Will advertisers leave Twitter under Elon Musk’s ownership? That question is getting bandied about a lot these days. That’s because of widespread speculation that Musk will relax Twitter’s content moderation policies. This, in turn, could conceivably create brand safety issues by making controversial content more prevalent on the app, which has nearly 400 million monthly active users. For example, Advertising Age reported that “Marketers are worried that Musk will reopen the floodgates on uncivil behavior on the platform.” Ad agencies consulted by Ad Age said that their clients are increasingly asking about the risks of staying on Twitter. Here’s what I think will happen:
- Some advertisers will flee Twitter and never return.
- Some advertisers will put Twitter advertising on pause but eventually return to Twitter.
- Most advertisers will do nothing.
The fact of the matter is this: advertisers have shown by their actions that they have a higher tolerance for social media controversy than news media reports might have you believe. We have seen time and again controversies erupt on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Most recently, Facebook became the target of widespread public scorn after whistle blower Frances Haugen, an ex-Facebook employee, shared internal documents that showed Facebook executives knowingly allowed its algorithm to publish harmful and divisive content on users’ news feeds.
The resulting expose, published in The Wall Street Journal, also sparked speculation that advertisers would leave Facebook. Some did. But most did not. Why? Because the fact that a publisher and aggregator of news content (which is what Facebook does) knowingly shares divisive information was not exactly shocking news to advertisers. Mainstream news media have been attracting audiences by publishing divisive content for decades, long before the internet existed. And they’re doing so today. As a result, advertisers have a higher tolerance for conflict than Facebook’s critics did.
What really hurt Facebook was Apple. Facebook’s parent, Meta, disclosed recently that the company would suffer a $10 billion revenue hit in 2022 because of the impact of Apple’s iPhone privacy controls launched in 2021. Meta’s stock tanked dramatically so as a result. Why? Because privacy controls would likely make ad targeting more difficult on Facebook. It was ad targeting, not a Wall Street Journal expose about the company’s culture, governance, and content policies, that hurt Facebook.
The real concern among advertisers is not whether controversial content will appear on Twitter. The fact is that controversial content already does appear on Twitter. Advertisers are more concerned that their ads could appear alongside controversial content. This is more of an issue with how an app manages its algorithm. YouTube, for instance, landed in hot water recently because advertisers’ content was appearing alongside hate speech, but most advertisers understood then (and understand now) that it’s impossible to stamp out hate speech completely. Many more also understand that controversial content is not necessarily hate speech. These realities are part of being a brand on social media – and they always have been.
Twitter has been down this road before, too, such as when a major hack involving a crypto currency scam embarrassed the platform and cast a spotlight on how easy it is for bad actors to exploit Twitter to commit crimes. Or when the proliferation of trolls and bots threatened Twitter’s reputation. Advertisers were concerned, to be sure, but for the most part they reacted by pressuring Twitter to improve its algorithm as opposed to demanding wide-scale changes in how Twitter operates fundamentally.
My advice to advertisers is:
- Keep advertising on Twitter if you are satisfied with your results so far.
- Don’t let the news distract you from new ad products Twitter is developing, as we’ve been reporting on our blog.
- Monitor brand safety closely, but that’s true whether you are advertising on Twitter or any other social media app.
- Watch where your audience goes. There is a very real possibility that ongoing controversy at Twitter could cause a drop in users. The question is whether your audience will leave Twitter. It’s a question. It’s not a certainty. Work with your agency partner to keep tabs on the situation, but don’t make assumptions based on news headlines.
True Interactive monitors developments on social media all the time as part of being a well-informed partner to our clients. Keep watching this blog for updates.
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