At the beginning of this month, Elon Musk announced that Twitter accounts could now pay $7.99 per month to unlock the blue tick feature and become a verified account.
In the past, verified blue tick status was reserved for the rights of celebrities and journalists as a mark of authenticity, to prove they were the rightful owner of the account and to limit impersonators. But this newly rolled out feature casts major concerns over the privacy, safety and security of people and businesses globally.
One of Elon Musk’s loose visions for Twitter is to boost subscription revenue but this new feature seems questionable. After a flurry of impersonation accounts came to light and began spreading misinformation, Musk temporarily disabled the feature to investigate.
After a few days, the feature resumed with new stipulations. According to the BBC, Elon Musk said, “Twitter users engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying a “parody” account would be permanently suspended without a warning”.
In any event, it raises big questions over the ability of businesses to manage their online reputation and public brand image, especially if it can so easily be copied, mimicked and impersonated by others.
The impact on businesses
This move by Elon Musk could damage the reputation of many trustworthy businesses and be detrimental to Google first pages. What if stories from fake accounts are accidentally identified by the media as real accounts? What if the media then decides to publish the fake story leading to the fake account outranking the real one on Google first pages?
The new feature could take business’ reputations down a dark hole if we cannot control what stories are given priority on Google first pages.
Brands are at risk of good publicity being buried six feet under a deluge of negative press. This is why building a positive brand narrative with consistent visibility is of paramount importance for a solid online reputation management strategy.
So what could be the impact on brand reputation if a seemingly verified imposter account becomes successful enough to put out fake stories?
A real-life case study
Let’s look at Eli Lilly, an American pharmaceutical company and one of the largest producers of insulin in the world, that became the first big pharma company to fall victim to this new blue tick feature. On 10 November, an impersonation account tweeted “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The fake message racked up more than 1,500 retweets and 11,000 likes in just a few hours. At first glance, the tweet looks like a real message from Lilly, as it comes with a blue tick next to its name.
Given the virality of the tweet, Eli Lilly’s social media team were forced to step in and issue an apology: “We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account. Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.”
According to Fierce Pharma, “Lilly’s shares took a battering the day after the tweet, dropping more than 6% and wiping billions of dollars from its market cap. A similar but less severe stock drop happened to fellow insulin makers Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, with commentators suggesting that the false tweet did much to reignite the debate around insulin pricing, negatively hitting investor sentiment”.
We cannot begin to comprehend the impact one single tweet can have, not only on the reputation and financial worth of a major global company, but indeed of an entire industry sector. The release of this new verified blue tick feature undoubtedly raises many questions around the future of online reputation management.
Elon Musk: has he tarnished his own public image?
What about Elon Musk’s online reputation in this whole scandal? The acquisition of Twitter from Musk for $44million was finalised on 27 October 2022 and since then, the serial entrepreneur has made some quick decisions about the future of Twitter.
Despite Musk reportedly being the wealthiest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and Forbes’s real-time billionaires list, with an estimated net worth of around $174 billion, only last week, he fired around 4,000 workers globally – almost 50% of the workforce.
The BBC reported that, “Musk said he had “no choice” but to slash the company’s workforce as the firm was losing more than $4m (£3.5m) a day”. These financial losses, tied in with the rash decision to allow fake accounts a verified blue tick, could seem like the social media site is in a state of disarray.
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but this could be proved wrong in this unique situation. Legitimate companies may decide to leave Twitter in protest but this doesn’t minimise the possibility of people creating fake accounts in their name, to impersonate their brand.
The future of online reputation management
For the moment, it seems like the issue may have been temporarily addressed, with the need for all fake accounts to display the word parody in their bi-line, as well as their handle. But what is the future of Twitter and what does this mean for the future of online reputation management for businesses?
Will companies and businesses need to hire additional social media managers, whose sole job is to scour social media sites for fake accounts, trying to impersonate their brand?
Will this have an impact on how businesses use social media in general to optimize their content above the fake ones?
This entire scandal will certainly shine a light on the breach of safety and security of online profiles. It also reaffirms to us that social media is borrowed real estate: nothing is owned which means impersonation accounts can and will crop up.
Hopefully Twitter finds a way to permanently overcome this issue, so that it doesn’t arise again, but it certainly provokes conversation around the need for online reputation management from all businesses in the online space.