Wednesday, November 30, 2022

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    Major resignations and platform changes at Twitter spook users and advertisers alike

    Less than a week into Elon Musk’s reign over the Twitterverse, things are looking tenuous for advertisers.

    Elon Musk fired the entire Twitter board – after dismissing chief executive Parag Agrawal and chief financial officer Ned Segal – just three days after his $44bn takeover of Twitter was made official Friday, October 28, per a securities filing. The billionaire executive made himself the sole director and has reportedly pulled more than 50 Tesla employees – most of whom are software engineers – on board to handle code reviews at Twitter. 

    Now, many of the executives who remained are leaving in droves. Chief marketing officer and head of people Leslie Berland is the latest to signal her resignation. The executive, who’s been with Twitter since early 2016, tweeted out a solo blue heart emoji Tuesday evening, inviting a wave of replies and quote retweets that seemingly confirmed her departure. 

    The company’s vice-president of global client solutions Jean-Philippe Maheu, per reports by the New York Times and Bloomberg yesterday, has also left his post. The news follows a handful of other public resignations from Twitter’s top dogs, including chief consumer officer Sarah Personette and chief people and diversity officer Dalana Brand. Meanwhile, the company’s head of product Jay Sullivan deleted his Twitter bio, leaving many to suspect he’s also made an exit.

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    A parting of ways

    Experts believe the executive exodus has multifold causes. For one, many long-standing employees may have strong oppositions to Musk’s ideological and operational objectives. “There’s probably a great deal of people who have been at Twitter for many years and have a strong belief in what Twitter is, in what Twitter should be and where it should be going next,” says social media consultant and industry analyst Matt Navarra. “I imagine some of them will have quite opposing views to where Elon Musk might be wanting to take Twitter based on what he’s told people so far. From an ideological, ethical and moral point of view, some … [may] not want to be a part of something they feel they can’t support.” 

    At the same time, he says, there may be strong financial incentives for some executives to cash out while they can. “Many of them can make a fair bit of money from exiting the company at this stage. They’ve had that feeling of being unsettled at Twitter for some time with this takeover looming over them – this is their opportunity now to move out and escape that issue.”

    Others point out that churn is expected in cases like these. “It’s actually quite normal to have a great deal of movement and turnover in employees when there’s a major change in leadership,” says Mike Allton, a social media expert and head of strategic partnerships at social media management platform Agorapulse.

    Still, Allton also acknowledges that Musk may have an outsized impact due to his public persona: “Of course we’re seeing more movement than normal now with Twitter due to the fact that it’s Elon Musk. He has a distinctive style and approach to management that many would not be comfortable with. He’s also a polarizing figure with his comments and perspectives, more so than most other executives.”

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    Users and advertisers flee

    It’s not just executives who are spooked; users and advertisers alike have withdrawn amid the tumultuous takeover. The hashtag #TwitterMigration has been trending as former devotees flock to platforms like Discord and microblogging site Mastodon in hopes of replicating the ‘people’s platform’ feel that the blue bird app once promised. News of aggressive changes to Twitter’s platform and user experience – including Musk’s plans to charge $8 monthly for users to maintain their verified status (which would fundamentally upend Twitter’s ad-based business model) – have only accelerated departures. 

    Meanwhile, top advertising holding companies including IPG and Havas are advising clients to cease all paid ad activity on the platform until the noise dies down. 

    Some industry leaders believe this is the right approach. Many predict that Twitter is likely to see an influx of hate speech and misinformation in the coming months as Musk – a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” – takes a more lax approach to content moderation. 

    These issues, says Andrew Graham, founder and head of strategy at Bread & Law, a New York-based PR firm, will inevitably create a hostile environment for brands. “I’ve … [called] for brands to cease all engagement on Twitter immediately until, at the absolute least, there is clarity on the moderation issues that are evident under Musk,” he says. “While I doubt disengagement will happen all at once, the new company is just not shaping up to be a particularly serious or useful place for brands to be.”

    He argues that brands that continue to advertise on the platform are likely to see “real reputational consequences” as a result. “You can’t go viral in a positive way on a platform that’s actively trying to destroy democracy, and that is the political identity of Musk’s Twitter.”

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    The complex future of advertising on Twitter

    Allton, for his part, believes the panic may be overblown. Though he acknowledges that hate speech and controversial opinions may abound on Twitter moving forward, he’s still hopeful that Musk will make positive changes that benefit both users and advertisers. “I’m actually quite excited about the potential development of the platform. Musk’s recent announcement regarding Vine and similar features demonstrates a better understanding of where Twitter needs to invest and improve their capabilities.” A revitalization of short-form video platform Vine – which Twitter acquired in 2012 (only to shutter it in 2016), Allton argues, would help Twitter compete with TikTok and Instagram Reels while supporting the burgeoning creator economy and creating a potentially valuable channel for advertisers. 

    However, Musk’s pivot to a partial subscription-based model could also limit opportunity for advertisers. “I expect Twitter is really going to go hard at subscriptions in the next few years, and possibly even make it work, without a care in the world for innovating on the ad side,” predicts Shiv Gupta, managing partner at U of Digital, a digital marketing education firm. “Big picture, if Musk can get a subscription model off the ground, that sets quite a precedent for other social media platforms – companies like Meta, Snap and TikTok may follow suit, which may then limit a very valuable source of advertising for marketers.”

    For now, Allton says, “Users and advertisers [should] stay calm and be patient. This is going to be a tumultuous time within Twitter, but the impact on us as users remains to be seen.”

    In the interim, major resignations and platform changes are likely to have immediate impact. As Gupta puts it: “These resignations, along with Musk’s promise of shifting the business from advertising to subscription and reducing content moderation, have spooked advertisers everywhere. Expect a precipitous decline in Twitter’s ad revenue in the coming quarters.”

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