The Power of Putting People First for Brands

Caitlin Rush

Global Lead, Brand Safety Specialists at Twitter

Learning Objectives

When we put people first, we shift the way we solve problems. From adjusting business practices during a global pandemic to addressing evolving brand safety challenges, marketers can create sustainable, impactful business results by first focusing on fulfilling people's needs. Learn how your brand can do this with three easy steps, and how Twitter uses this framework to make their platform safer for people and brands.

Key Takeaways:

  • Why brand safety is really about people

  • How policies, products, and partnerships work together to create safer online environments

  • What brands can do to make people feel comfortable, secure, and confident

"When everyone feels safe to share their voice, great conversations can happen. "

Caitlin Rush

Global Lead, Brand Safety Specialists at Twitter


Hi, thanks so much for having me. My name is Caitlin Rush, and I lead the Brand Safety Specialist Team at Twitter. I spend most of my time working with marketers to help them understand the work Twitter is doing to be a safe and responsible platform and media partner. I’m excited to be here today to talk about how focusing on people when tackling business challenges changes everything.

It’s no surprise that, over the last year and a half, the global COVID 19 pandemic changed our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined before. As individuals, we needed to evolve the way we lived, the way we worked, and connected with loved ones. As businesses, we needed to reevaluate our service models and priorities. How do we continue to serve our customers, our employees, and their evolving needs? Ride sharing apps were hit particularly hard, facing an existential challenge as the world shut down.

When lockdowns began in March of 2020, no one was going anywhere. Everyone needed to stay home, and we had no idea when it would end. Suddenly, people’s needs changed. We didn’t need a safe ride home after a night out. We needed peace of mind to be tested to know if we were sick. We needed the reassurance that fundamental pieces of our lives like elections would remain intact. Eventually, once they were available, we needed access to vaccines.

Uber put people and their needs at the center of their response with their move What Matters campaign, urging people to stay home, and donating 10 million free rides and food deliveries to those most impacted by the crisis. Uber became enablers for testing, for voting, for vaccinations. They focused on how their service, the value that they bring to the world could meet our collective new societal needs with a remarkable shift in focus and problem solving, and it paid off. Not only did Uber see a 33% lift in positive sentiment on Twitter, but they saw their best ever quarter, and were recently recognized with Best in Show Honors at AdWeek Media Plan of the Year Awards.

This is exactly the shift we need to make in our thinking about brand safety, what I spend a lot of my time on, and the message I want to get across today. When we put people first, we shift the way we solve problems. In the past, we have always looked at brand safety through the lens of brands. How do we protect brands? How do we build them safe harbors? The brand safety is a complex problem, and rapidly evolving in ways that keep advertisers, agencies, platforms, and the entire media ecosystem reactively trying to solve each new variation of the problem. We run hard and fast towards solutions that are only reactive, not proactive. But what happens when we reframe brand safety to be about keeping people safe. We believe that a more powerful and sustainable solution is to put people at the core of all of the work that we do. The people who use our products and services, live in our communities, and work for our brands. These are the people whose voices shape our businesses by telling us what matters most to them.

For Twitter, this means grounding all of the work we do in our mission to serve the public conversation, and to protect the health and integrity of that conversation. Everything we do centers around people. When it comes to brand safety, this means focusing our efforts on a holistic set of policies that lead, products that protect, and partnerships that drive industry wide change.

We start with policies that lead. When everyone feels safe to share their voice, great conversations can happen. As mentioned, Twitter’s purpose is to serve the public conversation. Our rules and policies exist to protect that conversation, and the people having it from things like hate, abuse, and misinformation. We are constantly evaluating and evolving our rules to address emerging threats and improving the enforcement of these rules to ensure that nothing slips between the cracks. By focusing on making Twitter safer for everyone, we’re also protecting brands from the reputational damage of supporting hate speech or misinformation with their ad dollars.

Second, we focus on products. We intentionally build products with healthy conversations in mind, and create features to give people and brands more control over their experiences on Twitter. As an example, we recently released a feature called reply prompts, which simply asks people to think twice before sending a potentially mean or harmful tweet. You know what? 34% of people either reworded their tweet, or didn’t send it at all after being prompted. Simple changes like this can have a huge impact.

Lastly, this thinking shapes our partnerships. We can’t do this alone. Twitter seeks out expert public feedback to challenge and make us better. We’re also working with groups like the Global Alliance for responsible media to lead in this space, and set higher standards for the entire advertising industry.

So what does putting people at the center of everything look like for your brand? To answer this, think about what you can do to fulfill people’s basic needs. Essentially, at the end of the day, people want to feel comfortable, they want to feel confident, and they want to feel like they contribute. Here’s how you can help people to feel these three things. First, listen. Get out there. Hear what people are saying both online and off. You have a lot of tools at your disposal that can help you listen, Twitter being just one of them, along with solutions specifically designed for social listening like Brandwatch. Hearing what people say, how they feel from both your fans and detractors gives you a window into how your products and services are perceived and used in the real world, and can shape your promotion and messaging plans.


McDonald’s is really good at this. We see time and time again that they lean into social listening, discover what their customers are passionate about, and lean into the power of communities to inform things like famous orders, special limited edition meals that drive buzz and brand love. The BTS meal this spring was so popular and successful at driving traffic to restaurants. It gave McDonald’s its biggest week of the year. That is the power of listening.


Second, build your community. Listening is a great start, but leveraging what you hear to find your biggest fans, and create a true connection with the communities that care about you, challenge you, and show up for you gives you a competitive advantage and enables you to be bolder, more provocative, and more truly yourself. Leveraging your community will enable you to set principles tied to your brand promise and shape where and how you show up.


As an example, Ben and Jerry’s can be themselves and be so involved with important causes, because their fans know exactly who they are, and that they always have their back. They don’t waver and they don’t just show up in specific moments, but they meet their community where they are every day, helping them through good and challenging moments.


Third, showcase people with diverse voices. Brands have an incredible opportunity to celebrate, learn from, and support the people and communities who use their products and services, and so often lack critical reflections of themselves in the world. Authenticity is crucial. Don’t speak on their behalf. Hand over the mic, and give them a platform they may otherwise never get.


We saw this come to life with Oreo who shined a spotlight on the powerful impact of love and acceptance with their Proud Parent campaign. Oreo teamed up with National Coming Out Day and PFLAG, an organization that supports LGBTQ people and their families for this campaign, rooting it in authenticity and purpose. As part of the campaign, Oreo released Proud Parent, a film about a woman who brings her same sex partner home to meet her family for the first time. The campaign proved to have a lasting and powerful impact, resulting in a 34% bump in positive sentiment and beating engagement benchmarks by five times.


You can see with McDonald’s, with Ben and Jerry’s, and with Oreo, they were doing just what Uber did by putting people at the center of their strategies, and evolving how they solve challenges because of it. When we put people first, we shift the way we solve problems. Stay focused on people, what they are saying, what they are doing, and what they need from your brand. Leaning into the lens of people first, leaning into those that matter, and make our brands matter. We can all continue to proactively improve the conversation, and find ways to advance in our efforts to grow our brands, and remain relevant. Thank you so much for having me. Have a great day.

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