and influencers to increase their investment. If brands are questioning the value, why should they pay?

Two Experts Weigh In

I reached out to two marketing experts to gather their opinions on the potential success of verified accounts.

No Fees, Please

Ivana Taylor, CEO of DIYMarketers, pointed out that verification should not require a subscription fee. “What is it that people are really paying for? Are people paying for verification or are they paying for a subscription? Verification and subscriptions are two different things. Subscriptions should provide some sort of advantage to the customer, such as more control of seen ads. I do think that brands that operate customer service through social media profiles can benefit from preventing being spoofed on social media so verification would be useful there. But people time slice a lot, which means they spend bits and pieces of time on a platform, but it does add up. Brands should look at their engagement before really deciding on a verification account. I’m just not sure if combining verification subscription is a great idea.”

Will Being Verified Be Special?

Sara McCord, founder and CEO of Sara McCord Communications offered her take. “I think to understand the pros and cons of verification in the future, we must look at the benefits and drawbacks to date. Certainly, verification is meant to protect users. In an idealized world, it’s meant to protect celebrities and public figures from the imposters who set up fake profiles for all manner of unsavory reasons (and the audiences who would engage with or be scammed by them) ... Some non-celebrity verified users feel this future ‘pay-to-play’ will make their status less meaningful or valuable. Will being verified be as special if ‘anyone can do it’? Yes, because it shows it’s the real you, but no if you wanted to be on an exclusive list. The considerations become even further nuanced when we consider that these additional pay verifications may come with additional benefits, and if they grow reach and community, that is why most people join social media, after all.”

Final Thoughts on Verified Social Media Profiles

The reality of commercial benefits from verified profiles remains to be seen. It's evident that social media usage is undergoing a significant and unprecedented shift, which can affect the brands that rely on it.

However, considering the investments made by social media platforms, verified profiles are likely to persist long enough for brands to determine how they enhance their customer experience strategies.

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