I have been a self-proclaimed Twitter power user for 14 years. Glance at my iOS ScreenTime, and you’ll notice that I average two hours per day on the app. If there’s a detox program, I’d qualify.
My first experience with the platform came as an agency buyer back in the very early days of its ad business. There was a surreal moment when two of the company’s cofounders, Ev [Williams] and Biz [Stone], agreed to do a live Q&A for my Digitas colleagues. They walked into a meeting space that comfortably fit 30 people, but over 100 were waiting for them — and cheering loudly.
That’s how it went with Twitter from the start — an object of fascination, intrigue and desire. Growing a business from zero revenue in those early days to over $5 billion in 2021 makes it one of the great success stories of this generation.
The ingredient behind Twitter’s success
I believe that Twitter has succeeded largely because of its people. They have hired well, built a strong and diverse culture and engaged in an earnest dialogue with their customers. As a buyer, I always felt empowered to give their leadership feedback such as requests for new advertiser features. In return, they listened and often responded.
Since I left the agency world for the publisher and programmatic side, I have always tried to model my go-to-market efforts based on what I learned working with Twitter: listen to customers, build things they want and take the high road when it comes to the competition (don’t tell your customers that you’re better, just be better instead). I know dozens of people who have worked there, have respect for them all and am endlessly intrigued with how they have managed to stay on the same page as a unit for so long.
What happens to Twitter now?
Even in a sideways economy, worldwide digital ad spending will grow to $600 billion in 2022 and more than 30% of it will be spent on social platforms. At this moment, however, many of those platforms are facing existential challenges. Meta is focusing on other parts of its strategy due to slowing user growth, TikTok is under a microscope for how its data might be leveraged by the Chinese government, YouTube has come under antitrust investigation by E.U. regulators and Twitter is dealing with multiple crises at once. Crises that include:
Is hate speech growing on the platform and will it be tolerated?
How will content be moderated?
Will certain banned profiles be allowed back?
Will advertising be central to the company’s business model moving forward?
Who is still working at the company?
Which users will be on the platform next week or next month?
In response, there are rumblings that many brands and agencies may pause or pull their spend from Twitter, and it's not hard to see why. 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 hard to place bets on a moving target.
What should brands do?
The one constant in the media industry is change. Advertisers constantly require new ad products, new ways of reaching audiences and new ways to measure it. But change is nothing without underlying stability, and there is nothing stable about Twitter at this moment.
Putting on my marketer hat, I can tell you that I am already dealing with many challenges: Inflation, recession fears, political uncertainty and a global pandemic that won’t go away. With that backdrop, I am looking for “knowns” everywhere I can find them. I simply don’t want any more “unknowns.”
In challenging times, marketers need three things: ease, stability and performance. They need ease because when workload increases, simplicity is a balm to help drive decisions. They need stability because when everything else is up-in-the-air -- budgets! supply chain! next year’s strategy! -- they want to know that their selected partners will get the job done. They need performance because spending media dollars isn’t a vanity project; it’s central to driving outcomes.
Those three needs are “unknowns” at Twitter. Here’s a litmus test: If you don’t know who to email at a media property, and can’t assume that those people would know what the property will look like in 30 days anyway, it’s time to take a pause.
I don’t take pleasure in writing this piece. I have loved my time as a user on Twitter and as a buyer working with Twitter. But, even as I’ve been typing this, I’ve seen fresh tweets from Twitter employees announcing their departure from the company. And the rumor is that more departures will follow shortly.
For the time being, brands and agencies will be best suited to put their ad spend in places that drive ease, stability and performance. A “flight to safety” in this cycle of uncertainty, should not include The Bird.
Jordan Bitterman is CMO of TripleLift