Twitter Ads: Bots the problem? Not really, say advertisers

Industry insiders say the question of bots is as relevant on other social platforms as it is on Twitter and marketers know that everybody is pretty much in the same boat

e4m by Shantanu David
Published: Jul 27, 2022 9:10 AM  | 6 min read

Twitter last week posted its Q2 numbers,  declaring a  revenue decline of 1% YoY to $1.18 billion. Advertising revenue grew by 2% to $1.08 billion while subscription and other revenue totalled $101 million, a decrease of 27% year-over-year. Average monetizable daily active usage (mDAU) was 237.8 million, up 16.6% compared to Q2 of the prior year. The numbers missed analyst estimates on earnings, revenue and user growth, with the social media giant partially blaming the revenue drop on ad industry headwinds due to the challenging macroeconomic environment, as well as “uncertainty related to the pending acquisition of Twitter by an affiliate of Elon Musk.”

Indeed, it has been a difficult time for Twitter. The social media platform, which is suing Musk to force him to complete a previously agreed-upon merger valued at approximately US$ 44 billion, has finally got a court date in October. Closer home, the San Francisco-based company is locking horns with the Indian government, with the latter seeking more oversight over the users of the platform and the content they post on it.

Musk opted out of the deal, claiming that up to 20 per cent of Twitter’s users are spam/bot content, though the company claims that that figure is limited to around 5 per cent. So, has Musk’s alarm on bots led to advertisers looking at the platform with skepticism?

“Bots, spam, fake accounts, trolls, data doubts - Twitter is burdened with a lot of questionable content. But at the same time, the platform has its own charm,” reasons Shajesh Menon, Founder and CEO of Younion, saying that Twitter has a very active audience that tends to be passionate and knowledgeable about the things they’re interested in.

“This makes it an effective medium for building communities in a way that other platforms simply don’t. And that’s where content is headed in the future,” he says.

Another aspect of engagement that is unique and almost expected of Twitter unlike other platforms, as observed by Anand Nair, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of 4AM Worldwide, is posting multiple times a day. This helps brands establish their own voice relatively quicker and engage directly with a wide audience.

“Depending on the nature of the brand – whether manufacturing, service or B2B-, Twitter could be an integral part of customer service strategy, customer engagement and brand building through PR too,” says Nair, adding that, “the platform could lead to the transformation of a fledgling brand or the downfall of a mighty brand too. Irrespective of the spending, smart planning and effective execution on Twitter can help marketers achieve desirable results.”

However, Nair does mention that the uncertainty around the business at large and the sheer amount of noise made around the spam bots would certainly have the advertisers looking at the platform with some skepticism.

Akshae Golekar, Founder, at Optiminastic Media, a digital and performance marketing agency, believes that brands have become more skeptical when it comes to the actual size of their audience, data, and ad reports. “Generally, agencies like ours have to present estimated numbers to the brands before indulging in a campaign,” he says.

Nair agrees, pointing out that a majority of small advertisers and small business users consider Twitter as an important part of their customer service strategy. “Trust is one of the biggest reasons why this platform works for small advertisers and businesses looking to address a niche and focused audience. The suspicion raised by Musk around the spam bots would have planted a seed of doubt even in the minds of those who never questioned Twitter before,” he says.

Others disagree and, as of now, even while many in the industry are leery of speaking on the subject, Twitter’s recent troubles seem to have made little discernible difference to its effectiveness as an ad platform, or its ad spends. And, there may be some evidence that its recent public attention may have actually given ad sales on the platform an impetus.

“One metric where Twitter trumps is engagement,” says Nair, adding that “Twitter may not be the most dominant social media platform, but the fact that it’s easier to spread your message or engage in a conversation, means it still holds plenty of appeal as an advertising platform.”

Sahil Shah, Managing Partner, WATConsult, agrees about the minimal impact on ad spends, saying, “It’s hard to talk about Twitter from an advertising perspective as we’ve not seen any major shifts in budgets. Also, the question of bots is as relevant on other social platforms as it is on Twitter and clients know that everybody is pretty much in the same boat.”

As to whether this recent turbulence will dissuade smaller advertisers from using the platform, industry insiders think the reverse is probably more likely. According to Shah, what might end up happening is that Twitter might look at this inwardly and increase its efficiency in removing bots which in turn will help advertisers get their ROI.

Golekar similarly feels that this is the best time to invest in Twitter ads because they give the best ROI. “As an agency, we feel that this is the right time where Twitter should be used by brands for ads because the ad rates are relatively lower and the brands can play on the buzz that has been created by the debate between Musk and Twitter.”

“Twitter has always been a platform for debates and adding fuel to the fire will be the latest debate by the platform itself that will involve the world’s top billionaires. So that is something that will grab a lot of eyeballs on a platform where you can advertise at a comparatively lower rate,” he says.

It is also true that Twitter does hold a lot of appeal for small businesses, and while the whole debate is probably leading to increased engagement, industry insiders say that Twitter needs to take control of its ad service offerings to continue to tap into the market, pun unintended.

“Twitter may be a cultural touchstone, but the platform started getting aggressive about performance marketing products and tools only as late as 2020, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. Marketers in India have been using it primarily as a vehicle for organic brand awareness, and rightly so, we want to make every buck count. Musk or not, Twitter has a long way to go,” concludes Menon.



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