Twitter Ad Fallout: Will Politics Ruin Social Media for Advertisers?
Advertisers may not care that President Donald Trump uses Twitter like a broadcast channel, creating news by posting on the social media platform. Or that Twitter Co-Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced banning all political ads. But they should. And here’s why.
We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. Why? A few reasons…🧵
— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) October 30, 2019
As it is, tech companies have more freedom regarding advertising and organic content than do media companies and publishers. As a result, advertisers realize benefits, as well as drawbacks, from a less regulated industry.
And so far, advertisers are the ones setting the pace of change on the social media platforms. But that appears to be changing, as business decisions by these tech companies start to control the public debate.
To understand this reasoning, we’ll first look at the most popular social media platform — Facebook. (The feud between Facebook and Twitter regarding political ads is beside the point, as you'll see.)
Facebook: Tech Company vs. Media Company
Based on what happened with video view metrics in 2017, the main pressure Facebook understands is from advertisers themselves. While Facebook is a main source of information for many Americans, the platform’s leadership is invested in calling Facebook a tech company, rather than a media company. For one thing, tech companies don’t have to listen nearly as closely to the FCC.
And, as leaked audio from Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows, he’d rather not be subject to governmental regulation, in general.
But Facebook’s video view metrics snafu took it a step closer toward being classified as a media company, because the tech company made concessions to advertisers to allow third-party oversight and make its video view metrics more accountable in order to earn back ad business. Plus, there was the fine.
And that’s before we get into Cambridge Analytica, and how that politically linked fiasco resulted from Facebook selling user data to a third party without users’ permission. Facebook started to implement more data privacy rules as a result of increased governmental scrutiny.
But even Facebook’s later promise to rid itself of fake news falls flat when Zuckerberg allows a political ad containing lies to remain on the platform — angering even his employees.
So far, these situations are looking more like what a media company endures than a tech company, aren’t they?
But Facebook may have made a critical misstep in July 2018, which is recorded in a Guardian article:
“Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company.
“But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the First Amendment.”
Twitter: Tech Company vs. Media Company
Although it, too, is classified as a tech company, Twitter was faster to pull down objectionable content and, on Wednesday, eliminate political ads globally.
While seemingly on polar opposite sides of the public debate, Twitter is still a tech company.
And Dorsey’s announcement could mean Twitter remains a tech company. One of the situations media companies find themselves in regularly is needing to give politicians equal time — whether in unpaid editorial content or paid ads, as many believe is law. (That, too, is a mess, as the FCC does have “equal time” provisions, but the demise of the Fairness Doctrine and the rise of single-viewpoint talk radio stations shows this, too, is a morass.) Either way, eliminating political ads means not having to think about that. Plus, Twitter can continue to accept other ads as a tech company.
What All of This Means for Marketers
Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO and founder of GEC Risk Advisory, a global strategic risk firm, and author of the new book “Gloom to Boom: How Leaders Transform Risk Into Resilience and Value,” responds to Target Marketing on Thursday:
Twitter is recognizing that by exercising a certain amount of self-regulation or adopting voluntary standards, they can at least temporarily stave off a heavier regulatory hammer — at least for now. Also, by demonstrating that they are listening to their stakeholders and being a socially conscientious or responsible company (at least compared to some others like Facebook), they can maintain or even improve their reputation with key stakeholders — users, customers, employees, and specifically, in this case, regulators. Sooner or later, however, there will be more or less draconian or appropriate regulatory oversight of social media companies. Whether it amounts to an equivalency to traditional media is another question. My recommendation to social media companies is to develop internal organizational resilience, including responsible leadership and culture and good preparedness, in the form of effective and proactive ethics, risk, stakeholder, and crisis management tools.
I say social media platforms are accepting your ad money. They’re putting those ads in front of their audiences — whether they call them “users” or “readers.”
And regardless of the platform, advertisers want to be in front of consumers. Right now, those consumers are on social media. At one time, they were paying attention to more traditional channels, like TV and newspapers — which ended up regulated by the FTC and the FCC, among other entities.
Tech companies are interested in maintaining monopolies, remaining self-regulated, and accepting ad dollars on their terms. For now, it’s the status quo for marketers.
But as politics continue to play out on social media platforms, whether via ads or someone’s angry uncle’s private posts, it will steadily attract the eyes of regulators.
That’s true of any public space and any aspect of the First Amendment debate.
Just look at “Scabby the Rat.”
The giant inflatable rodent that’s the mainstay of sidewalk protests by union members upset about “scab” labor is a form of communication that’s attracted its own talk of regulation.
According to an article Wednesday in BillyPenn.com referencing the National Labor Relations Board:
“[This NLRB case is] a really big deal,” said Wally Zimolong, the lawyer representing the Heights Advisors and also the owners of the building at the heart of the year-ago protests. “The rats have been around for quite some time. They’ve been common.”
The question the NLRB must decide: Is the ubiquitous union critter a form of “legitimate communication” or “unlawful coercion”?
So as long as there’s a First Amendment, advertisers may need to consider a world in which social media platforms will be regulated like publishers. The positive here is there may be fewer video view metrics arguments.
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
Related story: Facebook Caves, Allows Ad Metrics Oversight