Credibility and the Blue Tick on Social Networks: Assessing the Efficacy of Fee-based Verification
The Blue Tick verification system
Launched by Twitter in 2009 to protect celebrities from impersonation, the Blue Tick verification system has evolved from a symbol of authenticity and trust into an elite status symbol. This system prevailed until late 2022, when Twitter was bought by Elon Musk, who introduced Twitter Blue, which is a subscription service in which any person could pay $8/month and receive a Blue Tick next to their name. This created a lot of controversy: the present study focuses on the opinions of everyday people and on Twitter’s case.
Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms and it plays an important role in news and political information worldwide. However, some users are against the new strategy of paying for their Blue Tick, so the platform risks losing support.
A qualitative and quantitative marketing research was performed on people's impression of the Blue Tick. Twitter and its competitive context were investigated from the perspective of marketing managers with a particular focus on a specific research question: “What is the relationship on social networks between credibility and the blue tick? Will making it fee- based make it less effective?”. Then, the data was analyzed in order to provide pertinent marketing information and strategies for Twitter moving forward.
The target population of the study was European men and women, aged between 18 and 65 years old. Starting from the qualitative part, the interviews were composed of questions divided into 4 categories: personal information, positive or negative effects of social media, Blue Tick and Twitter's point of view. Three interviews lasting 40 minutes each and one focus group lasting 50 minutes were conducted.
Afterwards, specific research areas were explored in detail to fill gaps in the information and acquire a deeper understanding of these topics. In particular, a 27-question survey was created on Qualtrics, obtaining the answers of 137 respondents. Then, the data was exported to SPSS and cleaned, obtaining 123 validated respondents.
First of all, the characteristics of the participants were analyzed. Females (52.03%) were more than males (47.97%). The majority of people fell into the 18- to 25-year-old category (58.5%), followed by the 26- to 35-year-old category (19.5%). Consequently, the target covered very different ages, but was mainly concentrated in the range that includes teenagers and young adults.
Then, the educational level of the participants was considered. The result was that the majority of them were included into the bachelor's degree level (54 participants, 43,9%).
The relationship between participants and social media
Over 84% of our population spends between 1 and 4 hours on social media per day, with no significant correlation to gender. Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok are the top three social media platforms used by respondents. When observing the differences between men and women regarding the apps they claimed to use the most, three significant items were noticed:
· 26,6% of women use TikTok the most, compared to 20,3% of men.
· In the population that noted YouTube, men were more present with 15,3% of responses compared to only 9,4% for women.
· Men were the only ones to mention LinkedIn as the social media they use the most.
For communicating with friends and family, WhatsApp (over 53%), Instagram and Facebook were the highest-rated. In terms of entertainment, Instagram was most mentioned (30,8%), with TikTok and YouTube following in second and third place. Talking about the results for news and political information, the highest ranking were Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Less popular, but with 14,9% of responses was YouTube. When it came to promoting a business, 33,1% of participants mentioned Instagram. Rather surprisingly, LinkedIn received only 18,2% of responses. Instagram and TikTok really dominated when it came to finding inspiration for participants (31,3% and 25,8%). Moreover, the role of social media in participants' current studies and work was analyzed. The majority of people associated the importance of social media with a value of 4, which in the survey was indicated as "moderately important". Also in the other cases, it was evident that for most of the participants social media is a very important part of their professional life.
Impression of the Blue Tick and Twitter Blue
Focusing on the Blue Tick situation, the majority of the respondents (78.86%) knew this symbol, while 11.23% had never heard of it.
The most common impression of the Blue Tick was that it represents credibility and reduces fears of impersonation for users. 72,3% of participants agreed that the Blue Tick shouldn't be given out to people just because they ask for it. Over 90% agreed that if everyone had the Blue Tick, the importance that they give it would evolve.
Only 13% of people stated that the Blue Tick is not an indicator of seriousness, contrarily to 52,7% who believed the opposite. This partly determines the choice to follow an account characterized by this symbol: when asked to rate this influence on a scale of 1 to 9, the mode was 6.
Moving on to Twitter Blue, we asked our respondents about their first impressions using a semantic differential scale. The impressions were mainly negative: the highest portion of people would not buy Twitter Blue and only 8,9% of people stated that they would consider buying it. When asked about how much they would be willing to pay for a Blue Tick, most of our participants chose between €0 and €2. However, those who believe that social media plays an important role in their professional life are willing to pay more for it.
Relationship with the Blue Tick and marketing strategies
76,4% of our participants would be more willing to buy a product from an account with a Blue Tick. Products advertised by unverified accounts are much less likely to be bought than their counterparts.
Based on our desk analysis, qualitative and quantitative research, we decided to present the implications this information can have for Twitter, proposing two possible strategies: one in which Twitter Blue is maintained, and another in which Twitter Blue is terminated.
Firstly, we suggest keeping Twitter Blue alive, but with a few modifications in its marketed audience and price. Most of our population is not willing to spend more than €2 on a Blue Tick. We propose to put the price at €1,50/month for non-business or organization users. This would bring in a higher number of subscriptions with a lower price.
Another part of this strategy concerns businesses and organizations. Since there could be a correlation between the importance social media plays for a person and the amount they would be willing to spend on a Blue Tick, we suggest Twitter Blue take a different approach to marketing Twitter Blue to users with professional accounts. For example, they should market a different section of Twitter Blue, called Twitter Blue Pro. (€6/month, but more advantages).
Our population stated that they aren't willing to pay the amount Twitter currently charges for the Blue Tick and that the importance they give the symbol will change if everyone has it. We suggest deactivating Twitter Blue and returning to the identity-based verification system with a few modifications.
Blue Ticks should be distributed to users that can confirm their identity, that have a big following and that don't promote violence or hate. As a consequence, trust in the Blue Tick would be restored and users would not have to worry about impersonation issues.
To continue earning non-advertisement-based revenue, Twitter can offer extra functionalities and no ads for a fee (between €1 and €3). This would allow users to reap the benefits of these upgraded functionalities while providing a stable, subscription-based income for Twitter.
Another aspect of this strategy would be to push Twitter as a secure and reliable source of news and political information. We suggest that Twitter asks users which type of news they want to hear more about, and then increase notifications when these kinds of tweets are posted to increase user presence on the app. The notifications could also be location-sensitive so that users receive up-to-date information that concerns them in the country, city or town that they live in.
Our research is based on the analysis of how people consider the Blue Tick and the influence it has in social media companies. The result was heterogeneous; however, the general opinion that emerged was that the Blue Tick is associated with an idea of authenticity, elite status and seriousness (also as regards the marketing aspect). It can guarantee numerous advantages and can help those who want to increase their popularity emerge.
However, there is a negative consideration regarding the choice of social media companies to sell the Blue Tick. According to most people, it should not be bought but deserved, based on concrete and effective reasons for which it is worthwhile for one account to be more visible than the others. Furthermore, a possible risk regarding this situation is that the Blue Tick completely loses its value and consequently the role for which it was designed. Many controversies also arise from the fact that people would not buy the Blue Tick and that its current cost is too high.