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#RIPTwitter: experts predict where users (and ad dollars) will go if Twitter implodes

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By Kendra Clark | Senior Reporter

November 18, 2022 | 13 min read

Who will cash in on Twitter’s demise? Here are six likely benefactors.

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Twitter could be on the brink of extinction / Mika Baumeister

After slashing 50% of Twitter's workforce, Elon Musk on Wednesday morning issued an ultimatum to remaining staff, who numbered around 3,700. He demanded that they either explicitly commit to working intense, long hours to bring “Twitter 2.0” to fruition or resign effective immediately and receive three months’ severance. It’s now been reported that between half and 75% of the remaining workers chose the latter.

On Thursday afternoon, employees took to Twitter to post the saluting emoji, which has become an unofficial symbol of quitting or being laid off at the company. Employees told CNN that internal Slack channels were flooded with the same emoji when Musk's 5pm ET deadline arrived.

It’s the latest – and perhaps most damning – in a series of ongoing dramas at the social platform since Musk took over the app on October 27. Amid mass layoffs, key leaders – from the company’s chief marketing officer Leslie Berland and head of product Jay Sullivan to chief information security officer Lea Kissner – chose to resign. Musk was threatened with a lawsuit. Then, with fears that the Tesla CEO would trash the platform’s content moderation policies – considering he’s a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist.” Once he implied that he wanted to take a more lax approach to governance – advertisers pulled out en masse. Musk’s decision to roll out $8-a-month verification to any user further ostracized users and brands over concerns that the tool would be abused and lead to an influx of misinformation on the platform.

Now, the platform is at a truly critical juncture: with a staff at less than 25% the size of its prior form – and lacking in technical talent and legal advisory – there is widespread concern that the whole platform could buckle, as soon as today. Friday morning, hashtags including #RIPTwitter, #TwitterShutdown and #TwitterOff were trending, along with the name of twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Users expressed – with a mix of humor and genuine sentiment – their feelings of approaching Twitter’s twilight.

Now, those same users – and the advertising industry players who have pulled back from the platform – are wondering what’s next. Here are some leading theories:

1. TikTok

Industry leaders have predicted that TikTok could easily seize the moment to grow its user base, boost engagement and consume a larger portion of the advertising pie.

For one, it already appeals to users. “More and more people are getting their news from TikTok, and the algorithm continues to become increasingly addictive,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “There is no doubting that TikTok is cleaning up after every other social platform out there, [Twitter’s troubles] aside.” Nonetheless, he says, “a fall in Twitter will help TikTok the most.”

It also looks increasingly attractive to advertisers who may be concerned about brand safety and suitability in a place like Twitter. “TikTok is definitely a viable and safe platform for businesses to advertise on right now,” Mike Allton, head of strategic partnerships at social media management platform Agorapulse previously told The Drum. “And it’s incredibly effective. With a massive user base spanning all demographics, and more tools ... adding professional support, businesses can easily leverage the platform to reach their target audiences. That’s the opportunity that exists today.”

He pointed out that TikTok essentially repurposed Meta’s modus operandi: it invested in a product that “creates sticky behaviors that drive up user count and usage time simultaneously.” It’s a formula that’s proven to be highly effective for driving user engagement while also enticing advertisers, who are eager to cash in on attention.

Others echo the sentiment. “From an advertising perspective, brands are already flocking away from Twitter,” says Matt Woodruff, co-founder and chief product officer at Constellation. “This is a massive opportunity for other social platforms to lure brands and help them win over customers. TikTok and Meta are the obvious answers.”

TikTok may not be the perfect place for brands – though it doesn’t come with the same brand safety concerns that Twitter faces, it’s not free of content moderation issues. Plus, as a fairly nascent platform, some experts have pointed out that many brands don’t feel comfortable jumping into its deep end quite yet. “For many advertisers, TikTok still sits in the experimental bucket,” leading social media consultant Matt Navarra previously told The Drum. “A lot of small- to medium-sized businesses particularly – and some larger ones – are still not confident and convinced by TikTok in terms of its potential as an advertising platform.”

Still, key industry voices predict that TikTok will win over at least some of the Twitter spillover.

2. Reddit

Not everyone is convinced by the TikTok argument, however. As Sarah Jardine, social strategy lead at ad agency Wunderman Thompson posits, the video-sharing app isn’t built for the same kinds of interactions that Twitter users want.

Instead, she predicts that users may flock to Reddit, which promises a similar kind of microblogging experience. “You won’t see Twitter users rushing to set up a TikTok – it’s not their ball game, at least in the short-term,” says Jardine. “If you bring it back to the basics, Twitter users want to have conversations. TikTok is almost entirely entertainment-driven, so those reeling from Twitter imploding won’t get those needs fulfilled from TikTok. That being said, Reddit’s recent resurgence could position them perfectly to gain a bigger community.”

Regardless of what may happen, she says, “all social platforms should be ready waiting in the wings for what is to come.”

3. Mastodon

Earlier this month, decentralized social network Mastodon reached 1 million monthly active users. The platform itself has said on its blog that it aims to position itself as a “viable alternative to Twitter.”

And many experts believe the hype. “I've heard of more people talking about Mastodon in the last week than the last two years,” says Pulizzi. “While still clunky, Mastodon has the same feel as Twitter, and it's decentralized, which gives users hope that one individual won't come in and mess with it [like Musk has with Twitter].”

It’s the same kind of appeal that has some experts forecasting that Discord could be the new, hot place for ex-Twitter users and brands.

And while Mastodon may appeal to former Twitter devotees, advertisers face a handful of unique challenges on the platform. Critically, Mastodon doesn’t allow paid advertising – if they want to be part of the conversation, brands need to join individual servers and integrate themselves organically. The platform’s infrastructure isn’t inherently friendly to advertisers.

Eric Dahan, TikTok marketing partner and chief executive of creator marketing agency Open Influence, has put it this way: “Mastodon is a federated platform rather than a social platform. For brands, this means that they have to both identify the communities they want to engage on the platform and then find a way to insert themselves into the conversation organically,” he says. “This is easier said than done, making it harder for brands to scale up their marketing easily.”

And because Mastodon is essentially a network of independently-run servers – each of which are self-managed – its content moderation and governance capabilities are minimal, which presents the same kinds of brand safety issues that advertisers fear on Twitter.

Plus, Mastodon is still a challenger in a larger pool, which can dissuade ad spend. “Mastodon is an unfamiliar platform, and its reach is still very small compared with established digital platforms,” Jasmine Enberg, a principal analyst at Insider Intelligence’s eMarketer specializing in social media, told The Drum earlier this month. And for Twitter advertisers, who Enberg claimed “primarily use the platform for upper- to mid-funnel marketing goals and tend to be more risk-averse than performance advertisers focused on sales and conversions,” the draw isn’t strong. “Any organic posting on the platform would be an experimental play for brands, and not a high priority right now.”

4. LinkedIn

Professional networking platform LinkedIn has garnered some attention as users and advertisers ponder what’s next.

“In the immediate term, some new eyeballs are going to go to LinkedIn because it has some of the same characteristics with a lot less disinfo and hate speech,” says Andrew Graham, founder and head of strategy at Bread & Law, a New York-based PR firm.

Others agree. “If a network like Twitter goes away, it’s the most well-known and accessible networks at that moment – that most closely mirror the lost platform – which will benefit,” says Agorapulse’s Allton.

Other competitors simply can’t provide the environment and kinds of engagement that Twitter users will be looking for, he says. “While I’ve seen an uptick in conversation about Mastodon, it’s LinkedIn that stands to benefit the most. TikTok and Instagram require a completely different style and medium than Twitter, and there’s too much animosity toward Facebook currently. LinkedIn’s culture and style are different, but a heavy Twitter user can still easily replicate a lot of what they were doing previously. And they’re assured that most of the profiles they were following previously will be there.”

Plus, LinkedIn by its nature is brand-friendly and safe.

5. Pinterest

Though it’s surely not a one-size-fits-all platform, a growing number of experts suggest that Pinterest looks promising.

When I sought out opinions on where Twitter users will flock in light of potential demise, one Twitter user DMed me in all-caps: “PINTEREST.”

There’s potential for advertisers, too, experts say. “If brands are seeking strong audience ties and engagement, a decentralized platform like Discord or Mastodon could be perfect,” says Rachael Berkey, vice-president of social strategy at PR firm Clarity. “But if they are solely seeking traditional marketing growth and goals via paid campaigns, TikTok, Meta and Pinterest may be the best choices."

Constellation’s Woodruff agrees that the image-focused social platform is in a strong position to capture reallocated ad spend: “Pinterest will become even more valuable for advertisers.”

6. A yet unknown newcomer

Others are on the lookout for something fresh and new on the horizon.

“I do not see a direct competitor for Twitter on the horizon,” says Paul Roberts, CEO and founder of ad agency Kubient. Nonetheless, he says he’s “sure there are plenty of teams attempting to build Twitter 2.0 in the event that it does go dark.”

It’s a difficult recipe to duplicate, though – and not only for product and engineering teams. It’s also difficult for brands to find a place for short-form text-based and multimedia content to flourish. ​​“Twitter presents a unique audience for most brands due to the short-form content style. Smart advertisers are crafting their unique messages to specific audiences, regardless of the environment. If Twitter were to implode, advertising dollars would quickly shift to other more stable channels targeting the specific audiences,” says Roberts.

Graham, for his part, believes that LinkedIn promises immediate-term benefits, but he’s not sold on the idea that it will be the long-term choice. Instead, he suggests, it’s likely that a decentralized player like Mastodon could win out – or, that an entirely new player will swoop in.

It may take some time for a new platform to take off, though, he says, because so much of the user experience on Twitter has been curated by strong content moderation – and those moderating teams are currently unemployed. “Twitter’s product isn’t an app you post stuff on – it’s the moderation that defines the experience for advertisers and users. And right now, there are a lot of folks who know an awful lot about moderation looking for new roles.”

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