In the mid 2000s, the world panicked. CEOs suddenly realised they needed to 'do social' even though they probably didn't know why. The fact that everyone else was doing it seemed reason enough.
Of course, in 2013, we've progressed from viewing social as merely a nice-to-have appendage to an integral part of an overall marketing/comms strategy. And for this reason, it no longer falls to the intern to quickly rustle up a Facebook page or a Twitter account in their lunch break. In fact, even brands that spend time and money developing and integrating a social strategy into their marketing efforts might feel like something's missing: social verification.
Social verification manifests itself in a number of ways. I'm not just talking about the official types of verification that people and brands can receive on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, but also the non-official types of verification, perhaps through having a large number of followers on Twitter or subscribers on Facebook. Sometimes these types of verification will go hand-in-hand, as a large number of followers will increase your chances of official verification. Then there's the notion of validation versus verification. On a personal (non-brand) level, it is human nature to want to be ratified and validated by one's peers, be that in life or online. The social space is largely populated by fragile egos that want stroking on a regular basis and there's no shortage of sycophants willing to do so. It could be an influx of purchased fake followers on Twitter or three hundred likes on your latest Facebook status - these help to make people feel validated. They make them feel verified. And that feels good.
But as good as it feels, what does it actually mean? Are there distinct advantages to being verified or is it all a frivolous facade perpetuated by the 'chosen ones' and those desperate to be appear liked and popular on social?
What Does It Mean for You?
Take Twitter. Twitter's criteria for verifying accounts is fairly nebulous. There is an obvious bias towards celebrity tweeters and those most likely to be impersonated, however simply a very large following will suffice in some cases. You will also be given verification if you are a registered advertiser with Twitter. It is understandable that high-profile brands and people are verified to avoid confusion with fake accounts, but many slip through the cracks. Take motoring brand @Honda_UK and food manufacturing brand Kelloggs_UK, for example. At time of publishing, these accounts are not verified by Twitter despite being official accounts.
Does this lack of social verification have a profound effect on how authoritatively the brand is perceived? I would suspect not. They are both highly active, well followed, successful and, more pertinently, official accounts. Verified competitors may receive the odd additional follower here and there from the magpie-esque users, captivated by the glinting Twitter verification tick, but I would question just how important this type of follower is going to be to the brand. If their criteria for following the account is not based on the quality of content, frequency of tweeting or relevance of topics tweeted about, but rather on the presence of a little blue tick, this doesn't seem like a follower I'd like for my brand. It's easy to lose sight of why brands want followers - to influence them. If a follower is disengaged from the onset it defeats the purpose of having them as a follower at all.
Let us give some credit to the Twitter audience. People that use Twitter largely aren't morons. They follow accounts, regardless of whether they are verified or not, if the tweets coming from that account are good. They might be particularly funny, or a guaranteed source of original content - the fact is, if the content is good, engaged followers will flock. If what you tweet is authoritative, your brand will command authority naturally.
Of course, it isn't just Twitter that offers social verification. In 2012, Facebook allowed users with large numbers of subscribers to verify their identity, making them more easily searchable. These currently aren't available for brand pages though. In a similar vein to Twitter, Google Plus employs 'verification badges' for celebrities and public figures, but also for people who have been added to an (undefined) 'large' number of Circles.
Do You Need It?
So do people need social verification? Ultimately, I don't think it's a big deal. Build a good enough Twitter account and the people will come, verified or not. I think social verification has far more importance intrinsically - to those that have it, it's important, to those that don't, not so much. On a personal level, celebrities aside, verification gives you validation that what you're doing is influencing a lot of people. You should know this long before you receive your prestigious tick but if it makes you happy, why not?
For brands, in short, I don't think it matters. If somebody has stumbled across your awesome Twitter account with the intention of following you but refuses to based on the lack of official verification, more fool them. If someone follows an impostor account instead of the real deal, the amount of alarm bells that they missed en route to the follow button should suggest you can rest assured that you're not missing out.
That said, for the less discerning Tweeter out there, a verified Twitter account does offer an at-a-glance assurance that the source of information is genuine. If there's any ambiguity whatsoever, a verified account will surely quell it. It should also be noted that verified accounts can help protect a brand. Libelous or defamatory information from a source that hasn't been verified will have little bearing if a verified account exists elsewhere.
Do you run a brand with a verified or unverified Twitter account? Has social verification, or the lack of it, had a positive or negative impact on your activity? I'd love to hear your thoughts.