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Twitter’s ad leaders and its new owner Elon Musk are meeting with agencies and brands to try to attempt to smooth over any uncertainty about the future of the service, as some advertisers start to back away from the platform.
Advertising industry insiders told Ad Age that Musk was arranging meetings with marketers in New York to try to sure up their support. At the same time, leaders at ad agencies were meeting with Twitter advertising reps, who promised that moderation policies would remain in place to prevent the site from turning into a cesspit. And early today, Musk tweeted that “Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers.”
“They’re not saying it’s business as usual,” said one ad agency executive, who spoke with Twitter reps on Monday. “But they are reiterating that content moderation policies have not changed.”
Musk was in New York on Monday to hold talks with advertisers, whom the billionaire needs to keep Twitter afloat while he works on longer-term plans. There are “some high-level conversations with him that are being organized,” said the agency exec, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Twitter did not return a request for comment about Musk’s itinerary. There were signs, however, that the billionaire was in New York. Jason Calacanis, a prominent Silicon Valley investor who is a close confidant of Musk, tweeted: “We’re having a very productive day meeting with the marketing and advertising community here in New York.”
We’re having a very productive day meeting with the marketing and advertising community here in New York.
The passion they have for @Twitter is enormous.
So many great ideas on how to increase joy on the platform!
But today, in what could be another blow to advertiser confidence, Twitter’s Chief Customer Officer Sarah Personette announced she had left the company and her work access was “officially cut off last night.” In recent days, Personette had been one of the Twitter holdovers pre-Musk who had been communicating with agencies and brand leaders, according to advertising executives. Personette also publicly supported Musk’s tweet last week that signaled support for Twitter’s brand safety policies and partnerships with the industry.
Hi folks, I wanted to share that I resigned on Friday from Twitter and my work access was officially cut off last night.
One top marketing executive, who sits on Twitter’s Influencer Council, a group of advertisers that are close to the company and represent big-spending brands, expressed concern over Musk’s leadership so far. The exec, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it seemed like Musk was surrounding himself with few voices that would take advertiser concerns seriously. “The people I’ve cultivated a relationship with are no longer in the room,” the marketing exec said.
The marketing leader said that Musk does not appear to appreciate the level of work Twitter has done with advertisers. “It’s easier to send a rocket into space than it is to manage Twitter,” the exec said, alluding to Musk’s SpaceX.
Related: Musk offers Twitter advertisers an olive branch
Last week, Musk closed his deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, a takeover that rattled the nerves of advertisers, who spent $4.5 billion with the platform in 2021. Advertising revenue topped $1 billion in the second quarter of this year, rising 2% from a year earlier. But Musk has been considered a liability in the brand world after he promised to reinstate banned Twitter accounts and promote more permissive attitudes about speech. For advertisers, Musk’s plan sounded like he would unwind safety guardrails.
Until now, Twitter has been a signatory to agreements in the ad industry to apply restrictions on misinformation, hate speech, harassment and violent rhetoric. Advertisers have been uncertain if that would still be the case under Musk’s policies.
Musk’s stewardship has already been rocky: Over the weekend, NBA star LeBron James tweeted about concerns over a rising trend among trolls using racist slurs on Twitter. James, who has 52.3 million followers on the platform, called it “scary AF.”
I dont know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter. But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF. So many damn unfit people saying hate speech is free speech. https://t.co/Sy0jvXIBnC
There’s also been a flurry of misinformation on Twitter, with people spreading conspiracy theories about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s home, which hospitalized her husband, Paul Pelosi. Musk even retweeted a suspicious headline about the attack. Musk later deleted his retweet and comment about it.
Advertisers told Ad Age that it is tough to square Musk’s public comments about keeping Twitter secure with his public behavior.
Brands and ad agencies are talking behind the scenes about contingency plans should they have to shift advertising away from Twitter. Most brands that Ad Age reached out to said they were watching the situation closely. “We’re keeping our eyes on it,” said Kohl’s Chief Marketing Officer Christie Raymond. “It’s a small part of our spend, so we’re going to keep our eyes on it, and obviously be smart with our investments there.”
Car makers are especially concerned, partly because they compete with Tesla, another one of the companies Musk owns. Last week, General Motors announced it paused advertising on Twitter. Auto brands have a unique problem in that they would not want to support a rival, ad leaders told Ad Age; also, they are worried about potentially sharing any data about their customers, which they use to market on Twitter.
A Ford representative said that it does not have ads on the platform. “We do not currently have any ads running on Twitter,” a Ford spokesperson said in an email. “We will continue to evaluate the direction of the platform under the new ownership. Meanwhile, we continue to engage with our consumers on the platform.”
A Nissan spokesperson said by email: “Nissan does not share our go-to market strategy externally. However, we regularly evaluate and adjust advertising efforts regarding how and where we showcase Nissan’s product portfolio to best connect with consumers.”
Also, on Monday, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, the ad industry group that works with social media platforms on brand safety standards, issued its first comprehensive statement about Musk-owned Twitter. Rob Rakowitz, initiative lead at GARM, wrote that the group hoped Musk would apply his talent for innovation to solving brand safety issues on social media. “We view the topics of platform safety and brand safety as being quite serious and can impact human life and society in very serious ways, Rakowitz wrote. “There are a lot of eyes on leaders in this space, which now includes you.”
While advertisers weigh their options to advertise or not to advertise, Musk is busy making plans for the future of the platform. Musk floated ideas on Twitter about rebuilding Vine, the short-form video app that was a precursor to TikTok. Twitter bought Vine in 2012 and shut it down in 2016, but the app still holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of internet creators.
Musk tweeted about tinkering with charging more for Twitter’s subscription services. The Verge reported he could even try to fetch $20 a month to issue blue checkmarks, which are a status symbol on the app, an idea that did not seem to go over well on the platform.
Author Stephen King cursed about the potential charge on Twitter. Musk, who changed his title to Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator on the platform, responded early Tuesday.
We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?
“We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?” Musk tweeted. “I will explain the rationale in longer form before this is implemented. It is the only way to defeat the bots & trolls.”
Contributing: Adrianne Pasquarelli
In this article:
Garett Sloane is Ad Age’s technology, digital and media reporter. He has worked in newspapers from Albany to New York City, and small towns in between. He has also worked at every advertising industry trade publication that matters, and he once visited Guatemala and once rode the Budapest Metro.
E.J. Schultz is the News Editor for Ad Age, overseeing breaking news and daily coverage. He also contributes reporting on the beverage, automotive and sports marketing industries. He is a former reporter for McClatchy newspapers, including the Fresno Bee, where he covered business and state government and politics.