Media Buyers and Brand Executives Are Optimistic About Twitter’s 2018 Focus

The platform is zoning in on brand news, cultural moments and video

Media agencies say they're buying what Twitter's selling. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Twitter has problems.

Hoaxes run rampant, bots spread propaganda, and then there are the Nazis. On the business end, the platform experienced a significant user growth jump before plummeting back to Earth, and it constantly faces an impatient Wall Street, even after posting its first net-profit quarter in Q4.

While it’s not always easy seeing which way the blue bird flies, media buyers and brand executives are optimistic about Twitter’s future, saying the company’s newfound focus is giving users—and therefore, advertisers—more reasons to continuously come back. Can 2018 be the year Twitter gets its act together?

Noah Mallin, head of social strategy at Wavemaker, attributes much of Twitter’s recent momentum to its focus on news and video. He said platforms are finally beginning to differentiate themselves as having different user behaviors rather than using the general blanket term “social media.” Agencies and brands are exploring for new areas to invest, in addition to Facebook and Google.

“Will it be Snapchat, will it be Twitter [or] will it be Amazon? When we look at ad dollars and the way clients are wanting to reach people, it’s a different kind of landscape,” Mallin said.

That landscape changes each day. Facebook, for example, is like an eternal yo-yo, currying favor with publishers one day, only to tweak an algorithm and disrupt an industry the next. Industry execs say Twitter can capitalize on these ongoing shifts by spending more time courting publishers to the platform, beyond just pushing out tweets and links to stories.

Increased focus and investment on the news side could help Twitter pull ad dollars from rivals. After all, news is “part of the backbone of what makes Twitter tick,” Mallin said, adding that “Facebook could lose all the news and they would probably keep moving. But Twitter needs that stuff.”

However, if it’s going to double down on news, it has to do better at curbing fake news and harassment. According to a report this week in Vanity Fair, Twitter still struggles to get trolls under control, with one former employee describing the platform as an “ass-backward tech company” that throws “non-scalable, low-tech solutions on top of this low-tech, non-scalable problem.”

Six months ago, Twitter brought in Bruce Falck, general manager of revenue product and engineering. Falck is betting heavily on three areas this year to grab some of those dollars that have been historically out of reach: helping brands announce products, being a part of big cultural moments and, of course, using lots and lots of video.

While this might just sound like a rehashing of what Twitter has been doing for the last 12 years, it’s also a peek at its playbook in a post-Anthony Noto world. Earlier this month, Noto, the company’s COO, announced he’ll be leaving in March to become CEO of the financial firm SoFi. And on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Jack Dorsey said there’s no plan to immediately backfill his position. In other words: Don’t rock the boat.

Falck has gained a reputation as a bit of a turnaround man of sorts. Prior to joining Twitter in June, he was the CEO of Turn, which he led for three years until it was acquired by Amobee for $310 million. Before that, he was the chief operating officer of Brightroll, which Yahoo bought in 2014 for $640 million. Where Falck goes, so do big payouts, and the birds are constantly chirping about rumors of Twitter being bought (by Disney, Apple, Snapchat, Amazon, Google—the list goes on).

According to Falck, during his interview with Dorsey, they talked less about Falck’s overall background and more about company culture and turnarounds. But while Turn was financially distressed, Twitter has quite a bit of free cashflow. The question has been how to best use that cash—and how to get advertisers on board.

“The trick for us that I’ve really been focused on strategically is: What is it that Twitter can do that is that is unique and different?” Falck told Adweek. “We’ve got large competitors. And so we have this sort of approach internally around why would an advertiser hire Twitter. Right? And we get we get that question from advertisers: ‘Why do we need to buy you in addition to…’ Right? Which is actually a great question, and it’s caused us some some good introspection.”

Buyers are also getting excited over Twitter’s plans for video, which the company has been touting for the past year, live and otherwise. While Twitter execs have bragged about the success of its original programming through sports and news partnerships, agencies say the company should do more of it. That could include deeper integration of Periscope—Twitter’s live stream platform some say has felt abandoned lately—or a revival of Vine.

Jessica Prassel, Director of Search and Social at Mindshare North America, says that on a higher level, and especially when it comes to brand awareness campaigns, she’s “very excited” about the longer form and live video on which Twitter has been betting over the past two years.

“They are creating more environments and giving people a reason to come back to the channels more frequently,” she said.

There’s likely to be more video in the coming weeks and months; this spring, Twitter will pitch advertisers as a part of the IAB Digital Content NewFronts. The pitch will serve as a follow-up to last year’s, during which execs rolled out over a dozen new shows with various publishing partners. Twitter’s also in the early stages of developing a Snapchat-style video product that enables users to more rapidly create and share video.

Discovery, however, is still an issue. Buyers say it’s still too hard for users to find content that might interest them—an issue that even Dorsey has acknowledged in the most recent earnings call.

“I think it’s an ideal time for Twitter to work with those publishers and continue to elevate that kind of content,” Mallin said. “Because I do think it’s part of the backbone of what makes Twitter tick.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.