Leadership coaches are advising managers not to subscribe to verification on Facebook and Instagram, after Meta followed in Twitter’s footsteps this week by rolling out a premium plan.
The current system—in which Meta grants blue ticks free of charge to influential accounts to verify their authenticity—will be overhauled and replaced with Meta Verified. In exchange for $11.99 a month on the web (or $14.99 on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android), individuals will be able to buy the coveted blue badge that was previously reserved for notable accounts.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, announced on Sunday that the service will begin in Australia and New Zealand this week before arriving in additional countries soon.
“This new feature is about increasing authenticity and security across our services,” Zuckerberg justified in a Facebook post.
For small business owners and leaders that didn’t meet the previous verification criteria of being “authentic, notable, and unique,” being able to buy the symbol of authority that was previously limited to celebrities, politicians, and influencers might sound like good news.
Indeed, the impact the shiny blue tick—which acts as a benchmark of influence—has on personal branding mustn’t be underestimated. Considering that less than 4% of accounts on Instagram are verified, having the badge appear by your user name while searching for accounts or alongside your comment on other people’s photos helps you stand out among the masses, look notable, and build brand awareness.
But beware. The symbolic status of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram’s elusive tick will be shattered if it’s available to anyone who can pay for it, leadership experts say.
Respect has to be earned
Elon Musk launched a similar premium service on Twitter last year to earn revenue beyond advertising.
But less than 0.2% of the social media giant’s global users (around 290,000 people) are reportedly forking out $8 a month for Twitter Blue.
And there’s a reason behind the subscription plan’s lukewarm reception.
Simply put, “paying for the tick devalues its worth,” business coach Jenny Holliday tells Fortune.
When the entry requirement for verification is a monthly fee, instead of actual influence, the badge is no longer an indicator of anything other than that you paid for it.
As a business owner herself, Holliday wants her account to stand out because she has “worked hard to do so, not paid to do so.”
“Paying for verification defeats the whole point of earning it,” echoes Angelica Malin, entrepreneur, leadership coach, and author of books including #SheMadeIt: a Toolkit for Female Founders in the Digital Age.
And really, respect can’t be bought, it has to be earned—and the same goes on social media.
“Verification should be based on value—and you can’t buy your value, it’s something you have to build up through hard work, proven results and genuine expertise,” she tells Fortune.
You may look like another fake 7-figure entrepreneur who’s paid
Being able to buy clout isn’t just devaluing the former marker of influence, experts say, but it could do the opposite of what it was intended to do: Instead of generating trust among users, those paying for a blue tick without the credentials to back it up could give all authoritative figures a bad rep.
“If we live in a world where anyone can buy their way into authority, it creates an essential distrust in ‘expertise,’” Malin says, adding that “we’ll live in a world where anyone—no matter their experience, qualifications, training—can claim to be the best, only backed up through that blue tick.”
Instagram, Facebook et al., are already “full of supposedly seven-figure [income] entrepreneurs and coaches claiming expertise and handing out empty promises,” she warns. “Being able to pay your way to being verified on social media takes us further and further away from genuine expertise.”
Holliday agrees that it’ll be all too easy for spam accounts and businesses that don’t “offer everything they promise in their bio” to get verified, so leaders are better off focusing on building their audience than their supposed clout.
“I think we can focus too much (myself included) on ticks, followers, and likes more than on real-life connections that can lead to business,” she cautions.
“Focusing on connections is key because business is primarily about people—for many, social media isn’t the key way they connect, and the tick actually doesn’t mean anything.”
Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business with The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Sign up here.