Opinion

‘Twitter banning political ads is a great PR move and a boost to Jack Dorsey’s personal brand’

Given that Twitter was never really known to be a hotbed of political advertising, its decision to ban such messaging appears to be driven by an entirely different set of motivations, says BBH regional communications director for Asia-Pacific Asiya Bakht

As an enthusiastic Twitter user, the announcement that the platform was banning political ads came as welcome news. In an ideal world, one would want all social media platforms to have limited advertising, but then that would probably not be great for their revenues.

After a dip in popularity in 2016, Twitter experienced renewed interest, attributed in part to the active participation of the US President Donald Trump. Like other social media, the platform has had its share of highs and lows, and in recent years has come under fire for spreading fake news. 

However, it has largely escaped the backlash for giving a free pass to malicious political advertising which was directed squarely at Facebook. A question that a lot of people were asking after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s surprising announcement was: “Does Twitter really have political ads?” 

In 10 years on the platform, I have barely seen any and the broader discussion around the subject of political advertising has been focussed on Facebook and more specifically on its founder Mark Zuckerberg.

 

If Twitter has not been part of this discussion so far, then it is probably because it does not carry much political advertising. Some quick research will tell you that in the 2018 mid-term US elections, political ads accounted for less than US$3 million of Twitter revenue. This year alone, nine Democratic candidates in the US presidential race have already spent close to US$32 million on Facebook ads.

The simple reason why Twitter doesn’t attract a lot of political advertising is because as a platform, it is not as effective as Facebook for such communication. Facebook has a much larger audience base (2.45 billion compared to 330 million Twitter users) who use it more frequently and for a wider variety of things. It also has better ad formats, targeting capability and measurement opportunities to drive a wider set of goals for advertisers.

Besides, since there is more active political chatter on Twitter, it is cheaper for political parties to invest in securing followers who will then amplify their messages. Clearly then, Twitter doesn’t have much to lose financially with this decision. That is where this move becomes interesting.

While there is little downside for Twitter, it has everything to gain in PR terms. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that this could be one of the most effective PR moves Twitter has made in recent times. 

Here are some reasons why: 

Twitter gets to take the moral high ground: Jack Dorsey’s tweet said: “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach.” It was obviously a direct attack on Facebook’s refusal to take any responsibility for the political turmoil it has contributed to. 

By contrast, Dorsey’s commitment to developing “a forward looking political ad regulation ( framework )” to “ensure a level playing field” has created a perception of Twitter as a responsible company that cares. It especially stands out in an environment where Facebook is sending the message that no matter what, it will choose profit over social responsibility.

Twitter can now lead this conversation: Social media platforms have found themselves in the middle of an unending debate about the role that they are playing in the current socio-political environment.

Twitter has now put itself in a position where it is leading the conversation. Jack Dorsey’s words are exactly what people want to hear and despite resentment from some quarters, this move makes it the most politically correct social media brand.

It gives them a stronger footing vis-à-vis legislation: Governments across the world are questioning social media companies and Google about the outsized influence they have on people’s lives. Twitter can now claim that it has no bias, since it doesn’t take political ad dollars from any party. 

It’s a boost Jack Dorsey’s personal brand: Jack Dorsey has been in the news for the wrong reasons this year – his podcast with anti-vaccine fitness personality Ben Greenfield earlier this year received a barrage of criticism. His interest in meditation and alternative diets have often proved controversial.

One only has to look at the amount of invective directed at Mark Zuckerberg to understand how your personal brand can suffer by aligning yourself to an unpopular decision. On the other hand, Dorsey has made a decision that is likely to be very popular with his audience. It will only help his image and prop up his personal brand.

Asiya Bakht is regional communications director at BBH Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore

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