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AdTech Reboot

An open love letter to Twitter (and Elon Musk) on how to save yourself.

Picture of Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times
Picture of Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times

I write this as a long time and unabashed fan going back as far as 2008 where I published many an article gushing to my marketing peers about Twitter as one of the most powerful communication channels a brand can use. My devotion resembled the zeal of the newly converted as Twitter quickly became my broadcast platform and the lens through which I experienced my world.

I now watch in horror as Musk seems to stumble about trying to understand how to lead Twitter. This is stunningly painful for me to watch as it seems Musk may not understand how vital Twitter is to many in terms of business and personal networking. The stumbling is pervasive and touches all operations but it is all centered on the BIG question: what is Twitter’s monetization path?

Twitter’s monetization mystery is not new but I sincerely wish Twitter and especially Elon MusK would ask us marketers who use Twitter as a vital link between our work and personal worlds. It is not just another platform that can be f*ck’d with for laughs or as an experiment but it should treated with the care commensurate with how important it is for many of us.

So Elon et al – I offer a clear monetization vision for Twitter that makes advertising on Twitter not just a “nice to do” as it is today but a “must do” it deserves to be. I know this plan will work because it is working now for our firm and the ad model fits Twitter like a “T.”  It involves the simple foundation of Twitter as a topic-centric platform and builds an ad business from there. Let’s begin as we’ve not a moment to lose.


To hack the advertising world, STOP asking engineers or consultants and ask a marketing hack – someone who has toiled in the trenches of the ad world and lived to tell the tale. No consultant or engineer can ever fake being a great marketing hack like the real thing because (gasp) most engineers don’t like the idea of advertising. They personally avoid advertising without understanding that great advertising enriches a user’s experience.  How do you expect to monetize Twitter if the people creating the advertising products don’t like advertising?

Believe it or not, great advertising on Twitter can happen if marketers are convinced there are great ad products on Twitter. To date, this has been one of the epic fails of Twitter management because they lacked imagination to understand where Twitter can deliver brilliant ad moments on a human scale.     


The hacking strategy for Twitter lies in giving advertisers the ability to ride the river of real-time traffic aggregating around topics. The subtlety here is that most ad campaigns work hard to “whip up” traffic but the hack for you here is that Twitter lets brands surf the real-time traffic that are naturally occurring.    

The potential to advertise in a real-time interest moment (via a TASP – topic ad serving platform) is for you to own and highly differentiated from what’s out there today. As it is, your “me-too” ad platform is meh with some interest-based/ keywords targeting capabilities doesn’t translate into a “must-do” for advertisers given the broader options like Facebook. In terms of engagement, your ad offering is like offering a surfer a wave created in a bathtub. Yawn.


Advertising is going through a paradigm shift from tonnage to quality; from demo targeting to topic targeting; from opacity to transparency and trust. This is a rare second chance for you because as the industry moves quickly toward real-time topic engagement with authenticated users, you stand apart as a topic-centric ad platform. No one is doing this to the level Twitter can… not Google or Facebook or Amazon. Through this seismic shift, Twitter can become the platform where advertisers can connect with audiences based on topics that are important to both brands and consumers. This data play makes you a genuinely critical part of an advertiser’s media mix.  

To break the code on optimizing ad revenue you need to think like a marketing engineer (not a software engineer). Here’s how.

1) Own real-time topic search traffic.   

This is meant literally – maybe even down to a search page (versus your current rather lame search window). People think in topics terms but Google makes them think in keyword terms – often a bad match. Google plays guessing games with topics with a wide range of results accuracy which also explains why Google does not really have a real-time topic (not keyword) ad offer.

Fully own the real-time topic search space because nobody can really compete. Your data already powers topic functions in other platforms but you’ve yet to use that data in your ecosystem. Delivering an excellent, real-time topic search function will drive more traffic.

That’s the opening and the first rung of the ladder to scale that damn 140-foot wall.

2) Real-time topic traffic will attract real-time ad dollars.  

Any good hack will tell you to use your opponent’s strength against them. Imagine then if you will, offering advertisers a way to buy dynamic, real-time topics that looks similar to Google’s PPC platform only directed against real-time topic traffic trends. Advertisers, for instance, can buy future topic trends when the topic hits a certain volume in “trusted” velocity. (Technically, programmatic is the hack to get there.) 

Google’s PPC is a “must-do” for advertisers. Twitter’s real-time topic advertising can be a “must-do” advertisers. This will involve a buying platform (ala a DSP) with topic based analytics built in.

3) Broaden base by tweaking user experience against a topic paradigm.

It is easier to find Twitter handles on Google than Twitter. C’mon.  Or if someone is looking for a link in a tweet they did – fahgetboutit.

The user interface has seen virtually no change in a long time and it shows. Twitter can’t become the “must-do” for advertisers until it becomes a “must-do” for consumers. Today, the user experience lacks good basic controls/ search/ management functions that lets users manage their Twitter experience within the context of topic vision. For instance, users should be able to organize tweets by their topics (another potential advertising moment); do a search WITHIN a person’s tweet stream easily or follower list and; be able to resolve troll issues better – all designed to increase trust.  If you want scale trusted engagement, then you need authentic way for people to control their Twitter experience.   

Let me end by acknowledging that Twitter may lack a “cool” head right now to recognize the vision. I speak from a position of chutzpah rooted in; A) our venture’s success at thriving in this topic-centric advertising world and; b) my distress at seeing your platform come crashing down whilst your salvation is so close within your reach. Advertisers trust topics as the engine for trusted engagements that can transcend the toxicity of ad tech today. I know this to be true through hard-won experience. If Twitter calibrates itself to fully deliver on a real-time topic experience for advertisers and users, Twitter will move from being a “nice-to-do” to an advertiser’s “must-do.”

Keep it real. Keep it real-time. Keep it authentic. Advertisers will reward you as a trusted advertising platform.

You can do this and I stand ready to help.


Your most worried and possibly STILL most devoted fan – @judyshapiro.