Should fashion come out of Twitter? | BoF

The reviews are there: the fashion industry is not a fan of Elon Musk’s twitter.

Gigi Hadid left Twitter on Nov. 7, less than two weeks after the Tesla founder took control of the company. In a farewell snap, the model called the shoot a “cesspool of hate and bigotry.” Balenciaga was next, deleting her account, which had around 950,000 followers, on Nov. 14, without further comment. Two days later, Macy’s announced it would also be retiring its Twitter ad, just over a week before its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In less than a month, Musk fired half of Twitter’s staff (and fired others via tweets) and upended the platform’s verification system by allowing users to pay $8 a month for the coveted blue checkmark (and thus shutting down the feature after it led to a proliferation of parody accounts spreading disinformation).

While there hasn’t been an exodus of fashion brands off Twitter, industry sources told BoF that behind closed doors, many companies are also taking a wait-and-see approach to advertising on the platform. Outside the industry, General Motors, Dyson and other companies have suspended advertising, and Reuters reported that ad holding company Omnicom has instructed customers to suspend marketing on the platform.

Twitter remains a hub for consumers to talk about their favorite brands, even though its importance to fashion has diminished due to the rise of more visual mediums like Instagram and TikTok. Brands can count on a flurry of tweets to amplify the reach of their latest marketing gimmick or product launch. In the era of TikTok, brands like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and even Balenciaga were ramping up their investments in the platform.

However, Musk’s moves have changed the marketing equation. Twitter’s freewheeling conversations and lingering problems with misinformation and harassment have always posed a risk to carefully vetted brands. Under Musk, who has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and made deep cuts to the company’s content moderation team, these risks could worsen.

But there’s a reason a wave of fashion brands haven’t followed Balenciaga’s lead: Even amidst the turmoil, it can still pay to be the center of the conversation online. Even cold turkey can be risky. Balenciaga has many other ways to communicate with its fans. Not all brands can say the same and may regret abandoning their Twitter community if Musk can right the ship.

“If this type of cut is made now, it will be felt over the next 12 months,” said Matt Voda, CEO of ad measurement software company OptiMine. “There is a lot of long-term brand equity that has been built up, awareness and consideration. When you reduce those investments, it takes longer to rebuild.

Advertising value

Brand safety — protecting a brand’s image and reputation by making sure its ads don’t run alongside hate speech and other harmful content — has long been a concern for social media marketing. One reason platforms have invested in content moderation is to appease brands whose ad dollars make up the vast majority of their revenue.

The explosion of fake accounts (with purchased verified ticks) posting misinformation is a worst-case scenario for many brands. For example, one account impersonating pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company posted that “insulin is free now”; the company stopped advertising on Twitter soon after.

“Even more so now, brands need to monitor Twitter not just for mentions, but for any kind of relevant discussion involving their brand, just to be aware of the landscape,” said Jon-Stephen Stansel, social media strategist.

For advertisers, taking a wait-and-see approach is probably the best course of action right now, said Allen Adamson, CEO and founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce.

There have been past attempts to boycott Facebook and other social media platforms; typically those marketing dollars come back when things calm down.

The question brands face today is whether things will ever cool off on a Musk-owned Twitter. Though he’s reinstated the verification subscription plan, he’s spent much of this week attracting further controversy, firing employees who publicly questioned his leadership on Twitter, and giving those who remained an ultimatum to expect to work “extremely hardcore” or leave the company.

“Luxury brands should be [particularly] cautious, because so much of a luxury brand’s image is driven by the company you keep,” said Adamson.

Cancel your account?

For Balenciaga, being among the first to leave Twitter was a PR coup and an opportunity to reiterate the brand’s ethos to its consumer. If Twitter’s downward spiral deepens, they will once again be ahead of the curve.

“If you think Twitter doesn’t currently match what your brand stands for and staying on the platform contradicts your brand values, yes, it’s time to step down,” Stansel said.

Adamson said it depends on whether Twitter is a “must-have or nice to have.”

For Balenciaga, Twitter probably wasn’t a platform that mattered much in his social strategy: he mainly used his account to share campaign or catwalk images or to warn consumers of upcoming drops. Instagram is where Balenciaga has focused its creative social attention the most, often deleting its feed to impress with new launches or announcements.

For those who have found Twitter to be an effective tool, the current turbulence isn’t a surefire reason to leave. Twitter’s informal tone and nature allows for easier, more direct communication with consumers, and it has become an important conduit for things like customer service.

“If you’re currently using Twitter, there’s probably a reason you continue to do so,” Adamson said. “There’s rockiness, but it’s still a unique platform.”

And if a brand feels that Twitter no longer reflects their values, they may want to take a closer look at the social media landscape as a whole. While Twitter’s problems are magnified in this current moment, its problems — misinformation, content moderation, an unpopular billionaire CEO — aren’t unique to the platform.

“You have to ask yourself, are the other platforms that much better?” Stansel said.

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