The Twitter Advertiser Exodus

A $750,000 a month advertiser has left Twitter. One of hundreds. But in her post she explained the bases for the decision vis-a-vis her advertising investment in a neutral, non-ideological way. People picked up this post because it so powerfully predicts the demise of Twitter’s advertising business, already in freefall and now perhaps beyond recovery.

I’ve spent a lot of my career railing against the marriage of advertising and social media. It was once called “online community” or “social software”. an advertising business model almost inevitably leads to so many of the social ills we know so well. The implosion of Twitter allows us see this happening in real time. Given that Elon Musk explained that it was his intention in acquiring Twitter to make it the “free speech” platform, it was with supreme schadenfreude and satisfaction that I read the Techdirt post by Mike Masnick, Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run The Content Moderation Learning Curve, which those of us who have run user generated content sites have all been through.

The Advertiser Exodus is real. An alternate business model will be required. But the User Exodus is just as real. As @mulegirl on Twitter points out, it will require 93,750 paid users paying $8 per month to replace just this single $750,000 a month advertiser.

Which, in my opinion, is good and correct. I have always thought that the social media platforms should be much less profitable than they are, and that it is only despoiling the civic commons that they have made their billions. They have done this by exploiting their users in three ways: first by taking their users content and displaying advertising against it; second by making them pay to make their content more visible to the communities they themselves have brought or built; and third by harvesting and selling their data to anyone willing to pay, without providing any–or enough!–of the trust and safety, advertising, moderation or curatorial services that would justify it. These platforms have always been unscrupulous and corrupt. A violation of the social contract. So much good that was, is and could be. So little civility, courage and humanity on the part of the founders, CEOs, investors and leaders, cowardice hiding behind the figleaves of The First Amendment, Section 230 and a self-serving technolibertarianism. A real and terrible abdication of leadership in a place that requires it. Subordinating the good to the pursuit of power and money. I could go on, and, well, already have.

A lot of the posts I’ve read about companies leaving Twitter talk about trust and safety issues, and some about ideology, some ideological leavers fleeing after the reinstatement of Trump. But from a purely practical standpoint, this post is a pretty damning:

I’ve seen a lot of technical and ideological takes on Elon Twitter but wanted to share the marketing perspective. For background I’m a director at a medium sized b2b tech company (not in finserv anymore) running a team that deploys about $80M in ad spend/year. Twitter was 8-10% of our media mix and we have run cost per engagement (ie download a white paper, register for an event) campaigns successfully since 2016.

I had my team keep our campaigns live for 2 weeks post-takeover on the bet that efficiency would improve with fewer advertisers and the risks were managed and probably overblown. I was wrong and I think the things we saw in these last 2 weeks means many more advertisers will bail on the platform in the coming weeks (for non-ideological or virtue signaling reasons):

  • Performance fell significantly. CPMs didn’t drop but our engagement went way down. Maybe it’s a shift in users on the platform, maybe it’s ad serving related.
  • Serious brand safety issues. Our organic social and CS teams got dozens of screenshots of our ads next to awful content. Replies to our posts with hardcore antisemitism and adult spam remained up for days even when flagged.
  • Our entire account team turned over multiple times in 2 weeks. We had multiple people (AE, AM, analyst, creative specialist) supporting our account and they all vanished without so much as an email. We finally got an email with a name for an AM last week but they quit and we don’t have a new one yet.
  • Ads UI is very buggy and login with SSO and 2FA broken. One of my campaign managers logged in last week and found all our paused creatives from the past 6 years had been reactivated. Campaign changes don’t save. These things cost us real money.

From an anonymous Financial Services exec posting on Team Blind

For me, the best thing that has come from the Twitter dumpster fire is that I have been posting here instead. Let’s hope for a revival of the independent web, the platforms for which people pay, the Substacks and Word Presses and the like. The better internet we all deserve.

Author: Caterina Fake

Literature, Art, Poetry, Homeschooling Mother. Founder & CEO, Findery. Co-founder, Flickr & Hunch.

13 thoughts on “The Twitter Advertiser Exodus”

  1. Two week seems a little short for giving the new management a fair chance to get all of its ducks in line, but it is fine given that the errors were costing her company money. Presumably if the metrics turn around she’d be willing to resume advertising on Twitter.

    On the other hand, I kind of hope Twitter finds a way to thrive on a business model that isn’t dependent on advertisement. For I agree that ad-supported social media is a kind of deal with the devil. Early on Musk made some comments about getting Twitter out of the ad-supported business model, but I’m not sure how he’ll do that while simultaneously following through on the idea of providing monetization opportunities for content creators.

    It will be interesting to see if Twitter can make a sort of freemium model work at their scale. And I do think that scale has merit to me as a user of their service – the alternative of everyone having to pick and buy into a handful of walled gardens gives me an uneasy feeling. I suspect that even more strongly leads to the kind of echo chambers that “the algorithm” of social media sites created.

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    1. I *definitely* hope that Twitter can find a better business model than advertising, which I think is fee for service. That has always been the best way, especially for social media. All the disinformation, the serotonin economy, the harassment, the impersonation–ALL the ills are reduced with a fee for service model. It has its flaws of course–one being that there are many walled gardens, as you say. But as is also the case, lies are free and the truth is behind a paywall. 🙂

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  2. Somehow as I wrote that Pink Floyd drifted into my mind “The time is gone, the [comment] is over, thought I’d something more to say”.

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  3. I also think that the ad serving model brings misaligned incentives for social media platforms. I do hope that the new leadership can pivot to a freemium model, although it hasn’t been done before at this scale, and their first weeks have been chaotic, to say the least.

    However, I have to keep in mind that Twitter is not a startup. There is little room to experiment with new pricing models, especially since the new owner paid 44 billion USD (leveraged) for it. It loses so much money every day, that it’s probably a race against time, and ditching the previous, lucrative, ad serving playbook is not going to help.

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  4. The advertizer doesn’t hide that it flags comments which is the opposite of free speech

    Another big business who wants to control the false illusion that they are trying to portray.

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