Is Twitter pay-to-play now? Early results of my Blue checkmark experiment are in

I only have one month worth of results, but the numbers are pretty clear. Twitter is juking the stats.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
Twitter Blue concept
Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 60% of Twitter users report taking a break from Twitter in the last year. Unfortunately, Pew doesn't compare those numbers to previous years, but the implication is that Twitter's changes have caused defections from the service.

There is almost a biblical analogy here, in that the population of Twitter have scattered across many different services, not one of which has the same mass and strength as the original home.

Also: I've used social networks since the 80s. Threads is the most annoying one I've tried

My concern is about Twitter, where I still have a considerable audience of followers. From February through May 2023, I saw a precipitous decline in overall engagement with my readers. A big part of that decline was probably caused by a change in how Twitter promotes tweets to its users. According to a tweet from the company on March 27, only those with verified "blue checkmark" accounts will have their tweets show in the For You section of the Twitter feed. That's the only place most people look.

Does the blue checkmark perform?

Last month, I decided to pay for the Twitter Blue. Doing so was supposed to put my tweets back into the For You section (and it looks like it did).

In my previous article, I looked at data aggregated across four-month blocks to show you how my actual Twitter impression numbers dropped from February to May 2023. My December impression numbers were high because one tweet went somewhat viral, and my January numbers were high because I had three very popular tweets. But my numbers dropped hard in February, March, April, and May.

Also: Twitter seeing 'record user engagement'? The data tells a different story

So, in order to see whether the Twitter Blue membership would have a positive impact on my overall impression count, I signed up in early June. The blue checkmark appeared on June 12. Keep that in mind because I'm going to show you the results of Twitter Blue for just two-thirds of June and one-third of July (it's July 11 as I write this).

David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As you can see: boom! There's no doubt my impression numbers blossomed in June. 

Remember, you're seeing the Twitter Blue effect active for just 18 of the 30 days, because I got the checkmark part way through June, on June 12. Now, in July, I have almost as many impressions as I got for entire months before Twitter Blue, but we're only 11 days into the month.

I should note that my tweeting behavior and pattern didn't differ between the months. I have a pretty reliable daily social media practice, and I just continued it in June and July.

Also: How to delete your Twitter account and protect your data, too

Pretty clearly, Twitter Blue does perform. I dislike the fact that Twitter has taken a platform we've all contributed to (because, let's face it, Twitter wouldn't be Twitter without us), and limited exposure for those the company can't monetize.

I don't have any problem with Twitter making money. But by reducing the exposure of those who haven't paid for the blue checkmark, Twitter is reducing the overall reach, and therefore the overall value, of Twitter.

What's the bottom line?

I'm going to continue to track the performance of my eight-dollar-a-month payment for the next few months. I want to see if this engagement increase holds. As I mentioned previously, I value my interactions through Twitter, because my interactions with readers via the platform help me do my job.

So, for now, I'll consider it a cost of doing business. What about you? Are you paying for Twitter Blue? If so, have you seen an improvement in engagement? Conversely, if you're not paying for Twitter Blue, have you seen a drop in engagement? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter on Substack, and follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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