Yaccarino could save Twitter’s ads business & fast-track Musk’s ‘everything app,’ pros say
Industry insiders express confidence in Yaccarino’s ability to revitalize Twitter’s advertising business.
Linda Yaccarino will take over for Elon Musk as Twitter's chief executive officer
Advertising industry veteran Linda Yaccarino is set to take over as Twitter’s CEO after a tumultuous six months under the leadership of Elon Musk, following his $44bn acquisition of the company. It’s a move that social media and advertising industry leaders are largely applauding - especially in light of Twitter’s struggle to maintain steady ad revenues over the last few months.
Musk announced the news via Twitter on Friday after teasing the takeover in a separate tweet sent the previous day. The announcement follows a poll that Musk posted to Twitter in mid-December asking users if they thought he should step down as head of the company He promised to abide by the poll’s results, which saw 57.5% of voters signal their support for his abdication.
Who is Linda Yaccarino?
Yaccarino, age 60, has served as longtime ad exec at NBCUniversal (NBCU). She joined the company in 2011, when Comcast and NBC were wrapping up their $13.75bn merger. At the time, she led the effort to integrate the companies’ ad sales platforms.
Her track record since then has been impressive. Her sharp negotiating tactics earned her the moniker of the ‘velvet hammer,’ according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. And she’s largely credited with modernizing NBCU’s ads business. Most recently, Yaccarino occupied the post of chairman of global advertising and partnerships at the conglomerate.
“Linda is a respected leader for her focus on taking on challenges that not only advance her business but [also] the industry at large,” says Marla Kaplowitz, president and chief executive at ad industry trade body the 4A’s.
A lifeline for Twitter’s sinking ads business
Now, advertising and social media experts believe Yaccarino could help revitalize Twitter’s reputation and ads business.
Since Musk took over in late October, about 50% of the platform’s top 1000 advertisers have jumped ship, according to recent data from analytics firm Pathmatics. The resounding sentiment was that brands were wary of content on Twitter – and therefore brand safety and suitability – under the leadership of Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” who has taken a liking to right-wing trolling.
Brands’ concerns have arguably been well-founded. In November, and again in January, Musk laid off Twitter staffers responsible for moderating content on the platform. Meanwhile, groups including the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Anti-Defamation League found that hate speech on the platform was already surging by December. Concerns about misinformation and bot activity on Twitter only complicated the situation. Ultimately, advertisers – including major brands like General Mills, United Airlines, Mondelez International and Volkswagen – pulled ad spend from the platform. In light of the turmoil, Musk’s tactics to woo advertisers have ranged from being chummy to cordial to aggressive. (In November, he threatened to “name and shame” big brands that had cut spending.)
In the foreground, the Tesla exec pushed ahead with his efforts to monetize Twitter via paid subscriptions – even subjecting advertisers to new payment requirements. It’s a goal that some experts don’t believe will be uprooted, despite the fact that Yaccarino’s appointment signals that advertising will be a top priority for the platform. “[Musk] knows that if he wants to build platform X, [the billionaire’s vision for an ‘everything app’], he has to fix Twitter's ad business first,” says Jasmine Enberg, a principal analyst at Insider Intelligence’s eMarketer specializing in social media. “Musk is finally admitting – without actually saying the words – that Twitter needs advertisers, and he isn't the right person to bring them back.”
Yaccarino could have what it takes. “Yaccarino is exactly who Twitter needs right now. She has strong relationships with the advertiser community and deep experience in both analog and digital advertising,” says Enberg. “Yaccarino will bring back the professionalism and trust that Twitter has lost under Elon Musk.”
That sentiment is echoed by Mike Allton, a social media marketing expert and head of strategic partnerships at social media management platform Agorapulse: “This hire of an extremely savvy and skilled leader signals a positive change for Twitter,” he says. “Yaccarino completely understands how important it is to put valuable products on the market so that advertisers have an active and engaged audience to reach – and while we may not know for a while what changes she plans to implement, she's sure to deliver powerful leadership.”
Allton predicts that Yaccarino’s appointment is also likely to go over well with Twitter staffers and users - many of whom have previously expressed doubts and disappointment in Musk’s leadership. “I'm confident in her ability to rally Twitter's engineers, listen to the community and implement valuable features within the next six months that will reignite interest in the platform.”
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A tightrope for Yaccarino to walk
Yaccarino’s industry creds won't necessarily ensure a bump-free road ahead.
Her relationship with Musk - who plans to take a new post as Twitter's chief technology officer - could pose some problems. “The open question is how much Musk will empower her to lead and make decisions,” says Enberg. “Yaccarino and Musk have a good relationship, but Musk is mercurial and unpredictable, and he will still be heavily involved in Twitter. I find it hard to imagine that there won't be some tension between Musk and Yaccarino in business decisions.”
It’s a concern shared by Matt Navarra, an industry analyst and leading social media consultant. “The thing that is most interesting… is to see how she handles working with Elon Musk, and under his ownership of Twitter, because notoriously – or so we’re led to believe – he is not easy to get along with. He is very demanding.” In particular, Navarra predicts that Musk “will not compromise when it comes to his principles of free speech for the platform.”
It’s this issue in particular that Navarra predicts will pose the biggest challenge for Yaccarino, as it may create tension between advertiser demands and the principles that Musk sees as foundational to the platform. “That could potentially be an explosive set of circumstances for her to tackle – or, [an alternative possibility is that] she will be very limited in her ability to improve the situation in terms of the ad revenue for Twitter and its relationships with advertisers and brands who are concerned or hesitant,” says Navarra. “Trying to find a balance between two difficult demands and needs for the platform – and between different stakeholders – is going to be very challenging for her and for Twitter in general.”
When it comes to walking this tightrope, the first order of business will be getting a stronger handle on content moderation, Enberg says. “It's long been a problem for Twitter, and Musk has exacerbated those problems by loosening many of the platform's guardrails.” She points out that content moderation on social media can be especially tricky, because user-generated content eliminates the kind of predictability found on channels like TV and video streaming. “It will require a careful balancing act from Yaccarino to make the changes Twitter desperately needs [while navigating] Musk's goals for the platform and his impulsive behavior.”
Nonetheless, experts' predictions for Yaccarino's leadership remain largely positive. “Linda taking over Twitter as CEO is a massive opportunity for the rebuild of Twitter,” says Jeremy Haft, chief revenue officer at Digital Remedy, a performance media agency.
Haft believes that while Musk’s takeover was “questionable at first,” it enabled him to strip back the platform’s inefficiencies. Now, it’s “beginning to look like a recipe for a perfect cocktail of success with Linda at the helm,” he says. “Linda has had incredible success as NBCU's ad chief, and if she brings disciplines of an improved user experience, transparency, accountability and innovation, in no time [she will] have advertisers coming back in droves.”
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