Harassment problem on Twitter? Brands say they’re not worried

Brands don’t worry about harassment because they have adopted Goldliocks social strategies to avoid being targets of harassment.

Chat with MarTechBot


Apparently, the brands looking to buy Twitter the company are way more concerned about the social network’s longstanding but recently highlighted harassment issues than the brands looking to buy its ads.

Quick recap: Over the summer, “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones came under attack from a mob of racist trolls on Twitter and temporarily left Twitter because of the abuse. Then BuzzFeed published a series of reports investigating Twitter’s inability to curtail the harassment happening on its platform.

These high-profile examples of Twitter’s harassment problems got some people — ahem, some people *on Twitter* — wondering what Twitter’s issue is and whether they should continue to use its service. Brands don’t seem have to been asking the same questions, based on conversations with execs from five separate ad agencies, two of whom declined to talk on the record.

“None of my clients have brought up the recent issues,” said Mary Kate Gough, social media content specialist at WHITE64.

“Not for a lack of us bringing this up in conversation to our clientele, but we really have not had a strategic conversation about [it] with brands that we work with,” said Price Glomski, executive VP at PMG. “Out of 35 partners on our side, that conversation has maybe happened with one or two.”

“For the brands that we’re working [with] at Periscope and our team’s perspective on it, the harassment issue isn’t necessarily at the forefront of our thinking,” said Joe Filipas, senior engagement strategist at Periscope (an agency that shares a name with Twitter’s live-streaming app but nothing more).

Um, what gives? Why isn’t all the attention being paid to Twitter’s harassment problem giving marketers pause, or at least compelling them to hold check-box conversations with their agencies, if only to say they discussed the issue?

1) Because Twitter’s harassment problem isn’t anything new; 2) because Twitter isn’t the only social platform with a harassment problem; 3) because brands intentionally sanitize their social posts so they don’t get trolls’ attention; or 4) because brands don’t consider themselves the typical target of harassment.

“In general I haven’t seen anything we’ve been working on with brands in the last six months or so where I’ve been like, ‘We need to rethink how we’re doing this,’” said Filipas.

“The level of caution has stayed pretty stagnant. There always has been caution to begin with,” said Gough.

“Brands have been dealing with getting slack on social since 2006,” said PMG’s Director of Social Product Earl Hwang.

Sure, brands prefer platforms where they can avoid or hide negative posts, like Facebook, where they can delete comments on their Pages. But those platforms are — and have been — the exception. As a result, brands have crafted Goldilocks social strategies that won’t inflame the worst of Twitter or leave the rest of Twitter cold.

“Brands have had years to refine the messaging and figure out, from a best practice standpoint, how to minimize this kind of stuff … They can always generalize the content to minimize the damage,” said Hwang.

It’s easier to minimize the damage with organic posts intended for people who follow a brand and are therefore considered friendly to the brand than with ads that, no matter how finely they are targeted, can enter the sights of a troll.

“Once you throw money behind it, you’re opening it up to a much wider audience. That’s essentially what you want, but it comes with those potential consequences,” said Gough. But even with that increased risk, she said her clients have not seen a substantial impact. “Never to a point where we had to stop running a campaign.”

When brands do come under fire for Twitter — and can recognize the negative comments are coming from a troll, not an aggrieved customer — they duck and cover until the smoke clears. But all of the agency execs interviewed for this story said that doesn’t happen all that often. “I don’t think our brands are running into that big of a problem on [the harassment] side,” said Glomski.

To further mitigate their exposure to abuse, brands turtle up when a controversial topic overtakes Twitter and risks putting any branded post or ad, even ones scheduled days earlier, in the wrong context.


“That’s been a stance with almost all of our brands. When these moments happen where you have a ton of influencers or harassment’s spinning out, on the paid side we turn all of our programming off. We spend 48 to 72 hours not posting anything, on any level,” said Glomski.

For all their efforts to evade harassment, brands don’t consider themselves the typical target of harassment.

“A lot of times when we hear about harassment as opposed to general negativity on Twitter, more often than not those are things directed from an individual to an individual than from an individual to a brand,” said Filipas.

“The harassment issue is more of an issue for personal accounts. For brands in general on Twitter, it’s a company or a product, not a person. So any harassment is easy to not take personally,” said Gough.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Tim Peterson
Tim Peterson, Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat's ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar's attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon's ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube's programming strategy, Facebook's ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking's rise; and documented digital video's biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed's branded video production process and Snapchat Discover's ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands' early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo's and Google's search designs and examine the NFL's YouTube and Facebook video strategies.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.