The chaos continues at Elon Musk’s ‘Twitter 2.0’ experiment, this time as a result of the platform’s latest tweaks to profile verification, as it looks to boost its subscription revenue intake.
So, to recap, late last week, Elon followed through on his long-standing promise to remove legacy checkmarks in the app, meaning that the only blue ticks then displayed in the app were appended to paying, Twitter Blue subscribed accounts. Musk says that the previous verification program was corrupt, with Twitter’s past team allocating the vaunted checkmark based on favoritism, and even selling them in some cases due to questionable staff and processes. As a result, and in an effort to combat bots, Musk announced the pending removal of legacy checkmarks earlier in the month, then enacted the removal on Thursday last week.
The update triggered a backlash from a range of celebrities, whom Twitter seemingly hoped would simply pay the $8 per month to keep their blue tick. Evidently, they were not interested. Many high-profile users publicly refused to pay, with some suggesting that it’s actually them that bring value to the app, not the other way around. That defiance then sparked a broader push against the change, with some users even trying to get rid of their checkmarks due to negative association.
According to analysis, only around 19k of the 407k legacy verified profiles have thus far signed on to Twitter Blue, with fewer than 100 signing up after the legacy checkmark removal process.
This was obviously not the result that Musk and Co. expected. And with momentum growing behind a new #BlocktheBlue movement, which calls on users to block all paying blue tick profiles on sight, the Twitter team seemingly felt a need to respond, in order to dilute the negative sentiment around its latest Twitter Blue push.
On Saturday, some previously verified accounts started to get their checkmarks back, despite not paying for it. The reinstatements initially seemed to be targeted at high-profile users who had been critical of Twitter Blue, potentially giving the impression that they had actually paid up, but as the day went on, more and more legacy verified profiles, including those of deceased celebrities, had their verification markers re-appear.
Eventually, the majority of accounts with more than a million followers got their blue tick back, despite them not signing up to Twitter Blue – and despite, in some cases, them not having it previously.
Well, seemingly, Twitter worked out that no one would be overly interested in paying to become part of the exclusive celebrity club if there were no celebrities still in it. And if none of the most popular users were to sign up, Twitter would also have less high-profile content to promote in its main ‘For You’ feed, given that its recommendations are now limited to tweets from verified profiles only.
So it ‘gifted’ the checkmark back to around 10k of the most followed profiles. Even though many have said that they don’t want it, and despite it potentially also being illegal, as the tick now represents an unapproved endorsement of a product.
Regardless, now, the top 10k most followed users and the top 10k most followed brands have free blue and gold ticks respectively, which Twitter hopes will maintain a level of credibility and interest in its subscription revenue push.
Though it seems that a lot of damage has been done in its convoluted process.
As a reminder, within Elon Musk’s original Twitter 2.0 plan, one of his key aims was to eventually generate 50% of the company’s revenue from subscriptions, as a means to both bring in more money, while also reducing the platform’s reliance on ad dollars. That would then enable Musk and Co. to push ahead with their ‘free speech’ agenda, without the shackles of brand safety - but as of right now, that’s seemingly not a realistic aim for this element.
At $8 per user, Musk would need around 24 million people to sign on to Twitter Blue to make this happen. Thus far, only around 650k users have taken up its subscription program.
But Twitter also now has Verification for Organizations, priced at $1,000 per month, to supplement this, and get it closer to its subscription revenue goals. But Twitter’s already gifted it to the most likely potential audience (top ad spenders and most followed brand accounts), and outside of them, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in that offering either.
So Twitter’s still a long way from its 50% revenue goal, even as it tries to stimulate take-up by removing legacy ticks, and forcing all advertisers to subscribe in order to keep running ads.
Those measures, at least right now, look to be having a negative impact - and realistically, they were never likely to hit these stated goals, because as Twitter itself notes, only 20% of its users ever tweet, so the majority of its Twitter Blue features - including tweet editing, priority tweet display, and longer video uploads - these have zero value for the vast majority of users.
At the same time, you can also see how Musk and Co. believed that this could be a realistic avenue to explore. 20% of Twitter’s total user base is 50 million profiles, and of them, Twitter only needs half to pay up. Given that these users post 99% of all tweets, it seems likely that a lot of them could be incentivized by greater reach and exposure - but at the same time, when you look at this from the other side, that also means that Twitter’s entire business is reliant on these 50 million profiles continuing to tweet.
Twitter’s ad business is based on reach, and its 200 million other daily active users open the app each day to see what these 50 million accounts have to share. That’s Twitter’s only value, which means that these users are actually what Twitter is built upon, and it should be doing all that it can to appeal to them to keep them active, rather than asking them to pay for the privilege.
Which, at least in part, was what Twitter’s original verification program was designed for, while it also had a separate ‘Very Important Tweeter’ initiative, which had been specifically created to maximize connection and engagement with these top accounts.
Past Twitter understood the value that these users bring to the app - being all of it. But Elon and Co. decided that verification was actually an elitist plot, designed to maintain a form of social hierarchy, and therefore sought to democratize access to checkmarks, which has now virtually eroded any value that they once held.
Then it quickly realized that it got it wrong, and now it’s scrambling to find a fix. Essentially, the only value that verification held was that it reflected some level of achievement or notoriety, which others wanted too - but as soon as blue ticks were made available to anyone with a few bucks, that value was reduced to zero. And now, high profile users don’t particularly care about them anymore.
The logic here is pretty straightforward, yet still, some are suggesting that this is the ‘elites’ demanding special treatment, and lamenting the fact that they’re being treated just like everybody else.
No, they’re not. They’re offended at the suggestion that they should have to pay, when they are the ones that bring the audience to the app, they’re annoyed that they’ve been stripped of recognition, and if they have to pay like everybody else, then why would they even want a meaningless marker anymore?
Again, the Blue verification program, which doesn’t actually include ID verification, erodes the value that it’s trying to sell, by removing exclusivity. And if it’s not a marker of notoriety, why would anyone pay for it?
This has been the key misunderstanding in Twitter’s subscription push, that the checkmark itself is something that people desire. They actually desire fame and popularity, something that you can’t give them, and no amount of digital cosplaying will replicate that.
So right now, Twitter is in a difficult spot. Do you reverse course and let all the formerly approved checkmarks have it back, in order to maintain at least some level of value in the offering, or do you push ahead, and hope that, eventually, more celebrities will sign up of their own accord?
It’s already going back on its initial aims by re-adding free checkmarks to 10k accounts - so these accounts are now subject to special conditions, which was Musk’s main criticism of the original verification process.
Those being gifted Twitter Blue are now the haves, and the paying profiles are still the have-nots, even if that may seem less immediately obvious on the face of it. So we’re already sliding back into the original system. Is that where we’re eventually headed?
In summary, the updated verification/subscription program is a mess, and it’s nowhere close to achieving what Musk and Co. had hoped.
And Twitter, which has suffered a 50% decline in ad revenue, still needs a lot more money. Or even more cost-cutting measures could be on the horizon.