Here in the social media era, everyone is a brand — but some more than others. Verified “influencers” on social media platforms can make a pretty penny selling access to their influence… and so it perhaps is unsurprising that the ability to influence is, itself, a hot commodity you can buy.
Verification on most platforms is hotly coveted, but for a well-known person or brand to get the blue checkmark on Facebook or Twitter is a fairly straightforward process: Anyone can use a publicly available form to apply. Instagram, however, is another thing entirely.
Mashable took a deep look at the world of shady backroom deals for that coveted Instagram verification.
Instagram often gets lumped into one sentence with Twitter and its parent company Facebook, but in one key way it’s a little different. While every social platform that exists doubles as an advertising platform, on Instagram the line blurs heavily. For some influencers, to be on Instagram is to advertise, with no clear line between “a person, being” and “a brand, selling.”
That’s something that has gotten loads of “influencers” in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission. If your job is to “influence” someone to buy something, that’s called advertising and we have rules about that in this country.
The FTC has put social media influencers on notice to follow the dang rules about disclosure already, but follow-up reports indicate that most of them still aren’t, and instead continue to be stealth advertisers, hawking wares for cash as if genuinely enthusiastic about something — despite Instagram itself making sponsorship connections easier to disclose.
Verified accounts, though, have more cachet with the platform’s massive audience, and are more likely to show up in search results. Owners of those accounts also get access to extra features.
The point of all that is: There’s money to be made simply by getting attention on Instagram. Verified accounts can get more attention, which can mean more money. And where there’s money to be made, there are people who will try anything to make more of it.
The Black Market
One verification-selling middleman tells Mashable that he’s sold access for anywhere from $1,500 to $7,000.
He is not the one inside Instagram granting the magic blue icon; rather, a contact of his does. That Instagram employee charges $1,200 per checkmark. The middleman charges whatever he likes to someone who comes to him, because he can make a profit based on what he perceives as the needs of the user seeking it.
He tells Mashable he’s sold five verified badges this year, although only three have been approved so far because the employee selling them — as you might guess — wants to be careful not to get caught.
The middleman tells Mashable that he has heard of Instagram employees losing their jobs for selling verification, although Instagram did not comment.
Another source, with access to a different seller, tells Mashable that he has known that person to sell verification badges for $3,000 to $7,000. A third seller says that he usually sells verification for $5000-$8000, with 60% – 80% going to the employee who does the deed and the rest to him.
Still more sources tell Mashable that they have seen verification sell for as much as $15,000, or as little as “a bottle of wine.”
However, Instagram has limited the number of accounts it will mark verified in recent years, and so even black marketers have to move slowly and take their time, Mashable reports.
Instagram declined to comment to Mashable about the issue.