Twitter's platform experience is punishing brands as well as individual users.
Marketing Social Media

Twitter Bots and Trolls Are Making Brands Think Twice Before Tweeting

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Ed Sheeran made international headlines earlier this year when he announced he was quitting Twitter. The global pop star is one of the most recognizable names in the music industry and is coming off a widely celebrated album release. But even he has his limits regarding the septic culture found on Twitter. Sheeran told news outlets, “I go on it and there’s nothing but people saying mean things. One comment ruins your day. But that’s why I’ve come off it,” according to the BBC.

Between Internet trolls and Twitter bots, the social platform is swimming with unsavory user activity that is dragging down the experience for everyone, and brand marketers are no exception.

While Twitter has the second-largest active user base of any social network behind Facebook and has become a default destination for brands looking to build a digital audience, the platform’s inability to tamp down the influence of its most irritating users is pushing everyone—celebrities, brands, and everyday users—to question whether their Twitter presence is actually producing a net positive result. Brands are inundated with negative content, trolling, and other aspects of an underwhelming user experience. With the platform’s advertising channels stagnating, the benefits of Twitter are on the decline for some of these brands. They face a question that, a few years ago, might have seemed unimaginable: Is Twitter worth the trouble anymore?

In the end, this is a question that each brand has to answer for itself. But the decisions of Twitter’s leadership will also have a say.

Ed Sheeran

Image attribution: Eva Rinaldi

For Brands, There’s No Easy Answer

Where bullying is concerned, you might assume brands have thick skin. After all, brands aren’t vulnerable to emotional abuse the way individual users might be. And companies have always had to deal with a certain degree of dissatisfied or disgruntled consumers.

But the problem with Twitter’s platform isn’t necessarily the bullying these companies face: It’s the fact that their mere presence can be a lightning rod for negative content. Brands go to Twitter to cultivate positive experiences with consumers. The goal is to use social media to create brand-positive content that engages an existing audience and grows the company’s following. But if a company’s activity on Twitter is generating a large volume of negative content—content that gets decent visibility—it hacks away at the benefits and ROI of marketing via Twitter.

It’s even worse when brands attempt to engage Internet trolls, spawning an ugly situation that gives trolls what they want while almost always casting the brand in an unflattering light.

In addition to the challenges of Twitter bullies, brands also have to deal with a large online bot population. Despite incremental changes to its platform over the years, Twitter has failed to meaningfully address an enormous bot presence that makes social media marketing measurement extremely unpredictable for brands using Twitter. According to Ad Age, some brands have run Twitter marketing campaigns only to later discover that 10 to 20 percent of their views and engagement came from Twitter bots, rather than actual consumers.

The social network has promised that roughly 99 percent of its current user base is human, rather than bots, and third-party audits have backed this assertion up. But that one percent remains an ongoing problem for marketers, since even a small population of bots can throw performance metrics out of whack, making it impossible to rely on the stated results of Twitter campaigns. Brands have long been attracted to the concept and promise of Twitter, but its reality is plagued by user experience problems it has failed to solve for years—and it’s unclear how motivated Twitter leaders are to address the issue.

Does Twitter Have Any Incentive to Change?

Twitter has made periodic changes to its platform over time, introducing new features designed to address bullying and bots. Since the start of 2017, TechCrunch notes, the platform has implemented content filters to weed out bullying, launched an algorithm designed to automatically identify bullying content, announced a crackdown on users who repeatedly use the platform for abuse, and given Twitter users the ability to mute other users so that they are never exposed to that content.

These steps have made some modest changes to the platform, reducing the prevalence of bullying of individual users. But in the larger scope of Twitter’s user experience, these changes are mostly cosmetic, failing to address the larger cultural problems that have continued to plague the platform.

Given the platform’s size, it’s easy to speculate that the company might not care too much about problems with its user experience when it continues to enjoy such a large active user base. But recent events have highlighted a weak spot that could be used to turn up the pressure on the social network. As reported by the Guardian, Twitter entered uncharted territory earlier this year when it reported an overall decline in ad revenue for the 2016 fiscal year, the first such downturn since the company went public.

While other social networks continue to see soaring ad revenue growth, Twitter’s financial base has been stunted. This lost revenue likely speaks more to the platform’s struggles to deploy engaging ads to a highly targeted audience, at least when compared to alternative social advertising channels. But increased financial pressure can only help brands get the ear of a platform that has been reluctant to address basic problems in how its users experience and engage with the platform. For brands frustrated with their ability to effectively market via Twitter, now is the time to voice those frustrations and give the platform an ultimatum: Fix what’s wrong with the user experience, or risk losing social media marketing resources to the competition.

If current trends in user satisfaction, ad revenue, and brand sentiments are any indication, Twitter needs to turn around its brand momentum, and fast. Better advertising options would certainly help, but the company might also need to address the fundamental flaws that continue to drag down its experience for other brands.

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Featured image attribution: Ray Hennessey

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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