It was hard to miss the headlines last week as the world’s richest man Elon Musk bought Twitter.
The deal valued the social media giant at £34.5 billion showing just how influential the platform still is despite the rise of rivals like TikTok and the continued presence of Meta’s Instagram and Facebook.
Musk’s purchase has come with repeated statements of intent about restoring ‘freedom of speech’ as he has vowed to relax content restrictions. Commentators have warned that this could fuel misinformation and hate speech online.
What does all this mean for businesses using Twitter as part of their marketing and communications mix? Founder of WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, told the BBC that advertisers especially would be wary of their brands appearing next to controversial content. Organisations who post from their own handles will no doubt be worried too about the risk of being associated with a forum that is perceived to encourage – or at least failing to discourage – harmful tweets.
But another key part of Twitter’s value sits at least in part in its ‘influence’. The app is loved by both media and politicians, and part of its allure to organisations is the ability to rub shoulder to shoulder with key decision makers and celebrities alike. Twitter was forecast to have generated ad revenue of over $2 billion in 2021, but the price that Musk is paying for it in part reflects the platform’s influence and caché for its user base, as much as its turnover.
In the short term businesses are likely to see little difference in their use of Twitter. While the coming months will be full of rumour about what the takeover may bring, we shouldn’t expect any meaningful changes until Musk has full control later this year.
Even then he might find his ambitions frustrated. Musk may seek to alter moderation rules but as Sir Martin Sorrell has highlighted, his room for manoeuvre will be limited by any backlash from advertisers that could hurt Twitter’s bottom line. This is further complicated by the looming threat of regulation. The UK’s Online Safety Bill is an attempt to tackle online harms on social media platforms, and this goal flies in the face of Musk’s utopia for what Twitter should be under his leadership.
To some extent the risks are less about actual reform to the platform’s approach and more about how these changes are seen by others. Brands using Twitter as part of their communications strategy should continue to do so for now, but they also need to keep a weather eye on the public mood.
Increasingly, consumers are looking for brands to take a stand on social, cultural and political issues. If the discourse on Twitter shifts ever more into the extremes, then its value as a medium for promotion and engagement could soon be outweighed by the potential for reputational damage by association.
Jason Heffron is a senior account executive at Camargue