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The buzz before Elon Musk’s presence at MMA’s Possible event was palpable, and his conversation with NBCU’s Linda Yaccarino fueled chatter and buzz with attendees for the remainder of the event. It was a surprisingly candid conversation in front of an unsurprisingly packed room. They focused on topics relevant to marketers, including how the platform will balance advertising effectively on Twitter, brand safety and Musk’s fervent commitment to free speech.
The conversation began with Musk lauding that, among other things, Twitter is entertaining, which doesn’t equate to positive content… because “trainwrecks are entertaining.” Marketers have become increasingly reticent about putting advertising and content on Twitter because of the perceived (and often very real) negative and problematic nature of many Twitter posts.
Brand safety versus free speech
Musk, true to form, was steadfast in resisting content censorship, stating that “in order for civilization to advance, we’ve got to have freedom of speech,” calling it the “bedrock of democracy.”
What “free speech” precisely means on Twitter is an ongoing and often contentious debate. The company recently stated that they provide “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” which essentially means that the platform will not censor content, but will also put controls in place to prevent the amplification of hateful and dangerous content. Further, Musk reminded the audience that advertisers should always use adjacency controls to ensure their brands doesn’t appear next to content they don’t deem appropriate.
Still, the fear that a brand can be positioned next to tweets that it does not want to be associated with continues to be a cause for concern. Will the steps Twitter is taking make marketers more comfortable advertising on the platform? Twitter certainly has an uphill battle to convince them that it is a safe space. How well Twitter balances users’ freedom of speech with creating a safe – or safe enough – place for brands remains to be seen.
Feedback versus influence
Yaccarino deftly pressed Musk on another topic marketers are keen to understand: will he allow brands to influence the future of Twitter? He was firm that he does not intend to reinstate the platform’s “influence council” and doesn’t want brands having too much influence on Twitter’s future. He harkened back to his aforementioned stance, saying that if making brands feel safe means some level of censorship, they can go elsewhere, “If it means losing advertising dollars, so be it. Freedom of speech is paramount.”
As Yaccarino pushed further, Musk acknowledged that he wants – or at least will accept – advertisers’ feedback. The difference between “feedback” and “influence” is clearly important to Musk. But he committed to listening.
Ad Testing can ensure fit-for-platform brand content
How Musk will act on marketers feedback and their needs for advertising effectively on Twitter is a big open question. He has to strike a balance between putting users first, allowing them to say whatever they want, and needing revenue from advertisers to make Twitter a more profitable business. He pushed the onus back to advertisers by calling on them to create better content. “When advertising is relevant to users, especially if it’s entertaining, then it’s content. If not, it’s spam.”
While Twitter is – and will remain- a risky playground (or even battleground) for marketers, it’s a platform that most will not abandon. The scale and engagement of Twitter’s audience continues to make it an important platform to meet consumers.
The deftest marketers have already figured out how to use it for their brands’ benefit. As Musk suggests, relevant, authentic, and entertaining content works – and on Twitter it works really well. Brands should continue to explore what works and what doesn’t, using tools like DISQO Ad Testing to preassess messaging and creative efficacy with intended audiences.
Advertisers should continue to be vocal in their feedback on how Twitter develops. Whether “feedback” becomes influence or not, marketers need to adapt to changes and continually improve how to engage Twitter’s audience.