In-depth: Marketers continue to advertise on social media with a pinch of salt

By their very nature, platforms driven by individual contributions will be unfiltered and prone to controversies and tribalism. While this poses a challenge for advertisers, it's essential to adopt a practical approach, acknowledging that these platforms, despite their controversial nature, are the largest and most influential in the world

Saptak Bardhan
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New Delhi: Social media has become a popular means of communication and entertainment. Advertisers have also made the most of the platforms, as they continue to provide brands with reach and engagement.  

However, there have been calls for content moderation on social media platforms. There are different schools of thought regarding the issue, with a few asking for appropriate content to be available on the platform for the benefit of the users, platform, and advertisers. Another school of thought believes that social media’s reins should be handed over to the users, with the platforms not being an ideal place to advertise. 

Gaurav Mehta, the former Chief Marketing Officer at Zupee, stated, "On platforms primarily driven by user-generated content, such as social media, the content must adhere to agreed-upon guidelines to benefit users, the platform, and advertisers."

He added, “Any drop in content’s quality or deviation from the standards set, results in reduced user traction. That isn’t good for the platform or for the users. Thus, it makes commercial and experiential sense to have strict policies around content moderation since it impacts the three parties positively.”

Experts highlighted that there are risks associated with advertisements being placed near controversial posts. They further stated that an ad-hoc appearance in such an environment would not make a difference if it was a one-off situation. However, repeated exposure would result in hurting a brand.  

Karthi Marshan, principal,, said, “Just like in print and television, it is ideal to be placed in an editorial/content context that has value alignment with the advertiser brands, at least in terms of hygiene level issues like NSFW, etc. I think all media choices should go through such filters for the best results.”

Additionally, the experts stated that controversial content should not be a concern for the brand (on an ad-hoc level) since content can be deemed controversial in today’s polarised social media but constant and repeated exposure in an unsafe, illegal content environment would affect the brand adversely. 

Industry experts opined that brands also need to have a better understanding of social media, with social media monitoring becoming increasingly important. 

Various experts further highlighted that it is difficult to monitor social media unless platforms start monitoring brands on social media. However, it takes the whole point away from social media, where brands act like individuals. There is a need for better self-audits. This is not a platform issue. Brands need to have a better understanding of their voice on the platform. 

Dhruv Sachdeva, founder of Humour Me, highlighted, “Brand managers need to understand and self-regulate when it comes to appropriate content for different platforms, what should be leveraged for attention and what are the things that the brand shouldn’t have a point of view on. They should further point out the brand’s responsibility to have a point of view on a controversial topic.”  

Sachdeva added, “If a brand has to review every post it is making on social media, similar to a print ad, then it is not efficient for the platform. There should be some guardrails that the brand needs to build. The brand should have clear guidelines for what not to do.” 

Brands do not need to have a point of view on everything. There is a need for self-regulation, as brands need to understand what needs to be leveraged for attention. Experts further stated that attention is the number one asset for any social media platform. The advertisers choose a certain platform because that is where most of the user's attention resides. 

Social media has now become a hotspot for hate speech, trolling, and anti-semitic posts, with a huge controversy that arose due to advertisements placed next to such posts on X, which led to several advertisers boycotting the platform.  

Following Elon Musk’s $44 million acquisition of Twitter (now X) in October 2022, media reports found that X’s revenue was down by 40% by the first half of 2023, generating only $1.48 billion. The reports further highlighted that X lost $456 million in the first quarter of 2023.  

Additionally, another media report stated that ad sales made up 70–75% of X’s total revenue. The company’s ad sales were projected to fall to about $2.5 million in 2023, while executives at the company targeted $3 million in revenue from advertising and subscriptions. 

Furthermore, X has made investments in AI to improve its ability to launch ad campaigns. The platform uses AI-targeting tools instead of honing in on specific audiences manually. As per X’s blog, the AI feature simplifies the advertiser targeting process using advanced algorithms to create customised audience segments from basic advertiser input. 

According to data sourced from WebFX, X advertising costs, on average, $0.26–$0.50 per first action and $1.01–$2.00 per follow for promoted accounts. However, multiple factors can influence the cost of ads, such as ad quality score, demographics, competition, and industry, among others.  

When asked what the outlook was on Musk’s comment, “Go fuck yourself, advertisers,". Industry experts stressed that this comment was made in order to prove that Musk was not completely reliant on advertising revenue to sustain the business. They further added that he found an alternative stream of cash flow, which is subscription revenue. 

Moreover, some experts added that good marketers will understand what the platform offers and adapt accordingly, while skinned advertisers will suffer as they will not adjust to the platform’s uniqueness. Some urged advertisers to stay sane and focused on the job at hand and suggested that if Musk's platform (X) works for them, ignore his jibes and continue doing what they are doing. 

A few industry experts opined that brands can and should get entangled in controversies if their brand's positioning aligns with the stance they take in any dispute. They are responsible for not buckling at the first sign of pressure from the other camps. 

However, a few state that global social media and content platforms like X, Meta, and YouTube will always be controversial since they are highly liquid, user-driven platforms. By their very nature, platforms driven by individual contributions will be unfiltered and prone to controversies and tribalism. While this poses a challenge for advertisers, it's essential to adopt a practical approach, acknowledging that these platforms, despite their controversial nature, are the largest and most influential in the world.

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