Tech

Big brands advised to pause ads on Twitter for now

As Elon Musk gets a rapid crash course in running and moderating a social network used by millions of angry people, major advertisers are reportedly advising their clients to pause ads on the tycoon’s Twitter platform until brand safety can be assured.

Reports bubbled yesterday that international ad giant Interpublic Group – which counts Nintendo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and other corporate heavyweights among its customers – had told its clients advertising on Twitter would be ultimately up to them, but advised an ad freeze until things calmed down. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Havas Media Group – which has handled advertising for companies like Adidas, Puma, and Hugo Boss among others – is also advising clients to pause Twitter advertising. Per the WSJ, “people familiar with the matter” say Havas, too, is concerned about Twitter’s ability to monitor content and ensure brand safety.

“At this moment, we cannot confidently state that Twitter is a safe place for brands,” Interpublic Group told clients in an email seen by the WSJ.

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From boring to ‘free-for-all hellscape’ in $44bn

It took practically no time at all for trolls to test Twitter’s new regime by amping up their hate speech and racism, to see how far Musk’s tolerance stretches while irritating those around them. Twitter Head of Safety Yoel Roth pointed out the day after Musk took charge that Twitter’s rules on hate speech hadn’t changed.

“Over the last 48 hours, we’ve seen a small number of accounts post a ton of Tweets that include slurs and other derogatory terms. To give you a sense of scale: more than 50,000 Tweets repeatedly using a particular slur came from just 300 accounts,” Roth said.

According to the Network Contagion Research Institute, use of the n-word on Twitter increased 500 percent in the 12 hours following Musk’s takeover on October 28.

Musk attempted to curb advertiser fears almost immediately after the purchase, posting an open letter in which he claimed Twitter wouldn’t become the aforementioned hellscape they were nervous about.

In the note, Musk said he believed that “advertising, when done right, can delight, entertain and inform … Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise.” 

Just yesterday, the Tesla supremo said he had spoken to civil society leaders to find out “how Twitter will continue to combat hate and harassment, and enforce its election integrity policies.” Musk signaled that he was hitting the brakes on making big changes to the way Twitter moderates its users, while letting them be reasonably heard, and won’t allow those banned for life from the site back in again for another few weeks at least.

As some have said, Elon is speed-running the art of social media management, learning the hard and fast way it’s a rather difficult juggling act keeping as many people as possible happy all the time while reassuring advertisers their ads aren’t going to appear next to the internet’s KKK. Successful social networks have learned to avoid being at least openly partisan, otherwise you’re just throwing fuel on the fire.

Musk annoyed some on the political left with what they saw as his open sympathy for parts of the political right; his realization of the balancing act he needs to perform will annoy some on the right who supported him; and him walking back (for now) from his everyone-gets-a-megaphone approach for Twitter is going to annoy fans who thought they would be able to tweet completely unhindered. All while leaks are flying around of around $8 a month fees for verification, or $20, or $99 for a year, or whatever next.

As an aside, Roth just shared research into how Twitter is tackling and minimizing foreign trolls trying to influence or sour discussions around the US midterm elections.

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Rob Rakowitz, leader of the World Federation of Advertisers’ Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), said in response to Musk’s open letter earlier that it’s what the Chief Twit does in the near future that will determine whether advertisers set sail for calmer waters.

Rakowitz wrote on behalf of Alliance members (a who’s who of global corporate giants – including Twitter, a founding member) that the group was founded “with the goal of creating a more sustainable and responsible digital environment.” A hard task, Rakowitz said, that GARM hopes will be made possible on Twitter through Musk’s purchase of the platform.

“Your reflection on open dialogue, clear rules [and] consistent consequences is exactly what your stakeholders want and have wanted for some time,” Rakowitz said. 

Since writing that letter, however, several Twitter executives have left the company, including advertising head and chief customer officer Sarah Personette, chief people and diversity officer Dalana Brand, and GM for core technologies Nick Caldwell, all of whom indicated they had left in Twitter posts.

Additionally, chief marketing officer Lesie Berland, head of product Jay Sullivan, and VP of global sales Jean-Philippe Maheu have also reportedly left, Reuters said, though it isn’t clear if they resigned or were let go in Muskovian purges. Whether such high-level departures – especially among client relations and advertising leadership crucial to such a transition – will reassure advertisers is unlikely. 

Nonetheless, and contrary to appearances, “Twitter’s commitment to brand safety is unchanged,” Musk said Monday. ®




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