Birds eye view

What does Musk-induced Twitter chaos mean for brands?

By Gabby Krite, Head of Digital Operations

Elon Musk finally followed through and bought Twitter, and it’s been a bit of a headline grabber since. The cynic in me thinks that the antics we’ve seen from Musk since April this year have been purely to generate publicity. However, personal opinions aside, this acquisition raises some genuine considerations for us in adland.

When the potential purchase of Twitter was first announced in April 2022, we released this thought piece with our opinions. I would encourage readers to revisit it, but to quickly catch you up, here is a summary:

  • Musk’s original interest was seen by many as part of his personal passion as a free-speech absolutist
  • Repeated critique of the Blue Tick implementation (and subsequent concerns over fake accounts)
  • He expressed a repeated desire for Twitter to be adless because he “hates advertising” (he seems to have since understood the importance of advertising on the platform and has rolled back on opinions such as bringing back blocked users due to the concerns raised by advertisers)
  • There was the intention to introduce the edit button, which left many deeply concerned about accountability on the platform

What’s happened since then is just shy of Netflix’s film script quality, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the film released next year. After a protracted limbo, Musk has finally purchased Twitter for $44 billion, and he’s not happy about it.

In the last few weeks, we have seen headlines detailing the tech giant’s rumoured changes every 12 hours. There has been so much change that I have been hesitant to write this article, just in case something game-changing gets announced after its published! So rather than rehashing them all, I have summarised the ones that tell us the most about what is going on.

The first major move we saw was Musk dissolving the board and appointing himself the CEO. To be honest, this move was entirely expected – given how acrimonious the whole thing looked, and there seemed to be no real way there were going to be kept. A board is an essential structure in a business to hold people accountable and in check. At Meta, we saw key board members depart, Zuckerberg investing heavily into the metaverse, and now 11,000 redundancies have been made. Musk having unchecked free reign over such a culturally influential platform is something we should all be concerned about.

However, it would seem the internet is fighting back with the Blue Tick debacle. Previously, the Twitter Blue service was a way to know that an account was from a verified person. As a platform where influential figures can speak to millions, this was an important feature for ensuring that the people were at least who they said they were. Musk amended this to an $8 monthly subscription (linked to the next paragraph) but left it completely open to abuse – accounts of many celebrities and politicians have been claimed, and the flurry of tweets since has been as hilarious as they are scary. My favourite summary of the chaos is a quote from a fake George Bush – “a small price to pay to make this app completely unusable”. Musk doesn’t seem concerned about this so far, but I feel that his tune might change in the coming days.

Lastly, Musk has been very open that he is making significant losses with this purchase. All the chaos we have seen can be linked back to these points; redundancies, the pivot on the Blue Tick, the backtracking on re-admitting banned users and now ending free lunches for existing staff.

This leaves a genuine possibility of a future with no more Twitter and leaves the door open for other social media platforms to adapt or for a new platform to emerge. However, the latter leaves me quite worried, and the former doesn’t seem viable in today’s market.

So, where does this leave us? As an ad agency, this chaos does have a real impact on the brands we work with. When advertising on the platform, we choose targeting options that help us align with the people we think will be most interested in our product based on signals, such as the keywords in their posts and the people they follow. In Twitter, where the verification is free for all, and fake accounts are posting wild things, this makes a lot of the targeting options questionable. It also puts us at a higher risk of unexpectedly appearing near brand-unsafe content. So, whilst Musk isn’t concerned now, I imagine he will be as he starts seeing advertisers pull out of the platform. Or maybe this was all part of a scheme to scare advertisers off and make all his revenue through the verification process? Should Twitter no longer exist, I don’t see this as impacting brands’ revenue in any way – we will be able to adapt to other platforms easily enough. I would mainly be concerned from a societal perspective.

In the last few days, all agencies have experienced significant issues with using the campaign management platform for Twitter. We have had instances of old ads re-activating unexpectedly, delivery issues and changes to campaigns that have not been saved. With this in mind we are advising all clients to end Twitter campaigns immediately as we cannot reliably deliver your campaign to a high enough standard. We would also recommend reviewing your organic presence and campaigns.