News & Insights

Making Sense of the Changes at Twitter

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Elon Musk’s purchase of the company is creating unprecedented unpredictability in the social media space, which we’re closely tracking at Precision.

Are we witnessing the death of Twitter and what does it mean for the organizations and campaigns who have invested years in building strong Twitter followings? Elon Musk’s purchase of the company is creating unprecedented unpredictability in the social media space, which we’re closely tracking at Precision.

Here’s what we know so far — with the important caveat that things are changing very rapidly, and Musk has something of a track record of making claims that don’t come to pass:

  • Much of the company’s leadership has been fired, and at least half of the staff—approximately 3,700 people—were laid off (though some are reportedly already being asked back). Another 1,200 employees have resigned after Musk pushed staff to stay on and “be extremely hard core” or leave the company.
  • Twitter rolled out, then paused, and plans to restart an $8/month charge for verification on November 29th. Musk recently said that those who are already verified without paying will need to pay in the end, though–as with everything else involved at Twitter–it’s entirely possible that plan is changed again.
  • The botched rollout of the verification product was notable for numerous fake accounts causing major issues for brand safety, including fake tweets from Senator Ed Markey and Eli Lilly. 
  • Musk stated that he would not make any “major content decisions” or reinstate any accounts that were previously banned before a “content moderation council” was formed–then went ahead and unilaterally restored accounts including The Babylon Bee, Jordan Peterson, and Donald Trump. So much for the content moderation council! 
  • Large corporate advertisers including General Mills, Audi, and Pfizer have paused their advertising spend on the platform and major advocacy groups have called for a similar pause–a call that is strengthening since Trump’s reinstatement on the platform.

Beyond the operational changes at Twitter, we expect significant changes for clients in a number of areas.

Increasing Reputational and Brand Risk

The risk calculus for companies maintaining a regular presence or running ads on Twitter has generally come out in favor of Twitter, but that may be changing. The company’s large Trust and Safety team, charged with reducing the spread of violent threats, harassment, and hate speech on the platform, has been gutted by layoffs, and their new owner has been known to tweet conspiracies himself. 

Advertisers will need to consider the reputational risk of investing money and attention in a platform owned by the world’s wealthiest man with — at best — questionable politics. Campaigns and advocacy groups are used to operating without Twitter ads (Twitter has banned political advertising on the platform since late 2019). As Elon Musk seeks new sources of revenue, he could potentially lift the ban and allow political advertising to return to Twitter, creating a tough decision for organizations hungry to reach grasstops supporters, reporters, news consumers, and decision-makers while still living their values.

Here’s what to do: Limit or pause advertising spend and major time and planning investments on Twitter to avoid any blowback or wasted spend while the dust settles. In the meantime, consider programmatic placements and sponsorships in publications like Axios, Politico, or Punchbowl to reach grasstops and decision-makers.

Paid Authentication Will Change the Platform — For the Better or the Worse

At surface level, this pay-to-play model seems to benefit Twitter’s bottom line more than the people and organizations who have been trying and failing to secure a blue check mark. In theory, authentication could help Twitter provide more precise paid and unpaid targeting options for messaging and knowing users are “real” could make the platform safer, diminish the reach of trolls and fake accounts, and build a more reasonable space for public discourse, but the reality could be the opposite. Facebook introduced its “authentic name” policy nearly a decade ago in an effort to make its platform more secure, with mixed results. The initial results of Twitter’s botched paid verification rollout suggest users will need to anticipate bad actors being able to impersonate their accounts.

Here’s what to do: Precision will be in touch with our clients as soon as the verification product is rolled out with specific recommendations on whether it makes sense to pay to maintain your verification or gain verification as needed, and to work with you to protect your brand on Twitter.

Changes in Staffing and Client Service

Twitter employs (employed?) concierge-level staff for high-profile brands, causes, and candidates, but massive layoffs significantly impacted these teams. Precision has used its contacts with this staff in the past to aid with issues like accounts with compromised security and rapid response advertising needs. 

Here’s what to do: We expect resolution of Twitter issues to be considerably slower in the future, but Precision will work with clients to solve problems and protect your brand with the resources Twitter makes available.

Let’s Keep This in Context

Twitter is a platform that attracts outsize attention — but it is not the largest platform, the fastest-growing, or the most important for many advertising campaigns. As Precision’s Andy Amsler and Kristina Villarini wrote in May, the answer to whether you should engage on Twitter — in the past or in the future — has always been to know whether the platform is really a fit for your audience and objectives.

It’s the 15th largest social media platform in the world after Pinterest and Snapchat, with 436 million monthly active users — or just 15% of Meta’s monthly actives. And the vast majority (80%) of Tweets are written by 10% of Twitter users. There is also a growing body of evidence that suggests Twitter only hardens the political viewpoints of its users, rather than serving as an effective tool for persuasion. 

Then again, Twitter’s influence remains. It is disproportionately used by those in journalism and politics. The potential to engage influencers, and decision makers, and an audience from your base makes communications on Twitter an appealing part of a branding or advocacy campaign. And, for organizations that have to play defense as well as offense, there’s a cost to letting rivals go unchallenged on a platform that has the potential to shape the discourse beyond just its own user base.

The Bottom Line

With so many variables up in the air, we encourage clients to continue to wait and see what happens before making any major decisions about presence on the platform. Regardless of Musk’s changes, this is a good opportunity to consider your reliance on Twitter and your investment of time and resources in other social platforms. An ideal strategy requires thoughtful, complementary organic and paid strategies on multiple platforms, nurturing relationships with your user base in more than one place, based on knowing what users you are trying to reach, understanding that audience and adjusting as needed to find the right forum(s) to reach them.

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