Twitter looks to brand safety for competitive edge

Twitter APAC's business marketing head sees a competitive advantage on brand safety and vows to keep it as news and live events figure prominently in future.

Disha Goenka Das
Disha Goenka Das

2017 has been an eventful year for social media, starting with Snapchat’s record IPO followed by its equally massive flop. YouTube fared no better, having been dogged by brand safety issues throughout the year, losing a few major advertisers as a result. As the year unfolds, disclosure of Russian meddling in the US presidential elections through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube cast a harsh spotlight on the America's social media giants. Even still, the duopoly force of Google and Facebook should expect more incremental growth in digital spend from advertisers next year, according to recent forecasts.

Through the upheavals, Twitter has fought an upstream battle of its own as it remains a smaller player by user and advertiser numbers.  Since last year it has suffered a string of high profile departures globally, but also in this region. A bit of a late comer to the video scene, Twitter only launched its live video feature on its main app late last year. (Users were required to livestream videos on Periscope prior to that). Earlier in September during the All That Matters conference in Singapore, Twitter announced 35 premium video content partnerships with publishers as well as sports and entertainment networks such as Bloomberg, KBS World TV and the International Cricket Council.

Videos & brand safety

Twitter contends that the premium content partnership with the publishers will not pose direct competition to Twitter’s live video feature but rather serves a way for Twitter to help the partners monetise their content and reach the millennial audience. To some of the industry insiders, however, Twitter’s content collaboration with the premium publishers raises brand safety concerns to the advertisers given the vitriolic nature of commentaries prevalent on the platform.

Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific, Disha Goenka Das, head of business marketing, APAC, emphasised that Twitter takes brand safety “very, very seriously”. “As a platform, Twitter is very consciously investing in premium content. We also believe that brands shouldn’t compromise between quality and scale, and the platform provides both,” Das added.

She shared that Twitter institutionalise manual checks to a lot of its ads (for all publisher content with in-stream video ads) to ensure brand safety. “We don’t often talk much about it, but we are committed to the gold standards in measuring transparency. Brands absolutely know where their ads will appear and against what content,” said Das, a statement some might interpret as a dig against competitors.

Dickson Seow, Twitter's director of communications for APAC, pointed out what he believed was an obvious brand safety feature that Twitter offers—sponsorship of livestream events on the platform. "When you work with our partners put up content on our platform, the brand safety element is already present. Look at the MAMA awards and the livestream of the Melbourne Cup (sponsored by Lexus), advertisers were aware that the video is going to be brand safe," he concluded.

News & live events

Das said Twitter’s directional growth will continue to gravitate towards news, entertainment and sports due to the live commentary structure of the platform. As for marketers, she maintains  that Twitter is an unparalleled platform for gleaning marketing insights from trends and for engaging with consumers in a unique way.

“The challenge that brands face today are not just about reaching people, but rather finding people with the right mindset. I think Twitter can be that platform, because Twitter users are in a discovery mindset,” Das added.  In doing so, she echoed the thoughts of Gordon Macmillan, Twitter’s head of editorial, EMEA, who underlined that such a mindset helps increase receptiveness towards new brands. According to a study of 600 Twitter users carried out by Firefish & The Numbers Lab in 2016, the ‘exploration’ mindset led to a 30% increase in memory encoding over regular browsing and 60% of Twitter users perceived branded content on Twitter as being more trustworthy.  

Asked about the opportunities and risks for brands to ride on the unpredictable nature of live events and commentaries, Das pointed to the the top hashtags on Twitter in APAC. This year #2017MAMA, the K-pop festival Mnet Asian Music Awards held in Vietnam, Japan and Hong Kong topped the list with over 42 million related tweets in the week of 27 November. Samsung’s Galaxy Mobile Japan was the sponsor for the livestream of the event on Twitter. “K-pop loves Twitter and Twitter absolutely loves K-pop, we have seen that as a huge trend,” said Das. “Through the exclusive livestream partnership, Galaxy (Samsung) was able to reach a Japanese and worldwide audience,” she added.

Global heat map of the #2017MAMA conversation.

The fourth most popular hashtag, #marriageequality that trended during the postal referendum to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia saw brands such as Airbnb and Qantas taking a vocal stand to support the cause on Twitter. The former launched the ‘Until We All Belong’ campaign with Clemenger BBDO Melbourne; while 62% of Australians later voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

“Twitter is a reflection of real life. As part of that, brands have to be realistic,” said Seow. “There are opportunities where they can ride the trend, and opportunities where they can be part of the discussion. The authencity of it is what makes Twitter unique,” he added.

Das pointed out that even though cultural moments has been the unique selling proposition (USP) of Twitter, Wendy’s response to a user’s request for free chicken nuggets had created a cultural movement of its own which eventually made Carter Wilkerson’s tweet to the fast food chain the most retweeted post this year at more than 3.6 million retweets.

Top five hashtags on Twitter in APAC

  1. #2017MAMA (South Korea)

        2. #Mersal (India)

        3. #KCAPinoyStar (Philippines)

        4. #marriageequality (Australia)

        5. #persibday (Indonesia)

The biggest surprise on the top five list for me is definitely #Mersal. It's definitely amazing to see a southern Indian flim getting a lot of interest on the platform, with 1.7 million tweets in just two or three days. - Disha Goenka Das

Millennials, millennials

Since millennials are the most connected consumers in any region, it is a given that every social media and brand are vying for their eyeballs. While the milennial-focused Snapchat has yet to catch on in popularity in this region, Twitter claims it represents the voice of millennials for being their go-to platform for news, sports entertainment. Japan, India and Indonesia are identified as Twitter’s important audience markets while South Korea, Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia are currently the fastest-growing audience markets in the region.

While Das acknowledged competition from Facebook and its owned platform Instagram that appeal to millennials with their photo-sharing features, she pointed out that Twitter’s USP (another one) lies in being about “what is happening in the world right now”. “I believe we are very creative… with the stickers and emojis, and millennials find our platform creative too,” said Das. “What makes Twitter…Twitter is that we are fast and we think quickly. Even with the 280 characters change, (for example), the idea is to make it easier for people to express themselves,” she added.

Seow remarked that unlike its competitors, Twitter connects users to streams of conversations, a feature that is particularly catchy during live-streaming sessions on the platforms. “That is why the live video (feature) is very unique, because it is not just for the audience to watch video, but to talk about it with other people. That’s what Twitter provides, and what I say to marketers,” said Seow. “Obviously marketers will advertise on multiple platforms, that’s fine, there is a different purpose to every platform but Twitter is definitely part of the market,’ he added.

In terms of Twitter’s video offerings for advertisers, Das said the ‘first view’ feature launched in February last year that features sponsored posts on the top slot in users’ timeline gives advertisers a higher share of voice among the audience. “The ‘first view’ content that Huawei released created active awareness ahead of the livestream launch of its P10 model during the Mobile World Congress (in February),” Das explained, citing an example. Twitter claims the overall campaign generated 11.7 million impressions, 231,000 views and 50 times increase in mentions.

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