Like Brexit, very smart, professional people have convincing arguments for abandoning Twitter or staying on board and riding through the (possible) storm. The dustup is causing brand advertisers are rethinking their platform strategies. But shouldn’t everyone?
What The Little Bird Already Told Us
As he famously requested by carrying a bathroom sink into Twitter headquarters, corporate America let Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter sink in, and then some brands jumped ship—or put their Twitter strategy on hold. It isn’t just that Musk says and does a lot of controversial things or that—as in the case of General Motors and Ford—he also runs a direct competitor to their businesses. The concern is what could happen to Twitter, according to at least 12 major brands that requested their agency of record to pause their Twitter campaigns, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Many brands and influencers have voiced concern about Twitter sliding into questionable territory with respect to fringe politics. To Twitter’s credit, the company already admitted many of its issues, ranging from algorithmic bias to audience measurement, long before Musk bought the company.
In October 2021, the company told the BBC that its algorithms were causing the platform to surface some content in users’ feeds based on political alignment. After reviewing millions of Tweets sent in 2020, Twitter’s researchers presented evidence that its algorithms automatically promoted content with specific political leanings in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.
Twitter has also made no secret of its issues with audience estimation. In August, the company revealed that 23 million accounts, representing 8.5 percent of its user base, were bots. The company also stated in September that it had overstated its audience by nearly two million since 2017, according to the Financial Times. This is not a huge percentage of its total user base, but it matters. Also, Twitter’s heavy tweeters, which account for less than 10 percent of users, generate 90 percent of the platform’s content and half of its revenue. According to Reuters, an internal report states that heavy tweeters have been in steady decline since 2020.
Then, there is the issue of problematic ad placement. Just last month, Coca-Cola, Disney, Dyson, Forbes, PBS Kids, and others found their ads next to tweets soliciting child pornography and subsequently paused or canceled their campaigns. The issue isn’t due to a lack of vigilance on Twitter’s part, however. It appears to be an issue of scale. If Twitter, or any other social media platform, is unable to identify and block inappropriate content, algorithms simply do their work and place ads where they are likely to find an interested audience.
According to The Verge, a research team assessing Twitter’s ability to detect exploitative content at scale consistently admitted the platform currently lacked the tools necessary to launch its version of an adult content business with a paywall, as it was still struggling to manage its existing filtering efforts. According to The Verge, which quoted an internal Twitter report, Twitter’s efforts to filter out offensive or illegal content—the type of posts the platform bans in its terms of service—sometimes fail, and if these failings continue unchecked, it may place Twitter at “legal and reputational risk.”
But that’s the kind of risk that social media platforms and brands with their own online communities face constantly. Twitter’s issues are social media issues: A change in Twitter’s leadership may make those posting inappropriate content feel like it may be easier to fly under the radar; there’s no place that will be friction-free for brands.
Fleeing Twitter won’t solve fundamental technical and human resource problems that make it difficult for social media platforms to keep ads and inappropriate content apart. That’s also true for other problems like audience measurement and algorithmic bias: they are everywhere and brand marketers must do the work—monitoring and calling out inconsistencies in brand safety policies or performance reporting—wherever they land in social media. Considering a Twexit? Here are three things to keep in mind:
It’s Time To Decouple Audience From Platforms
It may be wise to rethink social media strategy and decouple a pursuit of audience from a specific platform. Your Twitter audience is also likely elsewhere on social, so focus on content and the value that your messaging will bring at that moment. Your messaging should be relevant to your audience wherever they are. If your audience leaves Twitter, your marketing strategy should be agile enough to adapt quickly.
Leaving A Platform Means Leaving Its Unique Context—And Its Potential For User Engagement
According to Hootsuite, 65 percent of Twitter users lean toward or identify as Democrats, 42 percent hold college degrees, second only to LinkedIn, and 30 percent are women. While only 0.2 percent of Twitter users use the platform exclusively, your messaging may miss a vital context for specific audience segments. When building brand awareness, be just as audience-aware as you are context-savvy. Deliver a message that makes sense for your potential audience and for how they tend to interact with content or ads on Twitter as opposed to other platforms.
Be Vigilant: Don’t Leave Your Brand’s Safety To An Algorithm—Anywhere
Keep up with brand safety standards (like Twitter’s) and, if possible, keep tabs on the keywords users employ to arrive at content that appears next to your ads through your ad manager. While Meta is introducing a new tool to show brands where their ads appear in users’ feeds and allow them to block post content types on a more granular level, Twitter’s new boss has promised to help keep brands safe but offered no specifics. That may change, but brands can protect themselves best by maintaining and keeping watch over ad placements and ensuring that marketing strategy plans include trusted brand-safe environments that can accommodate campaigns if (or when) a Twitter-exit becomes necessary.