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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Wants You to Think Harder

Twitter’s November announcement banning politicians from advertising and limiting issue promotion was largely symbolic, but implications for businesses navigating complex issues can’t be explained in 240 characters.

In November 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced via tweet thread that his company would be taking a hands-on approach to issue advertising. “We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally,” the 43-year-old CEO wrote to his 4.4 million followers.

The move came as a result of intense scrutiny surrounding social media’s impact on democracy. Facebook has been at the center of the debate. The social media giant does not censor accounts and content, allowing the potential spread of falsehoods and targeting narrow subsets of the public – an issue that came to light in the 2016 presidential election. Even with congressional pressure, Facebook won’t budge in its policies (the company cites free speech as reasoning, but it probably doesn’t hurt that experts estimate the company will take in $1 billion from campaign advertising in this year’s election). Spotting a positive PR opportunity (66% of consumers say they want brands to take a stand on social and political issues), Twitter made its stance clear – “political message reach should be earned, not bought.”

Twitter’s Line in the Sand is More Opportunistic than Needle-Moving.

Political advertising was never a revenue cornerstone for the company, nor was it a key tactic of any presidential ad strategy. Before the policy change, the top seven Democratic presidential nominee hopefuls and President Donald Trump were not relying heavily on the platform for digital advertising. Between Twitter, Facebook, and Google only 3% of digital ad dollars were spent on Twitter in the 2020 Presidential election as of November 2019.

Furthermore, according to OpenSecrets, President Donald Trump – the most controversial political advertiser – only spent $6,000 on Twitter advertising. This should not come as a surprise. Twitter offers access to an audience often at odds with his views and policy, meaning his money is better spent on platforms with audiences to which he can appeal.

Still, Twitter’s lack of political ad clout doesn’t minimize its potential to make waves, especially with the right message.

Twitter is a Hotbed for Virality

#MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, Dunk in the Dark – they all have roots in Twitter. This isn’t a coincidence.

According to Pew Research, compared to the average American adult, Twitter users are three times more likely to be younger than 50 years old; 15 percent more likely to be a Democrat; and 37 percent more likely to have a college degree. Additionally, 42% of Twitter users say they use the site to discuss politics at least “some of the time.” This means Twitter is best suited for companies looking to reach a concentration of bright, energetic, and politically active individuals. The only question is: How do ad restrictions impact your strategy to mobilize?

You Need to Think Harder

The unintended consequence of prohibiting politicians from promoting content and limiting freedom for “normal” advertising is that unestablished candidates and companies are penalized for their lack of name recognition.

Still, if Twitter’s new status quo can be understood, you can work with it. There are three things to remember when creating a Twitter strategy in 2020:

  1. Politicians can’t advertise, period. If you’re a Democrat presidential candidate looking to cash in on the young professional goldmine that is Twitter, you need to listen more and tweet less. Understanding what garners a response from Twitter audiences and then cultivating messaging that fits is key to creating organic, viral content.
  1. Advertising can still be issue-focused, just not directly mobilizing. Although accounts can still ask users to sign a petition of importance or call their senator, these posts cannot be promoted. To ensure users are engaging with your organic content, you must have a precise understanding of who you are trying to reach and how your message will sit with them. This means researching your audience, message testing, and investing in quality targeting rather than blanketing paid reach.
  1. Twitter is still learning what its new policies mean. This means ad policies may be in flux for the foreseeable future. Always stay up to date with new developments and adjust strategy accordingly.

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