Should you use Twitter for your brand marketing right now?
What is going on with Twitter, you might ask. Since Elon Musk took over at the end of October, the social media platform has been in the news almost every day (especially if you follow digital marketing news channels). According to Musk, optimizations are being launched left, right and center but what does this mean for brands on Twitter and for their media budgets? Let’s dive in!
Quick update: How did Elon take over Twitter?
If you haven’t been tuning into Twitter over the last 6 months, you might be in for a big surprise that Musk is involved in Twitter. Last April, he expressed an interest in buying this social media platform. After a whole legal saga of will-he won’t-he - I will not bore you with the details, Elon took residence as “Chief Twit” (his words not mine) at the end of October. He bought the platform for $44 billion and expressed the wish to make it profitable as soon as possible. So how is he planning to do this, and how is this currently impacting the app and its users, including companies and brands.
What happened last month on Twitter?
First, a small caveat: this article was written at the end of December, so we will have included all the latest updates up until then. If you want our most recent updates or point of views, don’t hesitate to reach out below.
Musk fired about 50% of Twitter staff when he took over, and another 12-15% chose to leave after receiving an email stating that they should only stick around if they were prepared for a new “hardcore Twitter”. Chaos ensued later because if they didn’t respond before 5pm their work credentials were deleted, effectively locking themselves inside or outside of the Twitter building. Twitter continued to operate with about 35-37% of its original staff. More people were let go in the course of November and December based on their performance.
Banned users were reinstated, among which former US president Donald Trump1. Controversial because Elon Musk always claimed that reinstating banned users would be decided by a committee – a Content Moderation Council, not by one individual. He has since nuanced this claim, saying that the committee would only have an advisory role, and the ultimate decision would always be his.2
But maybe the biggest bombshell that Musk dropped is the release of the so-called Twitter files. These documents are to prove that Twitter impeded free speech because after the uprise on Capitol Hill on 6th January 2021, restrictions were set in place on certain controversial Twitter accounts and led to the banning of Donald Trump from the platform. Only days after the first installment, three people of the Trust & Safety Council resigned because they refused to work for Musk any longer. Only days later the former head of that same council needs to flee his own home after threats and harassment, and the Trust & Safety Council is disbanded.
In the meantime, Musk keeps sending controversial tweets, either smearing former employees or stirring the pot on free speech and Covid. His popularity takes a nose-dive, which might have led to him Tweeting another poll on Sunday 18th December: should he step down or not? More than 17.5 million people vote and with a majority of 57% voting yes, he should, Musk announced on 19th December that he is stepping down as CEO of Twitter, as soon as he has found a replacement.
make Twitter profitable
The Elon Era – what are the improvements?
The overall goal Musk is still striving towards is to make Twitter profitable and the way to do this, in his opinion, is to monetize on the blue tick verification process. What does this mean exactly:
The new Twitter Blue would mean that as a user you will pay to be verified on Twitter, and you’ll get access to other perks as well:
- New sparkling verification tick
- Priority in replies, mentions and search
- Ability to post long video & audio
- Half as many ads
- Paywall bypass for selected publishers
As the first roll-out resulted in an enormous amount of spam and fake accounts, some of them very harmful to big companies3, it was temporarily abandoned in order to develop a solution. Now it seems they have found one which they will introduce to the app at the start of December.
- Blue tick for individual people, like celebrities
- Grey tick for government and politicians
- Gold tick for companies
Musk also announced there would be manual checks in order to decide whether an account should be verified. I wonder how they will manage this with the current number of staff.4 Additionally, voices are also questioning how watertight this system is for normal users as the blue tick will not distinguish paying users from other verified users. Therefore, high-profile individuals still run the risk of being impersonated, which kind of defeats the objective. The same goes for companies or governments who refuse to pay up for the verification: this could open a lot of possibilities for scammers, verifying their scam account as the real thing.
Another recently launched improvement concerns advertising on the platform. Although Musk cannot claim all the credit for this: it was being developed before he took over and is only now being rolled out.5 This includes:
- Website Conversion Option: to track and target users that have more intent to convert.
- Dynamic Product Ads
- Collection Ads update
However, will it be enough to keep advertisers happy?
Elon Era on Twitter: how risky is this business?
Well, that all depends on how you look at it. From a performance standpoint, the app is not doing too badly. The number of daily active users has increased significantly over the last few weeks – even though that could just be because they want to be here for the drama, or more alarmingly because accounts need to have been active on Twitter for at least 90 days in order to be verified.
However, these are my major concerns:
- Staff: at the moment the company is operating with about 35-37% of its staff. Not knowing how many employees were fired across the different departments, it’s safe to assume that part of those were technical staff. This leads to my other concerns.
- Stability of the app: you need developers to create new functionalities, but also to maintain the existing infrastructure. Concerns about whether the app will stay online and stable is still a cause of concern.
- Copyright System got broken, which allowed users to upload complete movies in one thread. The fact that these threads were only taken down after they went viral raises the question of the content moderation capacity.
- Advertising issues: brands have indicated issues with logging onto their advertising platform, their ad placement and performance, which caused them to pause their advertising budgets.
- User issues and crashes: some users have been experiencing some small glitches with the platform already. They were unable to view replies or replies above the original post, or new tweets at the top of their feeds. They have been experiencing longer load times, time-scrambled DMs or video loading issues.
Wait until its stable again
What should you do, as a brand/business?
This depends on how you use the platform, however right now we would advise you to pause any advertising activity and budgets until the platform is more stable and there is proof of effective content moderation.
The reason? Because content moderation is patchy at best – the disbanding of the Trust & Safety Council does not bode well, and ad placement is not guaranteed where you want, your ad might be displayed among tweets of which the content might harm your brand. As a European brand promoting diversity you don’t want your ad to appear in between racist or other harmful content; which is the reason other brands – like Audi, Volkswagen, General Motors6 – have paused their advertising. Media agencies are also following this trend, which means that brands like Coca Cola, Nintendo, American Express, Apple, McDonalds and PepsiCo are also monitoring their ad spends more closely.7 Musk has tried to calm down advertisers and claimed that Apple resumed their ad spend on the platform, but brands remain cautious.
The future of Twitter
Provided the app stays online and doesn’t go bankrupt before Musk has finished his grand scheme8, the changes might be okay for users and brands alike. If people are getting a bit flustered by Musk’s style, experts are also saying that this is his way of operating: starting with a blank slate, questioning everything and never looking at existing solutions first.9
As an early adopter of this social media platform – I registered in 2008, when the app was launched in Belgium – I am a bit skeptical about the viability of app’s new subscription model as it has never boded well for similar schemes on Facebook or Instagram. Also, the typical audience associated with Twitter seems to be less likely to want to spend money on it: they tend to be educated and critical as they use the platform as a news channel, and for trustworthy information. Banning journalists because they are sharing content you don’t agree with, looks to me like an unnecessary power move, which undermines the trustworthiness Twitter has always strived towards.
Of course we, at SQLI, will be monitoring the situation closely so that if you have any questions or concerns, we can advise you accordingly.