Fri, 29 Apr 2022 17:03:00 GMT
Earlier this week, it was reported that the world’s richest man Elon Musk had reached an agreement to acquire social media giant, Twitter, for $44 billion - and the world at large is still reeling from the announcement. Frequently characterised as a ‘free speech absolutist’, questions have arisen over the potential reforms that the platform is expected to undergo as a result of this new era of ownership.
As well as highlighting the protection of freedom of speech, as “the bedrock of a functioning democracy”, Elon has stated his intentions to improve Twitter with a variety of new features such as “making the algorithms open source” and “defeating the spam bots”, all in the name of increasing trust, transparency and financial viability. Whether the user base believes him or these alterations come true is yet to be seen, as theories, concerns and, of course, online arguments continue to fly around social media.
To discuss how brands and advertisers are planning to adapt to any changes, LBB’s Editorial Team spoke with social media and strategy experts from across the industry.
Brands have become more conscious about what platform they want to be on, who they want to talk to and where their ads get shown. Content moderation has always been a hot topic for advertisers. They don’t want their content to be next to one that propagates anything negative or that propagates disinformation. The key topic that everyone seems to be discussing today is how Elon Musk wants to make Twitter the free-speech haven. Time will tell what that really means for Twitter and how the open-source content policing algorithm could work but it is not that easy, as governments all around the world are taking a stricter stance on regulating Social Media Platforms.
Twitter themselves have separated the concept of free speech and the propagation of it in its values, stating that “Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right — but freedom to have that speech amplified by Twitter is not. Our rules exist to promote healthy conversations.” One could argue that free speech could give permission for brands to be more real and authentic, to turn around their brands and create even stronger connections with those that share their values and views.
But, for advertisers, the concerns will always lie in the content regulation aspects of things. We have seen advertisers boycott platforms in the past that don’t take content regulation seriously. All platforms including Twitter have been investing significantly in brand safety or safety in general. The goal for platforms today is to be a place that promotes healthy conversations among individuals. Opening it up to all or making significant changes to it could mean advertisers shifting their budgets onto other platforms. Whilst it’s very early to see any significant dollar shifts for now, advertisers will be keeping a close eye on the platform and might make some quick moves if said changes come into effect.
Elon Musk has bought Twitter, and as I scroll my timeline, most South Africans are more wrapped up in humorously squabbling over whether the country can claim SA-born Musk as their own and are furthermore claiming that SA now collectively owns the platform.
Many fear that Twitter will become the wild west with Elon Musk’s free speech, libertarian- inconsistent ideological leanings but if you’ve spent any time on the platform you would know it’s already wild and often toxic, with community managers and users alike having to take routine breaks from the platform.
From a user point of view, it’s more important than ever to curate and proactively follow the type of content you would like to see on your timeline. If you follow trash tweeters there is going to be a stench. Furthermore, to ensure the collective health of your experience of the platform, be the type of tweeter you want to see intellectual, interesting, humorous, and insightful. Will it become worse or dare I say better under Elon Musk? Let’s wait and see. I don’t imagine a billionaire spending $44 billion just to see the platform fail.
Old school social people remember a time when Twitter was about connecting people with common or not-so-common interests. As Twitter possibly takes a new and improved move back to its true roots of conversation and debate, brands will once again need to start thinking critically about what their brand stands for in the space and what niche of their persona and purpose do they want to personify in the conversations they have or participate in on the platform.
Obviously Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is creating controversy, and that is only because what’s neutral for someone might be extreme for another and vice versa, so the debate on whether Twitter will be dominated by leftist, rightist or centrist opinions will last forever and won’t take us anywhere. So, let’s focus on what matters!
Making Twitter’s algorithm an open-source.
Twitter’s flagship product is the algorithm and its data, and Elon Musk promises to make the platform open-source, which is cool and a big statement, just from a transparency standpoint. However, the assumption that this would decode the algorithmic decision processing of pushing content to other users’ feed is wrong, as the decision process is based on different algorithms interconnected and functioning together in a period of time, all under the umbrella of machine learning. None of the big platforms has an ‘alpha algorithm’ that they are relying on.
The algorithm without data is worth nothing, and in fact, what matters is the data and the data processing over a period of time. Of course, the algorithm is good to have and is a big step toward a transparent social landscape, and hopefully, a practice that the other big player will follow (which I doubt).
There has been much said already about Elon Musk buying Twitter and the huge price he has paid for the platform. However, he hasn’t become the richest man in the world by making bad financial decisions. If he thinks Twitter has tremendous potential, then he obviously thinks he is paying the right price. That said, it appears that the main trepidation and concern surrounds his open stance as a free speech absolutist.
As I see it, the main challenge is that although many people may see some pretty hateful perspectives on the platform,as with any social media, the bigger issue is that these mainly go unchecked. In short, they are incubated in the echo-chambers created by the algorithm. In the recent past the way this has been managed by Twitter is by shutting down accounts and controlling speech, but if Elon Musk sees “free speech as the bedrock of a functioning democracy” he may try to break those echo-chambers to facilitate broader debate.
The problems occur when you take this notion in the context of current platform behaviour. People are broadly interest-led, following their passions, the people they like and the subjects they want to spend time with. Any debate usually occurs between people of broadly similar ideology.
If you have ever tried to get out of your echo chamber on Twitter, it can become a very stressful place very quickly. The views you come across and the things you see written can be pretty alarming, but if Musk wants Twitter to be a true ‘town square’ this may be exactly the way he plans to do it. If he were to make the algorithm open-source and break down these echo chambers then hate speech can be out in the open, kept in check by the community through open debate and discourse. The obvious question we need to ask is whether or not the community will step up and want to participate.
Musk’s acquisition is undoubtedly one of the most controversial deals in social tech over the last decade. The takeover has driven worldwide debate, made headlines and sparked mixed reactions. Widely recognised as a free speech absolutist, rumours that he plans to relax policy and moderation rules on the platform are gathering momentum as one would expect. I question what this means for society and the diversity/inclusion global challenge, which is a priority for our business and indeed for all our partners. Only time will tell how this plays out but of course, if this is the case, we will no doubt see brands remove themselves from any associations with controversial content which may indeed present an opportunity for smaller players such as Snapchat and Pinterest.
So, Elon Musk is in the process of buying Twitter. Why not? It’s expected to grow to more than 329 million users in 2022. Its user profile is affluent, well-educated and liberal. And maybe best of all, it offers the lowest CPM of all the major platforms, leaving obvious headroom to add value. Musk has a track record of driving technical innovation so under his ownership and direction, there’s obvious untapped potential to realise. Musk knows this and he says he wants to buy it to bang the free speech drum harder.
So if the purchase makes sense for Musk, does it also make sense for brands? Brands need to think about what free speech means. Or more specifically, what Musk means by free speech. There’s a risk here that he thinks it means the right to say whatever you want. This is evidenced in his own track record and by his hint that he’ll remove permanent Twitter bans for various nut jobs that quite frankly, we’ve heard enough from. This is problematic from a moral standpoint but also from a legal standpoint where Western Europe in particular has legislation around free speech that operates at a very different level to the first amendment. In the UK we have laws that legislate against both hate speech and hate crimes – placing de facto limits on ‘totally free’ speech.
So the most enlightened brands will know that their relationship with the new, Musk owned version of Twitter will need careful management. Twitter as a vehicle for transparency, diversity of thought and positively creative ideas is something every brand should aspire to be a part of and contribute to. But Twitter as an anarchic vehicle for misinformation and hate is a problem for all of us, not just brands.
Brands will be watching closely to see which path Twitter takes. If Musk brings innovation and fresh thinking about product experience, expect the platform to realise its potential and for brands to embrace the change. But if the platform takes the wrong path in terms of governing content, the smart brands won’t want to be complicit in a cesspit of hate and nonsense, so expect them to walk the other way.
Twitter has always been the social media channel for a good debate. Dance challenge? TikTok. New side hustle? LinkedIn. Heated argument? Even Reddit would say Twitter! So it’s no surprise the latest Twitter news – its purchase by Elon Musk – is being hotly debated. Here are the questions we’re hearing, along with our answers.
Musk is a ‘free speech absolutist’. While that might have positives, it can come with hate. Our reco: If Twitter rolls back content moderation, assess brand safety and reallocate social media spend accordingly.
One Musk plan is to publish Twitter’s algorithm, which means transparency for what gets shown to whom. But it also means people can game the system. Our reco: If Twitter open-sources the algorithm, continually test targeting and distribution and recalibrate as necessary.
Musk has said he’s going after the bots. However, anonymity has also meant privacy, including for consumers at risk for hate. Our reco: If Twitter goes all-in on authenticating all humans, consider shifting less safe communities to other channels.
Mark Zuckerberg famously said Facebook was tech, not media. On the other hand, Musk famously uses Twitter to express his personal opinions. Our reco: Establish monitoring of Musk’s tweets and check vs. your brand values.
Twitter’s ad revenue isn’t at the level of Meta’s or at the growth rate of TikTok. Last year, it launched Twitter Blue subscriptions. Our reco: If Twitter shifts to the subscription model Musk has suggested, brands should monitor subscription trends as well as the level of advertiser services.
There’s a great deal to be decided — and in the meantime, debated. In the spirit of Twitter, tweet at us if you agree or disagree!
Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter Marks a New Era of Social Media Marketing
Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter will fundamentally change how brands market on social media. He’s indicated that he would remove all paid advertising, which has long been a struggle for Twitter in recent years. While year-over-year ad revenue has continued to increase, ad engagement decreased by 12%, resulting in a 39% increase in the cost per engagement in 2021. Indeed, Twitter’s entire purpose was to provide a forum to react to the latest news, something that’s extremely difficult for brands to do authentically and quickly.
Musk has long been a polarising figure, saying and doing what he wants - much to the dismay of shareholders, the SCC and members of his boards. Since the acquisition was announced, people like Katy Perry and Barack Obama have lost 200,000 and 300,000 followers respectively, indicating that a mass exodus of users may be on the horizon as people try to disassociate themselves with Twitter and its new values.
The opportunity for brands on Twitter was how it enabled organic conversations with their audience. However, despite the best intentions of marketers, very few brands have actually utilised Twitter well and in a way that didn’t feel like advertising. Success stories like Netflix and Wendy’s are the exception, not the rule. These brands took their time cultivating a captive audience, but if the topics on the platform become increasingly polarised, this will be increasingly difficult to do.
What is clear is that Musk’s acquisition fundamentally changes the purpose of the platform from a centralised hub to engage in trending topics, to a forum to protect free speech at all costs. With this change, marketers will have to wait and see if Twitter can still be leveraged to help build their brands.
One thing is clear: brands’ approaches to social media will be forever different.
If there is one guy that epitomises turning radical ideas (from the brilliant to the bizarre) into action, it’s Elon Musk. And with the recent Twitter acquisition, it’s way too early to say what the implications for brands really will be. But, there’s a lot of speculation.
A major concern has been about his dialogue around unmoderated free speech. Social media is already known to have negative mental health impacts for some and most platforms are working to try and counter that. Instead, he’s inviting the Parler audience back. Will the discourse on Twitter just become one about conspiracy, toxicity towards women, minorities and bullying? Will Twitter just become another 4Chan? And would that drive regular people off the platform? If so, what’s the value of the audience who’s left?
But that’s an extreme scenario. Musk’s narrative has shifted a bit (reducing moderation and free speech is hard to raise money on). Instead, he’s focused more on this move to a hybrid subscription-advertising model. And that’s where the biggest implications may lie for brands.
Twitter launched a subscription offering in 2021 (Twitter Blue). It’s $2.99 a month and the main benefit seems to be the ‘edit Tweet’ function and ad-free news articles. It’s a layer of customisation to the current experience. But Musk wants to offset Twitter’s reliance on ads, so it’s going to be interesting to see what he has in store to make that subscription model more appealing. Is the future an ad-free Twitter experience? Or an exclusive experience? Further, some experts speculate there may be a future where brands pay a subscription just to have a presence on the platform. Could you imagine paying $1M to connect with your million followers? You might if your brand has been seeing enormous value from that audience. Could you imagine paying for the data to mine for audience insights? You might. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.
Elon Musk has said that his main motivation for purchasing Twitter was ensuring a tool for freedom for the future of civilization. He said it was not the economics. And that is the ‘not-so-clear’ part. If we see Twitter as a mass medium, we can easily understand Musk’s interest in the social platform. As in any TV channel or radio station, owners need to ensure a growing audience as it is the key success factor in any outlet that lives off of paid advertising. If Twitter owned by Musk will bring better features and more innovative solutions, that will be very positive for the social media landscape in general. Let’s hope that will be the case. Twitter is in a very competitive environment with new social media platforms growing. If it turned authoritarian or manipulative, people will start abandoning it and so will advertisers with their paid media budgets.
At agencies and in the marketing world in general, many people are expressing their concern about the independence of Twitter regarding Musk’s companies and specific interests. The same happened when Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013. I tend to be optimistic. Musk can make Twitter a better tool and ensure it will remain competitive and profitable. That’s perhaps the best he can do for the future of civilization. Time will tell.
Musk’s leap into the world of media has us all a-twitter. But should not come as a surprise. He understands the transformative power of a tweet, especially when it comes to sensitive markets like automotive, aviation, and space travel.
While no one is totally sure about what the future holds, one thing that is certain: it signals change. If his Tesla and SpaceX track record is anything to go by, he’s going to go beyond introducing an edit button, changing an algorithm, and allowing the likes of Donald Trump back out onto the platform. So, while the industry has been quick to damn the endeavour due to Musk’s lack of sophisticated media experience, it would be wise for social media experts to remember that the world’s richest man had (proudly) no engineering experience when he started building electric cars and rocket ships.
In fact, his distinct lack of experience may well be the secret to Twitter’s success going forward. Rather than trying to resurrect the platform using tried and tested tactics, Musk may turn to first principles (when you boil things down to the most fundamental truths … and then reason up from there) to build a revolutionary new strategy for the struggling platform. Let’s spend some time considering the first principles of social media and ask what these may mean for Twitter going forward:
Today the big social media platforms have evolved into broadcasters, pumping our feeds full of advertising. If we think back to the early days of Facebook, the platform was created to connect people and foster a sense of intimacy within communities.
Implication: Brands may need to dial back on mass messaging, and dial up personal connection if they are going to feel meaningful to the audience on Twitter.
Whether we take Musk at his word or not, he is promising more freedom of speech on Twitter. This means that content may become more volatile and could even result in hate speech, depending on how far Musk is willing to go.
Implication: Marketers will need to think twice about whether Twitter is the place for their brands, or run the risk of being associated with content that goes against their identity and values.
Social media feeds today have become homogenous. If you’ve seen one feed, you’ve seen them all. What made social media so exciting in its infancy was that the platforms were shaped by their audiences and not the other way around.
Implication: Brands may need to find more sophisticated ways of tapping into existing conversations, and adding to them, rather than trying to dictate new ones.
A slightly darker one. We all know that social media has the power to influence decisions (see Brexit). However, given Musk’s vested interests in other industries, there is a chance that he will be tempted to stack the decks in favour of his other brands and business.
Implication: Brands that compete in the automotive, aviation, or space categories may want to think about how much they invest in Twitter campaigns going forward.
To understand what the Musk purchase means for adland, we need to take a view beyond Twitter. Brands that are reliant on specific channels are always at the biggest risk of upset when those channels change. There are many famous examples of brands who were so reliant on certain functions of certain channels’ algorithms that their businesses collapsed when that algorithm changed.
Despite this reasonably established truth, we still see brands becoming solely reliant on communities and data they don't have direct access to. We also see that many of the most successful brands on Twitter are reading from the same playbook, which will probably be redundant in Musk's Twitter. Any subsequent changes to Twitter will likely lead to frantic scrambling for those who don’t embrace flexibility.
The brands approach social with a behaviour-first lens instead of a rigid channel-first view will be fine. They’re already actively shifting and changing in line with the ways users change on social. These brands also often understand the critical role of owned data and have been pushing for healthy cross-channel ecosystems for a long time.
We don't know what changes Musk will bring, or what his vision of brand safety and transparency looks like in practice. If he keeps the majority of Twitter's brand and community safety mechanisms in place, that will keep advertisers on the platform even as they adapt to changes. However, if those mechanisms change, you'd expect a moment of pause and re-evaluation from many brands. We shouldn't be surprised when that happens - it's one of the few constants of the social landscape that every major player has gone through in the past couple of years.
The ultimate decider will be who stays on the platform, and who leaves. Despite a lower user base than other platforms, Twitter had stayed dominant because of the outsized cultural impact of its audience. Can Musk maintain that? We’ll soon find out.