A human appeal + a priced blue tick verification: Elon Musk’s evolving Twitter strategy

A human appeal + a priced blue tick verification: Elon Musk’s evolving Twitter strategy

Industry veterans discuss Twitter’s developing strategy under Musk’s control.

 Elon Musk

Mumbai: Business baron Elon Musk has caught the world in a frenzy with the daily evolution of his Twitter strategy.

From entering the social media company’s headquarters with a sink in his hand, his human appeal to advertisers on Twitter, him firing senior executives from the company since day one of his takeover, forming a content moderation council for Twitter, suggesting to charge a $20 fee for verification to becoming the sole director at Twitter after firing the board of directors and finally proposing a price tag of $8 for a blue tick verification on the social media portal – Musk has changed the face of Twitter drastically within the last week.

One could only wonder what else the social media company has to go through under Musk’s reign. In a confab with industry veterans, I set out to explore the nitty gritty of Musk’s appeal to advertisers, wherein he claims that he wants to use the social media platform for the betterment of humanity, and also the blue-tick verification priced at eight dollars, which has led to a storm of reviews across the advertising fraternity.

Discussing the human plea that Musk has made to advertisers, it’s an obvious point to ponder what could be going on in the minds of the several advertisers/brands that take to Twitter for their publicity purposes. Madison World vice president Kosal Malladi understands that Musk is a businessman at the end of the day. "He has said all the right things, but the intention is clear. How will he show better ads unless he collects more data? And collecting more data will mean more control over what people say. And this will mean having the power to veer conversations either towards the right or left basis of your agenda," he brings out.

Tonic Worldwide CEO Chetan Asher emphasises, "Advertisers are watching the developments at Twitter with keen interest. But it is too early for them to react to his appeal. His actions in the next few days in making Twitter advertiser-friendly will matter more than any appeal."

Thought Blurb Communications founder and chief creative officer Vinod Kunj seconds Asher’s opinion, he thinks that the overall sentiment among advertisers is "wait and watch." He points out, "Musk’s public statements of purpose and actual actions seem to be surprisingly at odds with each other. The troubles of social media have always been about self-editing or the lack of it, quite unlike professional media. Freedom of speech is all very well as long as it is regulated by a mature journalistic authority. That is flagrantly absent in social media, hence the series of crises attributed to these platforms over the years."

Restricted brand opinion/advertising or not?

Needless to say, the natural question pops up in the mind: Would this human appeal restrict a brand’s opinion or a brand’s advertising in any way?

Malladi refutes that this could impact a brand’s advertising in any way. "In today’s world, a brand is always very careful about the opinion it puts out. At this stage, human appeal will in no way change the way we advertise. A brand will continue to be careful until such a time where opinions do not have a direct and immediate negative repercussion on its sales," he clarifies.

Asher feels otherwise. "While he assured the advertisers in his note that Twitter cannot become a "free-for-all hellscape," brands will take a cautious approach as it's not clear what his plans for moderation are. The fact that he has hinted at tweaking the advertising model on the platform also adds to the confusion," he points out.

Kunj feels that it puts the onus of caution on the brand. He says, "With one sweeping stroke, advertisers will have lost the ability to control the quality of discourse in the conversation. On one hand, brands actively seek out reviews, opinions, and experiences from customers. Twitter allows us to respond to issues in real-time."

"But there have always been issues that Twitter has been able to clamp down on. Fashion brands can face the brunt of sexist comments, and lifestyle brands have come under heated fire from conservative thinking. And then there is always the incipient fear that customers will turn on each other with opinion clashes leading to personal attacks," he adds.

Sensible step or not?

Also, as part of this discussion, is this human appeal a sensible step taken by Musk with the thought of helping advertisers not get off the platform and to avoid any kind of extremist views on it?

Malladi thinks that the problem Twitter has been facing due to its "lack of control" is that advertisers have started seeing it as a negative platform. Two factors will play an important role in attracting advertisers. One, is the overall "negativity" going down on Twitter? And second, is there enough of your audience on Twitter?

"Point number one is under Musk’s control. But in the process, he needs to ensure that people do not leave the platform. In fact, he needs to figure out a way to grow the base. If that happens, brands will advertise. Sensible step or not, only time will tell," he specifies.

Kunj chooses to give in to cautious optimism. He elucidates, "I don’t imagine this allows advertisers to be more or less free. Advertising communication will always cater to the centre of the mean. It doesn’t help to cater to the fringe. If and when the fringe becomes the norm, things might change."

The human appeal – good or not?

Speaking about whether he is in favour of human appeal or not, Malladi is of the opinion that, as a business, Musk needs to change the narrative of Twitter. So he has taken the logical step. Further, he says, "We can find loopholes in his appeal, see through his appeal, but the intention is clear. And he will need to make a few more such statements and eventually show some real change for brands to start getting really comfortable."

Giving a thumbs up to the human plea, Asher is of the view that Musk recognises that advertising is the fuel that is vital for Twitter, and hence the outreach to allay the fears, and was a move in the right direction.

Kunj explains, "Advertising has always tried to push boundaries. Sometimes we get it right, but not always. The further we stretch the band, the greater the chance for it to snap. It’s like advertising underwear. There is a thin line between flirty-sexy and downright obscene. It’s that notional thin line that we never cross. Musk’s appeal may be to persuade advertisers to go ahead and cross it anyway."

Blue tick verification at $8

The blue tick verification has been priced at eight dollars, and this fee applies only to USA-based Twitter users. Musk stated that the membership fee would vary in different countries according to the respective nations' purchasing power parity. What does this entail for advertisers/brands, content providers, and obviously the users of Twitter? Malladi fathoms that it makes it much easier for anyone to get a blue-tick verification now. "These users/brands get additional benefits. In a way, blue tick seems to be a subscription model, hence an additional revenue stream for Twitter. Brands will also get even more audience understanding, and hence the ability to target better," he describes.

On the contrary, Kunj of Thought Blurb Communications feels that this makes absolutely no sense. This is like a bank charging you for KYC every month. Or the government charging you a monthly fee on your passport to accept that you are a citizen. There is no call for it. "Either I am who I claim to be, or I am not. This doesn’t change by the month. Unless Musk intends to make Twitter subscription a tradeable commodity, which might be a whole different bag of beans," he suggests.

Blue tick verification at $8 – yay or nay?

In the whole scheme of things that is taking place, what could be the advantages and repercussions of pricing the blue-tick verification at eight dollars? Malladi senses that people will get an opportunity to easily flaunt the tick, until the point it no longer has a flaunt value. "Musk said that he wants to break the loads and peasants system where only lords get the blue tick. I am not so sure if that is his real motivation. Audience segmentation will be a real benefit for Twitter," he cites.

Asher elaborates, "Blue tick will obviously help in reducing spam on the platform and will also allow advertisers to do qualitative advertising to users who are invested in the platform. Musk has also talked about reducing the number of ads for users and this ties in with advertisers getting the opportunity to target small but qualitative users."

Kunj feels the opposite and imagines that a lot of celebrities and personalities will walk off immediately. That makes Twitter a platform for commercial and showbiz personalities only. "I don’t imagine a brilliant thinker, serious journalist, or upcoming artist using this platform as it was originally meant to be. There is no reason for anybody to pay every month for the pleasure of being authenticated," he says, making his point.