Can Advertisers Live Without Twitter?

IC the Future

A look into Twitter’s uncertain future: what marketers can expect from Elon-era Twitter.

Bryan Noguchi
By Bryan Noguchi

If you’re a top 20 brand advertiser and if you haven’t already, you probably want to stop advertising on Twitter for a little while. If you’re a smaller advertiser who believes “Elon-Era Twitter” is going to save the world, you can stop reading this article and continue advertising on the platform without reservation.

If you’re still here, let’s talk about what the rest of us need to consider and do as Twitter evolves into … whatever it’s going to become.

Big Brands Have More to Lose

Let’s get this out of the way first: For large advertisers this is primarily a brand safety question that boils down to money and math. The more you spend, the more impressions you’ll serve. The more impressions you serve, the more likely you’ll be seen among some less desirable content. If your ad is spotted among bad content, someone who expects you to be more responsible with your ad budgets may call you out on this.

Under most circumstances on any given social platform, strong targeting technology combined with robust human and algorithmic content moderation keeps the brand safety risk acceptably low. Absent any one of these and you’re gambling. If two or more go missing, it’s only a matter of time before you’re roasted upon the bonfire of public shaming.

Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty around Twitter’s content moderation. And the early returns seem to indicate something’s gone wrong, with widely reported upticks in racial and religious slurs together with gender-based hate speech proliferating on the platform within days of the ownership change. With half of Twitter’s staff recently laid off, it doesn’t feel realistic that things are going to get better quickly, and a lot of advertisers have already paused activity.

So, if you’re the kind of brand that doesn’t want to be called out by social media activism orgs like Sleeping Giants, and you have a thick enough skin to withstand being trolled by Musk himself, best to pause your spending for now.

Smaller Brands: What Do You Get from Your Current Investment?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. The starting point for smaller advertisers has to be understanding what you’ve actually been getting from Twitter. And what better moment to ask the question than right now, at this moment of existential crisis for the platform as we’ve known it? This is about how well you set marketing and media objectives and whether or not Twitter has ever adequately delivered against them. Has Twitter given you what you think it’s been giving you?

Good news: If you’ve been in it for awareness and you’ve been using impressions and engagements (likes, shares, views) as your primary KPIs, things have probably been just fine. Bonus points: If you’ve been using Twitter as a traffic driver AND you understand that a click does not equal a page arrival, then you’re probably good!

If you have any other objectives apart from those above, you should really think about how you spend here.

In an ideal world, Twitter connects your brand to people who would be interested in it. That’s its primary function for an advertiser, and it’s generally been OK at this. Ultimately, you also want it to drive some sort of interaction or engagement: a click, a like, a visit, a share. If your Twitter investment hasn’t been driving one of those things, or if your advertising objectives don’t really align to these things, then you should absolutely reconsider using the platform (new owner or not).

Strictly speaking, I’d argue that your brand safety risk remains relatively low — even in today’s highly volatile environment. The risk likely becomes exponentially higher as you approach national spends exceeding a couple thousand dollars a week. If your investment is under that mark, your risk is spread out among tens of thousands of other advertisers who represent perhaps 75% of Twitter’s total ad spend. (The top 25% of spending is probably just the country’s top 50-100 brands.)

This is not to belittle the importance of that spend/return to you. And it’s not meant to absolve you for any of the platform’s misdeeds that ad revenue enables. But your spend and share of voice are a mere drop in the bucket. The only people who have a chance of noticing your ad activity are the ones you’ve targeted — and if your target doesn’t mind that you advertise on Twitter, then have at it. I’m betting you’re probably statistically safe from any real controversy unless Twitter becomes the “free-for-all hellscape” Musk has promised advertisers it won’t become.

You Don’t Need to Pack Your Bags (Yet)

If you’ve decided to stay the course, there are a few things you can do to help maintain your positive momentum:

  • Monitor your brand health. Watch social chatter as well as customer satisfaction. Keep an eye on your business KPIs as well — see if anomalous trends can be correlated to your social activity. If you can establish any negative causality, then curtail or pause your Twitter activity.
  • Watch for performance dips in your advertising KPIs and consider spreading your media bets out: What other platforms might deliver well against your objectives? This is the right time to do this — lots of advertisers are in the reevaluating process as we speak.
  • Scrutinize any systemic changes on the Twitter platform. For example, it’s not clear what paid verification will do to Twitter as an ad platform: Will advertisers need to be subscribed/verified? Will “verified users” be a targeting option? If so, what performance, audience quality, or response/engagement advantages would this offer (if any)? Are gray and blue checkmarks the stupidest things to come along since Al Gore invented the internet? Maybe. If things get too insane for your tastes, pull out!
  • A frantic rollout of new Twitter features will maintain user privacy compliance with FTC agreements. Some questions have been raised about how staffing cuts have impacted Twitter’s ability to maintain internal checks on this. If Twitter starts to get careless with user privacy, I’d say this trumps any brand safety concerns — time to take your budgets elsewhere.

As for the ethical and moral implications around Twitter advertising, every social platform brings its own set of issues here. In the end, only you can decide what’s right for your brand and its values. But consider committing yourself to making these platforms better for everyone. Don’t disseminate hate or misinformation and reevaluate your tolerance for it from others. Focus on the positives. Think of the bigger picture.

When it’s all said and done, there’s no reason your advertising can’t be a reflection of your truer, better self.

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