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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Meta Verified Shows a Company Running Out of Ideas

Meta’s new subscription service looks pretty familiar. For between $11.99 and $14.99 a month, Instagram and Facebook users will get a blue “verified” mark, access to better security features, and more visibility in search. Their comments will also be prioritized.

The package has strong echoes of Twitter’s Blue subscription service, launched under new owner Elon Musk, who has been aggressively trying to find ways to monetize his platform—most recently, by telling users they won’t be able to use text-based two-factor authentication unless they subscribe.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta Verified in a post to his Instagram channel on February 19, saying that the service, which will be rolled out first in Australia and New Zealand, “is about increasing authenticity and security across our services.” 

Analysts say that while the move isn’t entirely out of character for Meta, it hints at a lack of innovation at the social media giant, which has laid off more than 11,000 workers since late last year and spent billions on its push into the metaverse, a technology with no clear business model.

“Meta has always had copying in their DNA—Instagram’s Reels is but one of a long list of prominent examples—so it’s no surprise that, seeing Twitter get away with offering basic functionality as a premium service, Zuckerberg is trying to do the same,” says Tama Leaver, professor of internet studies at Curtin University in Australia. “Meta’s move to copy Twitter’s subscription model shows a distinct lack of new ideas … Meta has shed staff and is hemorrhaging money in building a metaverse that no one seems all that interested in right now.”

While Meta has emphasized the security aspects of its subscription product, the fact that subscribers will get greater visibility on the company’s platforms marks a significant change for users.

Twitter’s attempts to make users pay for features, including more promotion by its algorithms, have been met with widespread criticism, and many have threatened to quit the platform, although there is no reliable data on how many people have followed through.

However, Snapchat and Discord have also both introduced paid subscription tiers to users without a similar level of outrage, suggesting that the dislike of Twitter Blue could be linked to Musk himself and broader concerns about the platform. 

“Meta has seen Snapchat, Discord, and Twitter launch their own subscription plans, which gives power-users additional features or perks,” says social media analyst Matt Navarra, who first broke the news about the Meta change. The idea of paying for features that used to be free has started to become normalized, he says. “The risk there is reduced for them in terms of whether it will be a success.”

Regardless, Navarra admits he won’t be buying verified status from Meta. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” he says.

How much money Meta can raise through verification is unclear. Twitter has struggled to sell subscriptions to its Blue service, with The Information reporting that the platform has fewer than 300,000 subscribers worldwide—which would bring in less than 1 percent of the $3 billion Musk wants the company to make. The Meta family of apps, including Instagram, Facebook, and WhatApp, have nearly 10 times the number of monthly users that Twitter does. 

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Meta’s revenue has slowed in recent months, with a 55 percent year-on-year decline in net income in the fourth quarter of 2022.

“Meta and Zuckerberg heading down the paid blue check subscription path on Facebook and Instagram makes strategic sense that could further monetize the massive installed base, [while] advertising headwinds abound,” says Dan Ives, managing director and senior equity research analyst at Wedbush Securities. “That said, it’s potentially a risky move that could alienate consumers.”

Navarra says that, unlike Twitter, which is trying to reengineer its entire business model under Musk, prioritizing subscriptions over ads, Meta isn’t necessarily looking for Meta Verified to become a massive revenue driver—it’s more just an easy way to make a little extra money. 

“Most of the features that have been bundled together by Meta are things that already exist.” But that makes it a risk worth taking, Navarra reckons. “All they really had to do is a very small lift of pulling it together into a bundle, and then packaging it up as a new product. It’s a quick win, and low-hanging fruit.”

However, even if Verified is a small side-bet for now, it represents a shift in what verification means on Meta platforms by making important security features and tech support paid-for features. “Additional security around impersonation should be, to be honest, a free part of using their product, given the amount of revenue they generate and the numbers of users on the platform,” Navarra says.

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