Robert Sawatzky
Jun 21, 2018

Twitter CMO: We offer brands a first-mover advantage

Leslie Berland's #HereWeAre initiative dovetails with her message for brands to build purpose on Twitter.

Actress Kerry Washington and Twitter CMO Leslie Berland at Twitter's #HereWeAre event in Cannes, France
Actress Kerry Washington and Twitter CMO Leslie Berland at Twitter's #HereWeAre event in Cannes, France

There’s been a lot of talk at Cannes this year about brand purpose. Find the ground where you can connect with consumers on the issues they care most about and do something authentic to earn their trust.

It’s not an easy process, but Twitter CMO Leslie Berland has been using her time at Cannes to convince brands that the process starts with her platform, just as many social movements were galvanized with a simple hashtag that turned into a symbol of much more.

“We see this all the time, movements that have started on Twitter whether it be #metoo, you saw #timesup as that built and caught steam… the force and tidal wave of what that conversation has built into we feel very honoured to play a role in that."

So many of the conversations she’s been having this week with clients at the Cannes Festival of Creativity is about how to best tap into that power.

“How do you find a voice? How do you find a rhythm? How do you best connect with customers in an authentic way? There’s so much opportunity for brands and companies to humanise themselves and I think that’s where the passion is.”

Passion and opportunity are one thing, but jumping in headfirst is a risk not all brands feel comfortable with. Berland’s message is to not squander the right opportunity when it comes along.

“On Twitter things move very, very quickly and what our partners want now is to start first on Twitter because our audiences are so receptive. They’re in a mindset of wanting to connect with brands, wanting to hear from brands, wanting to be serviced and supported by brands, wanting to understand what these companies care about and what they’re committed to.”

But not all are in that mindset yet. While brand campaigns on Twitter can be a learning experience, the open platform means constant trial and error is open to scrutiny.  Many stops and starts reflect a lack of commitment. 

“What’s key from my perspective is a long-term commitment because once you join the conversation, you’re in it,” Berland told Campaign in Cannes.


One conversation Berland has brought Twitter into is #HereWeAre, a movement to improve women’s representation in key industries. It was born in January out of frustration with a lack of female representation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and led to events in Canada and Japan, culminating in a powerful creative advert during the Oscars. 

Here at Cannes, Twitter hosted a large gathering at which Berland (along with Twitter users) interviewed actress Kerry Washington, a strong advocate for women and disenfranchised communities.

Not only is the initiative something Berland strongly believes in, but it’s an example of a door that brands could open to join a conversation. “We didn’t have a plan for where this was going when we launched it back in January,” Berland said. “We watched where the conversation went, we listened to corporate partners and customers about how they wanted to be involved and where they wanted this to go.”

Also serving as Head of People, Berland told Campaign she hopes the initiative could attract more women to work at Twitter.  After #HereWeAre launched, media reports noted that Twitter hasn’t moved the needle much recently on lifting the number of female employees at Twitter.

More pointedly, the openness of Twitter’s platform has meant it’s also been used to harass and humiliate women, not to mention that it’s the platform of choice for US President Donald Trump, who’s been accused of sexual harassment.

That’s the dilemma of being a platform open to all voices, perspectives and points of view, a problem shared also by Facebook and Google that has been largely self-policed.

“We’ve been talking about it a lot internally… creating a healthy platform and a healthy conversation, so we care deeply about people having the ability to express themselves freely and for those conversations to be out in the open but in a civil way,” Berland said.

Campaigns like #HereWeAre then, intentionally or not, provide an avenue for Twitter to convince users, regulators and, yes, brands, that it’s a platform for engaging positive debate.

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