In the ever-evolving landscape of influencer marketing, authenticity has long been regarded as the cornerstone of successful brand collaborations.
However, recent developments in the digital realm are challenging the traditional notions of credibility in the influencer marketing ecosystem.
The once-coveted blue tick, symbolising authenticity and verification, is now up for grabs with the introduction of paid verification models.
Twitter's 'Twitter Blue', priced at INR 650, and Meta's 'Meta Verified', priced at INR 699, per month offer users the opportunity to obtain the sought-after badge for a fee.
As these changes reshape the credibility factor, we spoke to brands and influencer marketing agencies to assess the implications of the paid verification models on influencer marketing dynamics and brand-influencer relationships.
Shreya Sachdev, head of marketing, Puma India, revealed that relying solely on the coveted blue tick is no longer the go-to method for evaluating an influencer's suitability for their brand.
Sachdev highlighted, "Multiple metrics such as an influencers' reach, brand fitment of their content and positioning, engagement rate, how organic their community is among others, is what we look at when selecting whom to work with."
Nilesh Gupta, senior director of growth, Meesho, believes that paid verifications are a crucial development that will have a positive impact on both influencers and advertisers alike rather than a negative effect.
"Verification is rapidly gaining stead among various social media platforms. Through this process, the authenticity of influencers and their content is bolstered through the authentication process. We believe this will greatly benefit advertisers and bring in more opportunities," noted Gupta.
Vaibhav Mehrotra, senior director - marketing, Cashfree Payments, also cited a positive effect in response to Meta and Twitter's paid verified badge.
He remarked, "This paid verification model will allow more influencers to drive authenticity to their online presence and use this tool as a strategic lever to their content."
Highlighting the advantages that the verified badge can bring to influencers, Mehrotra explained, "The verified badge is set to give more tools to influencers to reach and grow their audience via features like enhanced visibility in search, comments, and recommendations."
Brands unveil the truth behind influencer metrics
Long before the fee came in for the blue ticks, many influencers have been going the paid way to garner followers.
With the blue ticket and the followers now purchasable, brands could end up having their work cut out.
Explaining the metrics brands can explore while looking at partnerships, Sachdev said, "There are many tools that easily help a brand identify if the influencer's numbers are genuine or exaggerated. These tools scientifically analyse and deep dive into any influencer's following, giving us demographic details, gender split, following by country, age group split, active audience percentage, topics that they speak about most often and how consistently their audience has grown on the platform, making it fairly easy for us to identify which association would hold genuine value for us."
She further elaborated on the significance of the blue tick in the influencer world, stating, "The blue tick may be a way for the influencer to gain credibility with their general audience; but it is not a route to getting more brand deals, especially with a brand that will do their due diligence before working with any social media personality."
Gupta highlighted Meesho's focus on authenticity and genuine connections in influencer marketing.
He said, "In the realm of influencer marketing, credibility has become a major concern, where the true impact lies in the interplay of effective measurement strategies, strategic alignment, and the pursuit of authenticity."
Gupta revealed that Meesho's influencer engagement happens organically, and they aim to carefully vet influencers based on their alignment with the brand and target audience.
"By harnessing the potential of data-driven insights and audience segmentation, we skillfully engage with targeted cohorts, delivering impactful messaging that resonates profoundly," added Gupta.
Nurture authenticity through micro and nano influencers
Preety Singh, co-founder and managing director, Boomlet Group, highlighted the benefits of paid verification, especially for micro and nano influencers. "Paid verification provides these influencers with the opportunity to boost their authenticity in general," she said.
Meesho too aims to focus on micro-influencers to cultivate loyal audiences.
Gupta said, "Micro-influencers with loyal audiences are a key focus, as they tap into close-knit communities, enhancing authenticity and fostering meaningful engagement."
For Mehrotra, nano influencer discovery will be solved better now as brands can identify verified micro and nano influencers and engage with them for various campaigns.
“Deep understanding of the audience and authentic content drives the right engagement organically. Marketers need to hone their understanding of the TG and work with complimentary influencers”, he shared.
Sachdev expressed that the diverse range of personalities the brand collaborates with cater to their extensive product lineup.
She explained, "As a brand, Puma works with a wide variety and scale of personalities to cater to our huge spectrum of products ranging from performance wear such as running, training and sportswear to lifestyle products for men, women and kids."
She added, "We have always believed that for many categories, credibility in the space is much more important than scale and reach, and thus manage our associations accordingly."
How has paid verification impacted creators?
The significance of the 'verification badge' has seen a shift over time.
Divisha Iyer, AVP - solutions and business head - influencer management, Schbang, notes the transformation.
She stated, "Earlier it denoted credibility and authenticity that helped people distinguish an influencer/celebrity's profile from fake profiles and fan pages. Today, it's become a status symbol in the influencer universe."
Karan Pherwani, vice president, Chtrbox, shares the creators' mixed responses to paid verification.
"Some creators opt for paid verification to protect themselves from account impersonation and improve security. On the other hand, some creators believe in maintaining their authenticity through organic growth, genuine engagement, and dedication to their craft. Chtrbox supports both approaches, aiming to create a secure and nurturing environment that empowers talent to establish meaningful connections with their audience", said Pherwani.
Manish Solanki, COO and co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea, did agree that the 'blue tick' value has now diminished.
"The trend of paid verification has gained momentum, with even platforms like Meta embracing it. Consequently, there has been a notable surge in the number of verified users on the platform. Nowadays, when it comes to paid marketing, what carries true weight is an influencer's engagement, reach, and the quality of their content, irrespective of their possession of a blue tick," he said.
Gautam Madhwan, founder and CEO, MAD Influence, observes the evolution of the verified influencer tag and says that the premiumness associated with it at one time doesn't exist now.
"Earlier, verified influencers had the chance to charge a premium for their services, but now that premium is no longer chargeable," he said.
To surmise, it’s safe to say that the 'blue tick' may be accessible to many, but influencers' credibility remains a lasting asset.
Brands now emphasise genuine content and engagement, diminishing the sole importance of verification. As audiences and brands alike seek authenticity, influencers' true impact lies in forging meaningful connections through their content, ensuring their value endures beyond a mere badge.