TWitter X

Navigating brands through a fractured media environment

Wunderman Thompson Strategist, Feranmi Akintola, explores the enduring survival of Twitter under Elon Musk's ownership and its transformation into a platform for right-wing voices

By Feranmi Akintola

It’s been over 9 months now since Elon Musk completed his purchase of the bird app. Since then, many words have been dedicated to documenting Twitter’s (I refuse to call it X’s) woes. I’d rather not add to them. What I’d like to explore are Musk’s political motivations for buying the app.

You see, his purchase was about much more than money. In the lead up to his take-over, Musk had been part of a chorus of people who saw Twitter as unfair towards social conservatives. It’s not surprising then, that he has fashioned Twitter into a safe space for them. Musk’s Twitter has; restored the accounts of many who were suspended for violating the app’s previous community guidelines, searched obsessively for the algorithm supposedly “silencing conservatives”, and taken hatchet to many of the features designed to protect people from offensive language, trolls & other such attacks. He even recently deemed the term “Cisgender” to be a slur, threatening those using it with temporary suspension. All of this has been done concurrently with Musk’s lifting of the ban on political adverts on the app, creating an environment that might favour political candidates on the Right.

This activity adds Twitter to the ranks of other conservative platforms such as Donald Trump’s Truth Social, a de facto bullhorn for the former president. The phenomenon also goes beyond social media, many brands, media platforms and even news outlets now cater exclusively to a uber conservative worldview. For example, Pure Flix bills itself as a Christian alternative to Netflix; used by a million evangelical Christians who want their entertainment filtered through a religious lens, on the site they can watch historical epics, rom-coms, action and even sci-fi movies, all with a conservative Christian slant that confirms their world view.

However, those who identify as more socially liberal are also beginning to seek out spaces that protect them against the other side. Amid the chaos that engulfed Twitter, many potential alternatives came and went. These included Mastodon and Blue Sky (created by Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey). Ruling roost though, was Meta’s Threads, whose app launch led to the announcement of an (unfortunately now postponed) MMA fight between Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. While Threads may not have promoted itself as a liberal twitter alternative, they were all too eager to emphasise their community guidelines, highlighting rules that many social liberals decried Musk for scrapping. This, and their ease of set up rocketed Threads to a trouser-soiling 100m users in less than a week.

As marketers this trend puts us in a pickle. What does it mean for us if culture becomes irrevocably split along political lines? How can brands still reach people effectively if a good chunk of their potential market use platforms that knowingly reinforce polarised or even extreme views? Lately, this question has riddled my thoughts.

I'd like to kick off a discussion by sharing three essential steps I believe brands should take to navigate this fragmented cultural moment.

Truly know your audience

This is crucial, not only because understanding them helps us find where they are, but also because a brand that understands its audience’s values, knows the areas in which it has a right to play. We’ve seen what happens to brands when they forget this. Bud Light’s woes are well documented, but it’s interesting that after a series of attempted conservative boycotts they were the first real casualty. Their collaboration with Dylan Mulvaney wasn’t ill-advised because working with trans influencers is a bad thing, it was ill-advised because it challenged their usual audience’s rigid view of masculinity, a view which Bud Light itself had spent the past few decades helping to cultivate.

Taking a stand

The second step, once we understand our audience, is to take the time to work out what your brand stands for. Brand purpose is slowly falling out of vogue in our industry, however that doesn’t make the concept irrelevant. Whether based on social good, or something less political, your brand’s purpose will inform the marketing decisions you make. In world of polarised media diets, this helps us work out which platforms our brands should be playing on, and what kind of messages they should be broadcasting.

Evolving in a Turbulent Mediascape

Thirdly, brands must be nimble and adapt to the ever-fraught mediascape. The saga of Twitter demonstrates just how quickly things can turn on their head. Time and resources are needed to protect brand safety, and marketers must be ready to move their media budgets at a moment’s notice. Moreover, you must be ready for backlash. Activists on both sides of the political spectrum are searching for brands to chastise, meaning that even the most throw away comms activities are open to dogpiling. As a result, our comms must have a purpose-led rational. We must also be ready to defend them (and protect our influencers) when backlash arrives.

We’ve now entered a brave new world. Many factors besides politics have led to collective culture fading, but few of these come with quite the minefields that polarised politics do. It’s our responsibility as marketers to reach our desired audiences while avoiding the minefields and now is the time for us to work out how to do it.

Feranmi Akintola is a Strategist at Wunderman Thompson


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