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    Are ad agencies actually advising their clients to quit Twitter?

    As brands desperately seek guidance on their approach to the platform, we hear from agency experts about the advice they’ve been offering. 

    Each week, The Drum asks agency experts from across the world and the ad business for their take on a tough question facing the industry, from topical concerns to perennial pain points

    This week, Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk and the mogul’s changes to the platform – both his suggestions around user verification and suspensions and the mass layoffs across the company – have brought the platform’s status as a brand-safe environment into serious doubt.

    Ad agencies across the industry are currently fielding queries from clients on their approach to the platform. Should they stay put or go? We asked a dozen agency experts what they were advising their clients.

    James Mortimer, paid social director, iCrossing UK

    Some of our clients have decided to turn off paid ads completely, but generally we think this is unnecessary, and isn’t something we’ve specifically recommended. If anything, there are probably more users now to serve ads to as people flock to the platform to see what news is developing.

    Musk has spoken about the importance of making users accountable on Twitter, ideally through some kind of verification, which should be welcome news to brands – especially those looking to run adverts on the platform. If users are all verified on the platform, it could make attribution and measurement of ads much more straightforward. It’s also possible that payments on Twitter could become a reality, which would be another big win for brands, meaning sales could be directly attributed within the platform and away from Apple’s restrictive iOS updates.

    Bruno Lambertini, co-founder, Media.Monks

    The challenge for Twitter moving forward is to keep and grow the current userbase of around 436 million active users, 60% of which are monetizable. Some of the improvements suggested by Elon to the town hall approach of the platform and the possibility of it being evolved into an everything or super app have the potential to attract bigger and more diverse audiences. 

    However, the growing uncertainty around the platform and negative discourse will be a barrier for brands. We already are seeing brands suspend their Twitter spends while they wait to see how things play out. Of most concern for brand safety is content moderation policies and practices. As Musk suggested he might reduce content moderation, and the number of toxic speeches on the platform may also rise, brands should be closer to their audiences and ready to protect them. The big variable is Elon Musk. The promise of moderation might not be so real and it’s not yet clearly defined.

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    Daniel Andrews, chief executive officer, The Tree

    Although there’s concern about the increasingly dangerous narrative surrounding freedom of speech, by Twitter’s own proclamation the platform is the single largest archive of human consciousness, offering value and insight that can help brands succeed. Therefore, we have to take concerns on a case-by-case basis, and brands with good communities should continue to lean into their successful online presence.

    Brands pulling from the platform now would be premature, as many of the processes and operations have stayed the same despite the change in leader. Social agencies have a duty of care to protect brands from harmful elements, but for the most part, a lot of the rhetoric has had little tangible effects.

    Jo Hayes, director of data and analytics, Barbarian

    We prepared custom POVs for each client with recommendations and alerts about the situation at Twitter, advising some to pause posting and others to continue but with a new set of guidelines. Elon assured users it would take “at least a few more weeks” before decisions will be made about reinstating controversial accounts, and that no major content moderation decisions will be made before a new content moderation council convenes. This has allayed concerns we had related to the midterm elections, but we remain hyper-vigilant about general brand safety because of the fluidity and unpredictability of Twitter.

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    Craig Kronenberger, found and chief executive officer, Stripe Theory

    Given the current culture of vocal reaction, it’s not surprising that some brands are questioning their presence on Twitter. However, despite the fanfare and chatter related to Twitter’s new ownership, we aren’t seeing a mass exodus from the platform, but rather just an increase in conversations and speculations about what will happen. It is too early to know how Musk’s ownership will hurt, help or change Twitter. For now, we caution brands to stay put and keep monitoring how their key audiences are behaving on the platform.

    Vishnu Mohan, partner and chief growth officer, Asia Pacific, Dpet

    I think for this particular scenario, we really need to wait and watch to see what actually happens with Twitter before putting advertising dollars back into place. My biggest concern is content freedom and brands associating themselves with the wrong type of content that doesn’t align with their overall ethos.

    As the world generally slows down thanks to fears of recession, we don’t know if the impacts on Twitter will be long-term, or if advertising stability, growth and most importantly trust will return – barring any outburst from Musk.

    Though Musk may be a divisive individual, he is also one of the most innovative and visionary leaders of our time, and I can foresee a strategy where the brand would pivot to a platform for discussions on the most important topics and garner audiences driven by quality. If this happens, I’d be recommending a return to normal advertising spend on the platform.

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    Jordan Bitterman, chief marketing officer, TripleLift

    In the past, Twitter made user and advertiser decisions based on a predetermined roadmap. Today, it’s unclear if a roadmap even exists. Media dollars are a finite resource that need to be spent with meaning and purpose, but it’s not realistic to place bets on a moving target.

    As a marketer, I’m already dealing with challenges on many fronts: inflation, recession fears, political uncertainty and the ongoing pandemic. With that backdrop, I am looking for ‘knowns’ everywhere I can find them – I simply don’t want any more ‘unknowns.’ Twitter is an unknown for now, and I can’t risk spending money on the platform not knowing what tomorrow will bring. I literally don’t know what the audience, policies, service offering and even the tweet itself might look like… tomorrow.

    If a marketer doesn’t know who to email at a media property – as is the case at the moment with Twitter – and can’t assume that those people would even know what the property will look like in 30 days, it’s time to take a pause.

    Katie Klumper, chief executive officer and founder, Black Glass

    CMOs are in risk mitigation mode. At this point there are no guarantees from Twitter on brand safety and a chief marketer cannot be put in a position where their brand might show up next to harmful or inappropriate content. If the company cannot assure brand safety, and the verity of their audience to boot, placing advertising there is a massive risk. We are counseling our clients to pause all ad spending until Twitter comes back with new guidelines and safety measures that appropriately address these issues.

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    Shiona McDougall, global chief strategy officer, Rapp

    Brands (and consumers) have rightly been spooked by increases in racial slurs and unmoderated hate content following the Twitter takeover. But the scariest monsters are not the “Chief Twit” himself or the “free-for-all hellscape” we’re on the precipice of right now. The real danger is the one you can’t see – the backroom data deals and algorithm use that threaten the privacy of customers and brands alike. Let’s not get distracted by whether brands will be surrounded by haters, because when they are, it’s easy for businesses to distance themselves. Let’s keep a firm focus on what Musk’s data strategy is going to be and whether Twitter could actually become a means to as-yet-undisclosed nefarious ends.

    Aram Rappaport, chief executive officer and founder, The Boathouse Agency

    When large media companies announce they are cautioning clients to stay off one of the largest social media connectivity platforms on the planet, it’s simply to be noisy, not for the client. Are we also cautioning clients to stay away from Facebook and half of cable television? No, because at the end of the day these clients use the tactics that yield results. 

    I think the bigger and more important question is: when did Twitter become a less relevant mechanism to reach and emotionally connect to consumers? It wasn’t two days ago when Musk took over, but he might ultimately act as the catalyst for its ad dollar downfall. Media companies aren’t just cautioning their clients to move away from Twitter because of Elon Musk. It’s because brands aren’t finding success on the platform the way they used to. It’s a diluted tactic that’s only going to get noisier – and not in a good way. 

    Want to join in with our weekly discussions? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com.

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