The emergence of a little blue bird on our computer screens 17 years ago was heralded by many in B2B marketing as a game-changing tool, perhaps even a solution, for reaching target markets in a whole new and precise way.

And until recently that proved to be largely true. “Twitter” (now known as X) ushered in what was for many an exciting new era of vastly improved audience targeting and data analytics capabilities. Apart from its social applications, Twitter enabled marketers – particularly B2B marketers – to promote their products and services with far greater reach to far more specific and relevant audiences. It wasn’t long before additional targeting options led to even higher levels of engagement and conversion.

Twitter rebranded

But that was then and this is now. 17 months is an eternity in the evolution of a social media platform, let alone 17 years. The recent rebranding of Twitter to “X” derailed many existing marketing campaigns that B2B professionals had been investing heavily in for years, forcing them to scramble to redesign strategies to accommodate the revamped platform’s features, algorithms and policies.

The change from Twitter to X so far has been, to paraphrase, a case of: “If it ain’t broke, break it.”

It used to be that changes in a platform often introduced new and innovative engagement opportunities for B2B marketers. B2B creatives and account managers took full advantage of their enhanced ability to showcase their ideas and, more importantly, accurately measure higher audience engagement through click-through rates and, ultimately, conversions that came as a direct result of their work.

But the ongoing dilution of confidence in the X platform has been disruptive, and one thing B2B marketers abhor is the interruption of a well-researched, carefully planned campaign. Changes in the X platform have prompted a net decline in audience engagement and reach for B2B marketers and their clients. X is estimated to have experienced as much as a 60 percent fall in advertising revenue, which suggests that users, including B2B marketers, have been voting with their fingers, and their eyeballs. This has a negative and shadow-lengthening impact on what had been effective B2B marketing campaigns on the platform.

The Impact of Musk

Elon Musk, at the time of this writing, is still the richest man in the world, and is not known as a shy, retiring type. His sometimes bold statements and often audacious business strategies have made advertisers wary. He has cut content moderation almost to the bone, restored accounts of extremists who had been banned under the previous management, and enabled users to purchase account verification, helping them profit from viral – but often inaccurate – posts. Much of this was initiated under a banner of turning Twitter into an “everything app” called X that has not quite materialised as envisaged. Many of the proposed changes following the acquisition of Twitter were also philosophically based on the notion of “restoring free speech”..

However, recent controversial statements by Musk have caused a number of big-name companies to withdraw or suspend their advertising from X. “Speech” may be, to a large extent in many parts of the world, free, but the ramifications of exercising it to extremes outside what brands view as acceptable is not a clever move.

Marketing on social media

User experience was a much-vaunted attribute of X for B2B marketers. It greatly enhanced engagement with branded content. However, changes to the platform have also changed user behaviour. It’s well-established that platform changes are not always well-received by users and target audiences. When their effectiveness declines, B2B marketing budgets are usually the first to take the hit. Other marketing tools such as LinkedIn Ads and LinkedIn Sales Navigator are available and the migration to them is gathering pace.

The improved analytics and reporting tools of X helped B2B marketers gain better insights into their campaign performance, allowing for more informed decision-making and optimisation of marketing strategies to achieve better results. However, dwindling audiences are compromising significant investments in such platforms to a degree that appears to be steadily eroding expenditures in campaign development, targeting, ad formats and budget allocations. The take up of Threads on Instagram, Meta’s recently launched (July 2023) competitor to X, has already been reported to have slowed dramatically since its launch. The fallout from the takeover and rebranding of Twitter, including laying off 75 percent of the company’s workforce, controversial policy decisions and various legal battles, has given pause to many who for years have been actively using or considering such platforms for marketing purposes. Threads was seen as a chance for previous X users to switch to a platform that can give them many of the things that they valued about X, but that it no longer offers. However, Threads appears to be a promise as yet unfulfilled.

X subscriptions: not safe for marketing

The removal of certain content restrictions on X, ostensibly to champion “free speech”, has had the effect of opening the door to “not safe for work” content that has increasingly deterred corporate users and B2B marketers from relying on the platform for their messaging.

The original appeal of using social media as a marketing tool was largely based on its ability to integrate with existing marketing automation tools, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and other business software that enables users to streamline processes and workflows. That remains the case but – for some platforms – just how deep that integration should go is being called into question.

It remains true that B2B marketers can benefit from reduced advertising costs while still achieving their marketing objectives, but only if platforms introduce changes that offer an attractive and compelling user experience. Those that violate the “don’t bore me” rule will likely be short-lived players.

Moreover, if platform change involves alterations to APIs, data integration or third-party tools, B2B marketers can face additional challenges when trying to integrate existing systems or tools with the updated platform. That, in turn, can have an impact on their data management and analytics capabilities. Such an integration can be an expensive proposition that could require the adopter – and its clients – to change their business models, pricing structures or fee policies, potentially diminishing their overall cost-effectiveness.

Many, understandably, are not willing to take that risk.

There are also many who balked at the introduction of nearly a $8-per-month fee for “blue tick” level subscriptions, said to be a disincentive for scammers to use the X premium accounts to target other users with inappropriate and “harmful” content, which has caused ad revenue to decline by 60%. More than 80 per cent of X users who took part in a recent poll said they would not pay for the checkmark. On the other hand, approximately 10 per cent said they were willing to pay $5 a month to subscribe, giving them the ability to read a limited number of tweets. For a company whose revenue is 90 percent generated from advertising, this should be a concern.

Benefits of X

That said, whilst there are changes some benefits do remain. The platform still allows for real-time communication, meaning that the short-form content and fast-paced continuity of X allow B2B marketers to build an audience. With X operating in real-time, engaging audiences can be as simple as responding to their questions or concerns and liking and retweeting their comments. Doing so helps B2B marketers build credibility and aids in audience growth and trust.

The major changes on X have proved to be inconvenient for businesses; however, X at is core is remaining a ‘news and trend’ platform. Users can continue to keep up to date via X and B2B marketers can analyse the trends and topics which engage their audiences, to generate new ideas for engagement in the future.

Coming to terms with the changes of X

Even so, major changes in any software platform can require B2B marketers to undergo a learning curve to understand and effectively utilise new features or functionalities. This could involve investing time and resources in training and education to maximise the benefits of the platform that doesn’t take into account the ramifications of adhering to data handling, privacy policies, or compliance regulations that could pose challenges for B2B marketers.

It’s important to note that the specific challenges faced by B2B marketers who want to continue to use the platform will depend on the nature and extent of any further changes X makes. But there is one certainty, if B2B marketers want to continue to use the platform, they will need to adapt and respond quickly and strategically to any changes to ensure their continued success in their marketing efforts.