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Twitter’s Benjamin Ampen: Advertise but be thoughtful

The platform’s regional managing director says the platform’s user-base is growing and those users are open to advertising, but brands must communicate with consideration and compassion

Benjamin Ampen, managing director, Twitter MENA

Twitter’s latest announcement that it will add warning labels to disputed or misleading information around Covid-19 is another shot fired in the ongoing war between social platforms and misinformation.

While the latest move is intended to moderate false news spread by individuals on the platform, last month the platform also updated its advertising policy to moderate ads relating to Covid-19.

Benjamin Ampen, Twitter’s MENA managing director, tells Campaign that the his advice – based on research into consumer attitudes during the coronavirus crisis – is: “You can advertise, and you should advertise, but we would recommend being thoughtful about tone of voice and copy.”

He says: “Whatever brands do today, they should keep in mind the needs of their customers right now. And these needs are simple. First, customers need accurate, reliable information – of course, as long as it’s relevant to the brand. Customer service and access to support is super-important as well these days. Another thing, that has more to do with tone of voice, is the community feeling: empathy and positivity. These things have to definitely be present in the communication of the brand, because at the end of the day you may be a major local brand or a major global brand, but behind these brands, behind these names, behind these companies, you just have people like you and me, locked down.

“Last but not least is [people are looking for] distraction and levity. Obviously brands should never [be] making light of, or making fun of the situation, but when we talk about levity it’s not for the ads themselves, it is just the approach. It’s really important to just be human and realise that the people you’re talking to right now are going through very difficult times.”

In March, Twitter had prohibited all references to coronavirus in ads. But last month that was eased. The platform began to allow managed clients (that is, advertisers who have a direct relationship with Twitter) to run campaigns with both implicit and explicit references to Covid-19, providing they follow certain rules.

These rules include a prohibition of distasteful, sensational or panic-inducing content, and a ban on advertising goods at inflated prices. It is not allowed to advertise face masks or hand sanitisers.

Further safety rules are meant to avoid the spread of fake news and misleading or wrong information.

“While we talk to the brands and the agencies that we talk to every day, we realise that while they are as businesses trying to adapt to the new situation, they need to adapt their way of communicating as well,” says Ampen.

The pandemic has meant people are using Twitter more. The platform’s April 30 earnings report said: “In Q1 Twitter saw 24 per cent year over year growth in Monetisable Daily Active Usage (mDAU), driven by typical seasonal strength, ongoing product improvements, and global conversation related to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It has added 14 million average mDAUs since the previous quarter.

This makes Twitter’s self-policing even more important. “If we want the users to be on the platform these days we need to make sure the information you’re seeing is credible and coming from authoritative sources,” says Ampen.

However, that doesn’t mean people won’t tolerate marketing. Research from the UK and the US shows that Twitter users are receptive to product advertising now.

“It means that you can advertise and you should advertise,” says Ampen. “But we would recommend being thoughtful about tone of voice and copy.” He says some brands that are relevant to Covid-19 have been marketing themselves without referencing the pandemic directly. Examples are television broadcaster MBC and its streaming platform Shahid, and Saudi telco STC, which has been promoting its home delivery services.

Brands that have specifically mentioned the pandemic on Twitter include Riyad Bank, which launched a service to allow customers to open accounts and bank from home. The campaign saw a 200 per cent increase in new account openings. BMW used the platform’s ‘Tweet to Unlock’ feature for its Joy Within campaign, encouraging users to tweet #StayHome to unlock a short video.

When it comes to advertising around Covid-19, Ampen says brands should ask themselves two questions:

  1. Does this campaign describe an adjustment to business practice or describe some sort of support to customers or employees?
  2. Is this tasteful? Is it helpful and non-opportunistic?

Twitter’s goal is to maintain ‘the health of the conversation’, says Ampen. To this end it has partnered with such authoritative voices as Dubai Health Authority, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Medicins Sans Frontiers to push reliable information to users.


 

 Pandemic preferences

Twitter polled users in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to find out how they felt about Covid-19 and help brands understand their audience. In KSA and UAE, 88 per cent and 93 per cent of Twitter users respectively are witnessing a change in their daily routines.

The top activities that people in KSA are doing more of as a result of Covid-19:

  1. Spending time on social media
  2. Using streaming services
  3. Playing video games

 

The top activities that people in UAE are doing more of as a result of Covid-19:

  1. Spending time on social media
  2. Using streaming services
  3. Working out at home

 

The top types of content that people in KSA and UAE are looking for on Twitter during the Covid-19 pandemic are:

  1. Reliable news on COVID-19
  2. Optimistic/uplifting messages
  3. News on local and global economy
  4. Philanthropic efforts from brand/businesses responding to COVID-19

 

The top topics that people in KSA are most interested in and actively interacted with more on Twitter between March and April are:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Self-improvement
  3. Education
  4. Consumer Technology
  5. Gaming

The top topics that people in UAE are most interested in and actively interacted with more on Twitter between March and April are:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Self-improvement
  3. Education
  4. Consumer Technology
  5. E-commerce

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