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Advertising on Elon Musk’s Twitter: Why are brands still on the micro-blogging platform?

Industry experts weigh in on the challenges of advertising on Elon Musk’s Twitter.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyJan 24, 2023 10:59 AM
Advertising on Elon Musk’s Twitter: Why are brands still on the micro-blogging platform?
When a host of global brands like General Motors, Mondelez International etc temporarily paused advertising on Twitter, Indian brands like Gatsby India, Linc Pens, Ramraj Cotton, Tiger Balm and more, continued to advertise on the platform. (Representative Image: Bastian Riccardi via Unsplash)

Things that have happened on Twitter after billionaire Elon Musk took charge is nothing less than a case study for its users and advertisers. On October 27, 2022, Musk picked the micro-blogging platform for $44 billion. Advertising, which provides 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue, got hit since Musk took charge. Globally, many brands have silently been cutting down on paid promotions and advertising on Twitter. The story is similar closer home. However, there are a few brands in India who are active on the platform and admit all the drama.

Pranav Kosuri, co-founder of Brandie, a word-of-mouth marketing platform, is of the opinion that the short-term exit of the bigger players from the platform acted in the favour of the existing brands. He says, “This move of theirs lessens the competition. It presents them an opportunity to improve their advertising spends and improve their visibility on the platform.”

What makes Twitter an appropriate medium to advertise for Linc Limited—whose buyer persona is the youth—is that it aids in brand interaction. Rohit Jalan, director of Linc Limited mentions, “We like to use Twitter for multiple brand objectives like awareness, share of voice, to connect and resonate with our Twitter audience. Not to forget the introduction of Twitter pixels, which is designed to increase web conversions.”

In the case of Gardenia Cosmotrade LLP, which handles Tiger Balm and Gatsby India, the main drivers for the company’s offerings are YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Puneet Motiani, its designated partner, highlights that Twitter comes into the picture only for certain campaigns where there is a need to drive engagement.

Anand Narasimha, professor - brand marketing, Jagdish Sheth School of Management (JAGSoM) states, “When it comes to value, an advertiser focuses on the amount of money they put on a platform and the money they get in return. Their thought process would be, "There has been some controversy but why should we drop out if the return-on-investments (ROIs) are good?,” he says.

Sanjay Mehta, joint chief executive officer of digital marketing agency Mirum explains that a brand must consider three factors before they decide to advertise on Twitter. What is the amount they are investing to advertise? What is the desired market they are aiming to reach? What conversions would they derive from such an audience?

Challenges of advertising on Twitter

Since the time announcements were made in April last year that Musk was acquiring Twitter, as per Media Radar, the average number of advertisers dropped from 3,900 in May to 2,900 in September.

Global brands like Audi, General Motors, United Airlines Holdings, General Mills, Mondelez International, Allianz, Pfizer and Balenciaga too took a step back.

Even global advertising groups like WPP’s GroupM, Omnicom and Interpublic Group advised the brands—they handle—to follow suit.

As per a media report, Twitter's internal revenue projections for the final quarter of 2022 stood at $1.1 billion which decreased from $1.4 billion.

To make up for the losses in ad revenues, Musk had introduced the Twitter blue tick verification subscription for $8. This move gave rise to fake accounts. One prominent example is that of US-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly where a blue tick for an impostor account was obtained. A tweet by them announced that insulin was available for free. This led to the stock price of the company falling by nearly five percent.

BC Webwise’s Krishal Mehta, vice president - media, opines, “If less than five percent of bots—as stated by the platform—can do this kind of damage to a company, just imagine what the consequences would be if the number is higher.”

This number by Twitter contradicts with a 2022 study conducted by an Israeli cybersecurity company CHEQ where---after analysing 5.21 million website visits that came from the micro blogging site---they came to a conclusion that the percentage of Twitter bots was 11.71 percent.

Brandie’s Kosuri states that brands and the agencies they work with should be one step ahead and be updated on the guidelines of Twitter due to its rapid changes. Plus, brands need to also be active in filling those loopholes which emerge due to those changes. But Professor Narasimha has a different opinion. He thinks that it is the sole responsibility of Twitter to come up with tools and filters which can curb the proliferation of fake accounts.

BC Webwise’s Mehta agrees with Professor Narasimha. He says, “Bot accounts present on Twitter engage with actual brand accounts. The numbers become a little unstable due to the traffic coming from bots. Except Twitter, neither the brand nor an agency can control this,” he adds.

To curb their negative effect, he states that the platform needs to roll out or test newly introduced features first with a smaller set of audience, or a smaller set of selected brands as well.

Narasimha states that the challenge here is, the more cluttered the platform, the lesser the engagement levels. He adds, “In addition to the brand content, there is also regular content a user comes across. The presence of so many brands and the noise created by them is likely to dim the effectiveness of their content.”

Relevance of blue, gold and grey verification ticks

After the $8 blue tick subscription led to chaos, Musk relaunched its Twitter blue-tick and along with it also introduced gold and grey ticks. The blue tick would be for individuals irrespective of its celebrity status and gold and grey ticks would be designated for companies and government accounts.

As of now, Eli Lilly and Company, Novartis, Merck, Sony, Sony Pictures, Unilever, Hindustan Unilever, Apple, Amazon, Amazon India etc hold the gold verification tick.

The question is: Would this move curb the rise of impersonators?

Gardenia Cosmotrade LLP's Motiani is quick to add that he does not see any value in their introduction because it complicates the journey of the customers. From an ad revenue standpoint, it does not add any real value to the consumers or the companies. Hence, he does not plan to aggressively advertise on Twitter in the near future and would like to wait and watch how things unfold.

For Linc Limited's Jalan, this move will allow users to follow accounts selectively and will serve as a mark of authenticity which would arrest the growth of impersonators. However, Mirum’s Mehta has a different point. He says, “When Mirum works with brands and conducts online reputation management (ORM), we recommend our clients to prioritise blue tick handles due to the value it holds. With blue tick being accessible to all now, it will become difficult for the brand to differentiate whether a point of view is coming from a credible person or from someone who cannot be trusted.”

BC Webwise and Mirum’s clients have not halted advertising on the platform for they continue to find relevance on Twitter. However, in the case of Brandie, the clients managed by the agency never considered Twitter a part of their media mix. Kosuri explains, “Brands that we work with are present on Twitter, but it is not a part of their media mix when they approach Brandie. The people who follow a fixed number on Twitter, they aren’t doing so because they are their best friends. What we have seen is that Twitter is not the agenda for such brands and the medium becomes more of a news portal.”

BC Webwise’s Mehta agrees with Brandie’s Kosuri. He adds, “Twitter is a platform where people come to consume some information. The users on the platform are opinionated and there are constant discussions on varied topics as opposed to on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.”

Brands like Apple, Amazon, Nestle, Nike, Starbucks, Dove, Nothing, Samsung, Sony etc enjoy strong visibility which eliminates their need to resort to paid advertising. Narasimha explains, “This is because such brands followed by the content are strong which helps generate good numbers organically. But this is not the scenario with all the brands. First, they need to be established. Second, their posts should really be engaging.”

However, Mirum’s Mehta points out that Twitter is not a very favourable platform for brands who are not that well exposed. This is because it would not help in generating a good number of sales.

Brandie’s Kosuri credits Zomato to be a fine example where they have been able to hit the target with their puns. Adding to his point, Narasimha too cites the example of D2C personal care brand mCaffeine which is generating good organic traffic for their content.

“Twitter is a successful platform if brands understand the medium they are advertising on and know how to act cleverly which can profit them. Ignoring any social media platform is a big mistake brands can make. Hence, strategies need to be put in place by brands for each of them,” Brandie’s Kosuri concludes.

First Published on Jan 11, 2023 8:50 AM