Twitter Bans Political Ads, Leaving Campaigns to Use Word of Mouth

twitter ceo says politicians should earn, not buy, audiences

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Twitter has chosen to nix political ads from the social media juggernaut, NPR reported Wednesday. This announcement stands in stark contrast to Facebook, which has allowed any and all campaign ads on its site—some misleading or even untrue. The move has left politicians facing the task of earning an audience through reputation.

Group of young business people on their mobile phones
Political campaign ads regarding the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election will not appear on Twitter. Photo by Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock

In a long series of Tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained his feelings on political campaign ads leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, including the notion that “political message reach should be earned, not bought.” He added that any aspiring lawmaker’s voice should be heard through the public following their account or retweeting their message. His statement implies that the alternative would risk the richest voices drowning out those that couldn’t afford as much advertising. It also prompts a look at why to prioritize word-of-mouth advertising as opposed to traditional advertising to spread the message about your business, whether running for office or not.

The Power of Word of Mouth

“Word of mouth is not just frequent; it’s also important,” said Dr. Jonah Berger, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “We vote for candidates that our friends endorse, try websites that our neighbors praise, and read books that our relatives recommend. Word-of-mouth [advertising] is the primary factor behind 20 percent to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.”

Dr. Berger gave two surprising examples to indicate the importance of word-of-mouth advertising. “A word-of-mouth conversation by a first-time customer leads to around a $200 increase in sales for a restaurant,” he said. “For books on Amazon, the website, a five-star rather than a one-star review leads to around 20 more of that particular book being sold.”

It’s impossible to overstate the difference this can make to small businesses. Whether a corner restaurant in a strip mall or a self-published author, an extra $200 of business earned in response to a simple positive review can alleviate holiday shopping concerns or pay for an unexpected service on the family car.

Why the Personal Guarantee Still Matters

Surprisingly, it isn’t celebrity endorsements or brilliant ad campaigns that give the best boosts in the long run.

“While being mentioned on shows like Oprah or the nightly news or big talk shows [makes] a huge impact on product success, in aggregate, online posts by regular people just like you and me have a much bigger impact,” Dr. Berger said. “In fact, while traditional advertising, or company-generated communication, is still useful in some ways, word of mouth from everyday Joes and Janes is more than 10 times more effective.”

The very simple reason for this, he said, is that we trust our friends more than we trust an advertisement. Some of this is due to the relationship between our friends and the products they endorse as opposed to the relationship between a commercial and its products.

“When we see an ad, we push back,” Dr. Berger said. “We say there’s no way that it’s as good as the company might say. Because ads always say their product is the best, they’re not really credible.”

“People trust their friends more because they know their friends have their best interests at heart.”

In recent months, political interest groups have begun murmuring about the importance of running for something rather than simply against it. And, much in the same way that we don’t go see a movie that’s advertised as “not as bad as the other movies in theaters right now,” they may be on to something—especially if they want to spread their messages on Twitter.

Dr. Jonah Berger contributed to this article. Dr. Berger is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a B.A. in Human Judgment and Decision-Making from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Stanford Graduate School of Business.