A few years ago when Twitter was in its infancy, company officials kept the m-word (monetization) at arm's length. Brand marketers, agency social media gurus, and anyone with an email address were all welcome to set up an account and start pinging away in 140 character bursts. But the idea that Twitter could be -- or would be -- a paid media platform was something the company just didn't talk about.
Still, without formal ad opportunities, some brands got Twitter almost right away. Others, it seems, are still wondering what happened. Over at Twitter, times have changed. In late September, The New York Times reported that the company was rolling out a new advertising model. There are no homepage takeovers or glitzy rich media banners (yet), but Twitter is now offering advertisers the opportunity to buy followers and insert themselves into trends.
"Twitter suggests accounts that people should follow, based on their interests, and will use the same algorithm to suggest accounts that advertisers pay to promote," the Times article stated.
Advertisers pay based on an interaction with the Twitter post. An interaction occurs when a user clicks on the link, forwards the post, or replies to it. The Times cited Dick Costolo (Twitter's then-COO, now the company's CEO), who said people have been clicking these ads at a rate of about 5 percent. So far, about 40 companies have paid to advertise on Twitter. Next year, Twitter says it plans to open up the platform to a wider group of advertisers with a system akin to Google's AdSense. Right now the idea of advertising on Twitter is still relatively new, so we asked some leading social media experts to weigh in on the topic, and what this means for marketers.
Awareness at 140 characters per second
If it's happening now, it's happening on Twitter. Like it or not, that's become a truism of our world. Want the latest information on political strife in Iran? You've got to go to Twitter. Want to know what everyone thought about the "Mad Men" season finale? Twitter. Chilean miners? You guessed it -- Twitter.
Twitter's title as the go-to destination for the most up-to-date information in an increasingly buzz-driven world is, from a marketing perspective, an absolute gold mine. What brand wouldn't want the opportunity to influence customers inside a clearing house for hot information, trends, and ideas? So when you talk about the opportunity to raise your brand's awareness in terms of "promoted tweets" or -- even better -- "promoted trends," you really can't beat Twitter right now, says Patrick Boegel, director of media integration at Media Logic. But there's a catch, and it could be a big one.
"Beyond tapping into awareness, [Twitter's] impact might be questionable," Boegel says. "There are two parts to the equation. First, finding a topic: Twitter recognizes as having enough activity to be a promoted trend. Secondly, whether or not users are logged into Twitter via the web, a Twitter app, or a third-party application. If a user is on Tweetdeck for desktop, great promoted trends are still visible, but on a mobile app such as Seesmic for Android it is not there. For the average advertiser in the entertainment world, that's not a big deal. But if you're attempting to purchase more than topical awareness, you may be losing valuable portions of the Twitter user base simply because of how they access the service."
While Twitter has been combating this fragmentation by trying to get users to come back to the site or use its mobile app, another potential pitfall also lurks on the awareness front, Boegel says.
"Users' first reactions tend to be curiosity, but when we step outside of our marketing hats and try to be objective as consumers of information on the other side, we all know it becomes easy to put on the blinders and tune information out," Boegel explains. "If you are in a larger, nationally available or 'several major cities' event-based business, the success potential and reach is certainly huge right now. A year from now, my guess is that first-wave marketers will have to work twice as hard to achieve the same results they are seeing in the initial stages."
Is it worth your money?
There's no question that a lot of people use Twitter, and there's no question that Twitter has a tremendous ability to take a message viral. But Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE, says he isn't certain that Twitter ads will really deliver value to marketers, even though he sees the platform as a fundamental part of social media strategy for all of his clients.
"The Twitter ad packages currently presented are not going to give clients the most bang for their buck," Shapiro says. "We equate promoted tweets with banner blindness. Once the gimmick wears off, it becomes that much harder for consumers to click. Twitter is an amazing marketing platform exactly because it is a free tool. The most successful Twitter campaigns have not been through ad spends but through creative marketing ideas, from offering discount codes, exclusive products, customization, or engaging content. We've found that our clients have much greater success and sustainable results investing $100K on an 'ideas' campaign than on a one-day Twitter trend promotion."
Are you thinking of your buy in the right way?
If you're buying followers on Twitter, it's easy to say that you're buying just that -- followers. That is, you're buying the ability to put your message in front of somebody, and hopefully influence them on an ongoing basis, or at least as long as your campaign lasts.
But what exactly does that mean? The answer depends on how you think about the media buy. And according to Jim Spinello, SVP of marketing and communications at rEvolution, it means using Twitter as a foothold for making a connection.
"If your advertising model is to buy, place, and move on, then Twitter is probably not the right investment," Spinello says. "Any buy on Twitter must be an engaged buy. It's not like buying a banner ad or broadcast commercial. Buying on Twitter is all about creating a dialogue and continuing the conversation."
Spinello's advice: Think of a buy on Twitter as a sponsorship.
"Buying on a platform like Twitter could be thought of in terms of buying a traditional sponsorship," Spinello says. "There's the cost of entry, but you have to invest/spend to activate your buy in order for it to be worth the initial investment."Of course "activating" your buy means that after the initial media spend, you have to ask: Then what? What will you do with these followers? Will you offer them a real world opportunity? Will you engage them in a conversation that exceeds a 140-character limit?
The point, according to Spinello, is that an ad on Twitter can bring people to your brand, but what you do after that will determine the real value of the exchange.