By Jack Cohen, account coordinator at SE2
Elon Musk’s attempt to acquire Twitter has prompted a lot of discussion about the moderation of organic tweets but little about the platform’s review policies for paid ads — those “promoted” tweets you see in your feed.
Moderation is hard on a theoretical and practical level. Some folks consider Twitter a modern “town square,” where all speech should be free and protected. Others argue Twitter has no obligation to protect speech and should be allowed to restrict speech when necessary to remain profitable and improve the platform.
Regardless of whether Twitter will ever answer that question, the rising need to exercise editorial oversight over the content submitted to their platform has led them to implement increasingly strict, and sometimes puzzling, moderation policies.
Our confusing recent experience trying to spend our own money with Twitter Ads demonstrates the inconsistencies of Twitter’s approach. When Twitter, without a clear reason, halted a promoted tweet sharing an SE2 blog post about how to use communications to address climate change, I was confused enough to reach out to support.
After an email exchange with a representative, I learned that we had violated the “Cause-Based Advertising Policy, listed here under Titter Policies Page,” implemented as one of several measures designed to reduce Twitter’s liability around political (or other controversial) advertisements. It limits noncertified accounts from placing ads around subjects like civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and social equity causes.
Instead of trying to regulate or fact-check the ads on their platform, Twitter tries to ensure that the accounts publishing the ads represent their identities honestly. The challenge is that Twitter’s moderation could chase off advertisers. Inconsistent, confusing, or nonexistent moderation policies could lead some to stop advertising entirely. As Twitter relies almost entirely on advertising revenue, the threat of businesses spending less on their platform is existential.
Here’s how advertisers can move forward:
Stay up-to-Date on Policies
Staying aware of changing policies is important, as sometimes you have to adapt to new or unevenly applied moderation. Along with content topic restrictions, the cause-based advertising policy introduces additional targeting restrictions that might break some of your audience profiles. ZIP code geotargeting is no longer available, and keyword targeting will not include terms associated with political content or party affiliations.
Consider Nontraditional Advertising Strategies
Be aware of how you’re sharing your message. Using graphics and linking to other resources can reduce your need to advocate directly on Twitter while still sharing your message. Driving traffic to channels where you control your message can help interested viewers learn more about your organization.
Although Twitter ads can’t have the primary purpose of advocating for specific policies, legislation, or candidates, you could use them to capture audiences interested in your cause and motivate them to explore opportunities to support it however they would prefer. Adding still graphics or videos that introduce trusted messengers, strengthen your brand’s identity, or share insight into ongoing projects can help you find authentically interested people who will be interested in connecting off-platform. There, you can share your organization’s in-depth perspective and goals.
Get Certified to Avoid Issues
Finally, organizations planning to regularly advertise about cause-based topics should preemptively apply for “cause-based advertiser certification, here on Twitter’s Policies Page.” This process involves submitting personal or company identification to Twitter, along with ensuring that your Twitter profile is consistent with your broader online presence and links to a website with valid contact information. We applied for certification nearly two months ago but haven’t heard back yet.
As of now, Twitter’s cause-based certification is unique. The company has policies that outright ban advertising for products like alcohol and guns as well as political content. Some products, such as software downloads, also have product-based requirements designed to protect users, but no other Twitter policies include a certification process. Advertisers who have a social message to share should apply for certification sooner rather than later and carefully consider the role that Twitter should play in their overall communications strategy in light of these moderation policies.
There’s no simple solution to platform moderation. Still, decisions like this will continue to shape how we interact with different platforms as their policies slowly diverge. As advertisers, it’s imperative to understand these shifts to better understand what’s coming next and to adapt our content and strategies appropriately.
About the Author
Jack Cohen is an account coordinator at SE2, a communications firm focused on helping organizations create meaningful change.