Before any official press release from the White House, Twitter users knew that President Barack Obama started @POTUS thanks to the little blue checkmark beside his handle. In a little under six hours, the Twitter verified account became the fastest to reach a million followers.
Did being President Obama's official account help its velocity? Most likely yes. Did having Twitter's official seal of approval aid a bit? Probably not when it came to adding followers, said Joe McCaffrey, head of social marketing at Brooklyn-based digital agency Huge. However, he pointed out that for companies, the blue checkmark does come with marketing perks.
"It's a symbol in terms of clout," he said.
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Twitter's elusive verification badge is something that has to be granted to you from the powers that be at the company and cannot be requested by the public. According to the social media platform, It doesn't take into account how many followers you have or what you tweet about. Instead it grants the honor to users who tweet about popular topics such as music, acting, journalism or politics. Once bestowed, it signifies that the sentiments expressed are from the user. CNBC reported earlier this year that Twitter may allow users in the future to pay a small fee to get the verification badge, but that has yet to happen.
"Part of the power behind it is users can't submit," McCaffrey said.
Jill Sherman, a senior vice president of social and content strategy at Boston digital agency DigitasLBi, explained with the prevalence of fake and parody accounts on social media, having the check mark can help an official account stand out. Verified handles also show up more often in searches, which can increase engagement.
"People look for that little blue badge," she said. "It gives people a new level of confidence."
It's especially useful when trying to get out official statements and breaking news. Sherman highlighted the case of where a fake Hampton City, Virginia, schools account impersonating Superintendent Linda Shifflette tweeted schools were closed, leading parents to keep their kids at home. Sherman said in this case, having a verified account could have stopped the confusion. (The schools did end up closing that day due to the weather, but the decision was made after the phony tweet.)
Besides those points—and ultimate bragging rights—being verified doesn't really matter. Even when the agencies work with social media influencers on behalf of brands, they don't look for the blue checkmark before signing a contract. Huge's McCaffrey said it picks partners that fit its clients' ad campaign targets, and vets the users by looking through their Twitter history, as well as seeing if they worked with brand competitors in the past. Nor does having the badge lead to extra payment, he added, since social media influencers get paid based on potential impressions derived from follower count.
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Digitas' Sherman added that five years ago online influencers handled their own affairs, but most of the top talent are represented today through multichannel networks or other managers. These established businesses provide a level of verification themselves.
"It can take a very long time to get verified by Twitter if you're somebody that created their own online brand," Sherman said. "A lot of people we work with we know well and we work with often, and they have gigantic followerships. We don't let (not having the badge) stop us."