Look, I know people have strong opinions about Elon Musk, and I realize that any criticism is going to be viewed as political commentary, even if it’s not (because I’m not American, I can’t vote, I don’t care about Hunter Biden, etc.). But Elon’s paid verification program is dumb, the dumbest move that he’s made at Twitter to date.
And I understand the logic – Elon says that when he came on, the company was losing $4 million per day, which lead to mass lay-offs, and a scramble for revenue generation options.
Paid verification, then, makes sense, while Elon also extrapolated the need for immediate cash into a pathway to combat bots, by using verification as a means to ‘verify all the real humans’ – i.e. bots won’t pay, and bot peddlers won’t be able to afford such at scale.
I get all the moving parts, and optimistically, they may sense.
But realistically, which is the more important ‘ally’ of the two, it just doesn’t.
Because most people won’t pay, especially when you’re offering nothing much in return, other than a graphic of a tick next to their username, while the very act of selling verification ticks erases their only perceptual value, that being exclusivity.
Now, everyone can buy one, so the tick is meaningless, at least as a status marker of some form.
My perspective on this been vindicated, at this early stage at least, by a new report from The Information, which says that, according to internal documents:
“Around 180,000 people in the US were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users […] The U.S. number is about 62% of Twitter’s global subscriber total, the document says, which implies Twitter has 290,000 global subscribers.”
That’s consistent with the findings of researcher Travis Brown, who’s been posting regular updates on Twitter Blue subscriber numbers, based on searches of users that show up as ‘blue_verified’ in the back-end.
Just checked in on what my Twitter Blue tracker turned up this week and it’s going about as well as you’d expect (even more churn, even less growth): https://t.co/H51wynDEK4
— Travis Brown (@travisbrown) January 29, 2023
At present, based on Brown’s figures, the new Twitter Blue program looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, very close to the data The Information has seen.
That would mean that Twitter’s currently bringing in an extra $2.4 million per month via the program, or $7.2 million per quarter. Which is pretty good, that’s extra income at a time when Twitter desperately needs it. But it’s still way, way off from where Twitter wants its subscription revenue intake to be.
To reiterate, when initially outlining his Twitter 2.0 reformation plans, Elon said that he wants to make subscription revenue around 50% of Twitter’s overall intake. That would align somewhat with the aforementioned revenue and bot-battling potential – but in order to do this, Twitter needs to increase Twitter Blue take-up 81x its current state.
300k sign-ups is also only 0.12% of Twitter’s active user base – so to reiterate, revenue-wise, it’s not close to meeting goals, and as a bot disincentive, it’s nowhere near meeting its aims. And while Twitter has just this weekend rolled out Twitter Blue to more regions, there’s just no way that it’s ever going to reach the levels required to make it a viable consideration in either respect.
Which means that all the mucking around, all the impersonation issues, all the gold checks and gray ticks and square profile images and brand logos. All of this has, on balance, been a waste of time.
It’s not nothing – again, Twitter needs all the extra money it can get right now, and a $29 million annual boost in intake will help. But functionally, it’s been a series of blunders and missteps, one after the other.
And now, Twitter wants brands to pay $1,000 a month for a gold tick?
Yeah, safe to say that’s not going to be a roaring success either. And while Twitter will likely get a few more Twitter Blue sign-ups when it removes legacy blue checks sometime in future, that’s still only 420k extra subscribers, max.
The churn rate will also be high – because again, a blue tick isn’t valuable anymore if everyone can buy one – and unless Elon and Co. have some magic updates to build into Twitter Blue in future, beyond Blue-only polls or paying to qualify for monetization, I don’t see how this becomes a significant element of Twitter’s overall intake or process.
But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe, because it’s Elon Musk, we’ve missed the point, or the process, and there is actually another pathway to winning on this front that’s not been revealed as yet.
I don’t see it, but I can’t imagine the logistics of flying to Mars either, so maybe there’s more to come.
But I doubt it.