A Guide To The Twitter Advertising Ecosystem

Twitter’s advertising efforts are analogous to Facebook’s efforts.

They are focused on in-stream ads, and also on leveraging naturally-occurring social activity on the site. 

This suggests something of an emerging consensus in social media advertising around the user stream as the ideal spot for ad placements and the focus of new ad products. 

Twitter has three primary ad formats:

  • Promoted trends. Promoted trends are sponsored versions of Twitter’s trending topics.
  • Promoted accounts. Twitter suggests users to follow based on the accounts you’re currently following. Promoted accounts puts you at the top of this list, aiming to garner more followers.
  • Promoted tweets. Promoted tweets turn a tweet into an ad. They can show up in a user’s stream or against a search.

Like Facebook, the brand’s account is central to any advertising initiatives. And like Facebook, it costs a brand nothing to sign up.

Because Twitter has a decidedly more impersonal and anonymous feel — you don’t need to use your real name and most users don’t personally know a significant portion of the users they follow — it may be seen as less intrusive for brands to advertise and place content there. 

Paradoxically, that might also make it less necessary for them to spend money on Twitter. It’s still too early to tell, but it may be that Twitter offers brands more of a chance to create viral advertising without paying for engagement. 

Promoted Trends

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One of the great things about Twitter is the ability to track the zeitgeist in real time. For many users, it is perhaps 

the reason to use the service. Twitter is aware of this, tracking the 10 most-talked-about topics at the moment, which are called “trending topics.”Twitter introduced “promoted trends” in 2010 as a way for brands to spur conversation around a certain topic, Since trending topics tend to be self-perpetuating — the popularity of certain trends fuel further conversation — this is an attractive proposition for brands.        

However, promoted trends have positive and negative attributes.

On the one hand, they approach the holy grail of social media marketing: generating genuine conversations around your products or services.

On the other hand, similar to other paid social media efforts, promoted trends can have an “AstroTurf” feel about them (they can feel like artificial corporate messages in a medium that thrives on authenticity and spontaneity). Furthermore, there is no control for brands over what develops around their hashtag. It could end up being the sort of constructive conversation brands want, or packed with spam and lewd comments. Trending topic hashtags are also a favourite target of trolls, or online users who post provocative comments just to get attention.

However, there is clearly some demand. Twitter is now charging $200,000 a day for promoted trends, up from $150,000 last year and $80,000 when they were introduced.   

The #ratesuckers promoted trend shown below exemplifies some of the pitfalls. When you click through the promoted trend, you are greeted with a promoted tweet from Progressive Insurance, cluing you into who was behind the trend.

Then, below that, are tweets from other Twitter users employing the #ratesuckers hashtag. 

“Rate suckers” refers to bad drivers that drive up the insurance costs of drivers with clean records, and it was intended to promote a discount for good drivers. However, that wasn’t clear until I clicked through to a website linked on Progressive’s promoted tweet. Furthermore, most of the user tweets on the promoted trend were either political, unrelated, or crude.

Promoted Accounts 

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Twitter can be a bit daunting when you first join. There’s a lot going on and it’s not clear who you should be following or why.

Twitter helps users by recommending accounts to follow in a box to the left of your tweet stream that says “Who to follow.” The suggestions are based on your current followers or interests.

Promoted accounts are a tool to feature prominently on this list and gain new users. (See image, left.)

Twitter charges for promoted accounts per new follower. Users set a maximum bid they would pay per new follower. Behind the scenes, Twitter’s algorithms automate bids so that advertisers pay as little as possible per new follower. If there is not much competition for the users they’re going after, they will pay much less than their maximum bid. Brands can target potential followers by interest, geography, and gender.

Promoted accounts are a bit like Facebook’s sponsored stories — brands are paying to garner more followers so they can put more of their content in front of them and, hopefully, spur conversation around that content. Promoted accounts are bait to draw consumers deeper into an advertiser’s ecosystem.

Promoted Tweets  

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Promoted tweets are tweets that have been turned into ad units.  

This is Twitter’s biggest initiative, similar to Facebook’s promoted posts and page post ads.

Again, promoted tweets guarantee eyeballs on your brand’s content.  

Twitter puts promoted tweets in user’s home timelines, search results, promoted trend search results, third-party Twitter clients, and on enhanced profile pages (these are Twitter profile pages for brands, which in 2012 were reportedly being priced at anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000.) 

Promoted tweets can work differently depending on where they appear. For example, promoted tweets in Twitter search results stay at the top of the stream, even as new tweets roll in. In a user’s home timeline, however, they fall down the page as new tweets are loaded. That’s an important distinction if a user follows 500 accounts and their stream is moving pretty quickly.  

Twitter lets advertisers target users by location, interests, gender, and device. 

The great thing about promoted tweets, from Twitter’s perspective, is that they are perfectly transferable to mobile. They are in-stream in the timeline and so appear front-and-centre on mobile devices.

Promoted trends and promoted accounts don’t enjoy that privilege. Users of Twitter’s mobile app must click away from the main screen (to a tab labelled, “# Discover”) to see promoted accounts and trends. 

Last year, CEO Dick Costolo said that mobile ad revenue now outpaces desktop ad revenues on some days.

The reason: Twitter’s product is well-suited to mobile and, as a result, its ad units are too. Promoted tweets are no more disruptive on mobile that they were on the desktop (and they’re not very disruptive to begin with).   

That’s key because a large proportion of Twitter’s U.S. users, about 35% according to comScore, are mobile-only. That’s much more than other social media sites, including Facebook, which has only 17% mobile-only users in the U.S. (See chart, below.)

mobile only to total

Keyword Targeting 

Twitter now also lets advertisers target users based on specific keywords in their tweets. Keyword targeting was introduced just last month, and according to Twitter, will allow advertisers to look in tweets for “signals of intent” and “reach users at the right moment, in the right context.” 

For example, if a user regularly tweets about coffee, a local cafe or coffee roaster can aim promoted tweets at them.   

This could be very powerful for Twitter, since its unique trait as a social network is it’s stream of real-time information. 

Before keyword targeting, the content of tweets was only one of many factors that went into user profiles. Now, a local coffee shop or roaster might geo-target an ad for coffee to users in the area in real-time, as they tweet about coffee.

Without the keyword-targeting feature, the advertiser might know that a certain user often tweeted about coffee, but wouldn’t be able to serve the ad at the right time — not to mention that they would miss out on hundreds or thousands of users who don’t often tweet about coffee, but might do so during the window of a keyword-targeted campaign. 

Twitter prices out advertising based on engagement, not impressions. Advertisers pay the company by the click or the number of retweets or favourites the tweet generates. In other words, Facebook’s recent move to CPA or cost-per-action ads is something that has always been a component of Twitter’s ad business. 

Video Ads 

Video ads would be a natural expansion for Twitter.

Twitter has been quietly rolling out video ad capabilities in recent months. The concept is pretty straightforward: The content owner embeds a video in a tweet, a sponsor shows a pre-roll ad, and the content owner and Twitter split the ad revenue.

Content owners would appear to have the upper hand in this relationship, since they have no reason to tweet video over Twitter, when there are so many other platforms for pushing out video. 

However, according to AllThingsD, Twitter is pitching that they can put the content in front of a receptive audience, thanks to proprietary analytics that help Twitter see what kind of video content its audiences like. 

That was part of the reasoning behind Twitter’s acquisition of Bluefin Labs last year. Bluefin is able to analyse Twitter chatter for clues into video audience sentiment and engagement. 

Up until now Twitter has mainly been used to comment on videos and TV. In June 2012, one-third of Twitter users were tweeting about TV. (See chart, above right.)  

It makes sense that short video clips could get traction on Twitter among TV audiences, sports fans, and celebrity-watchers. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

  • Twitter’s ad products mirror Facebook’s. The similarity of ad concepts will help marketers adopt Twitter more quickly, since many will see it as a next step after tackling Facebook. 
  • Keyword targeting for advertisers is key to Twitter’s ad efforts. Ads targeted by keywords will help Twitter exploit its unique selling point as a real-time news and information source. 
  • Video ads are another natural step for Twitter, which has sought to position itself as a perfect companion app for TV and video content. 

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