No doubt the Elon Musk acquisition bid for Twitter is unprecedented.
Also unprecedented is division among marketers if they should be concerned about the potential impact of the Musk/Twitter acquisition on their social media strategies.
I tried a poll of my Twitter and LinkedIn audience to see if people were thinking of changing their social media strategy. A small number of people responded — just over 50 — with half saying no.
But for those saying yes or maybe — and for those who share that sentiment — being concerned on the deal's impact is warranted. Social media has long been an enabler for a brand to connect with customers. The acquisition is increasingly seen as a disruption among Wall Street analysts. The stock price for Twitter has been somewhat muted since the news. Tesla stock price dropped in value as Musk's financing of the deal using his shares was revealed.
Marketers may soon join that chorus, discovering that the deal will not really move the needle for Twitter to compete with other social media platforms.
What Does the Twitter Acquisition Mean?
Musk's Twitter acquisition deal presents an opportunity for Twitter's business model. When a publicly traded company turns private, its management team gains a capacity to focus on developing new products without distraction from quarterly investor demands for new revenue-generating services and driving the share price higher.
That may be a timely benefit given a current downturn in ad spending that is impacting the revenue for social media platforms. The stock market's response to Snapchat's earning report is an example of marketplace sentiment; CNBC and other finance news sources reported that stock prices for Google, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media companies tumbled as a result of market fears that Snapchat's losses from advertising reflects the entire social media sector.
But Musk brings no innovative perspectives to Twitter's real challenges. He instead directs attention toward tactics that appear strategic but are shallow in scope. His call to "open the algorithm" during a TED stage discussion following the bid announcement overlooks a key development fact: algorithm models are created from data, a development process radically different from that for software. Open sourcing any algorithm without agreement on what data is used to test and train the algorithm displays a serious omission of insight into how social media feeds operate.
Are Musk's Twitter Bot Concerns Valid?
The same kind of overlook applies to Musk's comments about bots. Political bots with false comparisons and bad messaging do play havoc on Twitter's feed. The same can be said for memes and fake video on other social media platforms, for that matter.
But bots, when applied judiciously, do serve a content marketing purpose. Bots allow more people to review tweets, increasing the reach for the associated content. Many subgroups within Twitter use bots to see tweets they missed when the tweet was first sent. This helps with ensure information is not overlooked.
The concern Musk raised about bots really must be directed at the type of content being reshared, not just the mechanism. When political organizations started using the same tactics, pundits and experts raised solid concerns raising amplification of misinformation. Bot misuse is a result of human misbehavior, not just bad technology.
Related Article: Evaluating Elon Musk's Plan to Fix Twitter
This Isn't a Twitter Issue; It's a Social Media Issue
Musk's comments about Twitter suggest that the issues are unique to Twitter. In fact, the real technical challenges for Twitter are like those for each social media platform.
Every social media platform is struggling to maintain user interest and maintain features that offer a competitive advantage. Platforms can rapid duplicate competitor features as a countermove. Programming frameworks have eased developers’ creativity so that functions and variants can be quickly deployed.
This means marketing countermoves to new, programmatic features can quickly occur. For example, Clubhouse immediately saw competition in the live chat space from Twitter and Spotify, with LinkedIn soon offering its version of a live chat feature.
Quickly chosen countermoves do not guarantee success. Take Twitter Fleets. Introduced in November 2020, Fleets were meant to compete against Instagram stories. They existed only 24 hours on a Twitter stream. Twitter discontinued Fleets August 2021 — less than a year after it debuted.
The technological challenges of social media are also occurring at a challenging time among tech companies that retain audience interest. Overall online usage has piqued. Because people host profiles on several social media platforms, the competition for user attention has intensified, tested further by work-at-home online behavior due to the pandemic.
This makes audience engagement a crucial part of a platform's viability. The audience size of a platform limits the potential reach of content, diminishing strategy and impacting downstream analysis such as share of voice (SOV), a measurement of the amount of advertising presence for a particular brand, product or service.
SOV is an indicator for comparing to how people are responding online to that of competitors. Its strength lies in people discussing content online — with positive and negative experiences. Twitter is among the best platforms for this analysis. The frequency of consumer discussions is hindered if the platform is a ghost town as a response to a looming presence.
Related Article: What Happens to Twitter After Elon Musk's Takeover Fails
Potential Reduced Effectiveness of Metrics (and Personal Experiences)
Musk's acquisition casts an overbearing shadow over Twitter's user base, rather than over a segment in which people can opt out by simply avoiding engagement. One can make a comparison of Musk's Twitter usage to that of Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook. But Zuckerberg, best known for launching Facebook, has a social media usage that is periodic — less frequent than that of Musk's interactions on Twitter. Although Twitter was designed for sharing real-time events, the difference in ownership places a new light on how much ownership influences an overall community.
That looming presence can be a significant impact to some analysis that require large audiences to generate statistical sound insights. A campaign using a hashtag will be likely be unaffected by any large shifts in the number of overall platform users. But a platform with a diminishing audience would begin to limit the kinds of nuanced analysis marketers need to validate innovations.
Twitter has been very instrumental in raising marketer sophistication in cultural marketing appeals to diverse segments such as Black, Hispanic and LGBT consumers. That increase in marketing quality and discussion of inclusion would not have happened if Twitter did not index highly for those segment populations, creating a space to measure and respond to true sentiment through sentiment analysis, share of voice and social listening.
What Marketers Can Do to Protect Their Social Media Strategies
So, with all of this in mind, what should marketers do to protect their strategy?
For starters most social media strategy is based on a focused intention in the content. Focusing on the number of people who engage and the people who convert will minimize controversial topics dialog from entering branding discussions online.
Marketers should also pay attention to trending audiences from their social media. Understanding referral traffic from the social media platforms can help organize decisions on whether to invest more into a platform. That understand can help assess if a platform's decline is leading to less conversions. No one wants to market on the next Google Plus.
Related Article: Twitter's Frankenstein Moment
The Road Ahead for Twitter
It will be fascinating to see what comes of the Twitter deal. Twitter is a particular precursory platform for interest for Web 3.0. The platform just allowed NFTs to be profile images, while live discussions about cryptocurrency occur frequently in Twitter Spaces.
Social media was meant to be a distributed system, its value linked to being a gateway to substantial benefits for retail and event commerce. For Musk to make the changes he thinks are needed means having a broader viewpoint that incorporates advertising concerns, a deeper perspective of algorithm, and an appreciation for the various groups who use Twitter — many of whom are not using it for amplifying ideology.The best outcome from the deal will show understanding that social media has shifted the fundamental ability for people to communicate. That outcome must show true care for people online, not just an ideology or supporting tech.