Photo: Illustration: Ellis Hamburger
This note is from BI Research, a new tech-industry intelligence service. The service is currently in beta and free. To learn more and sign up, please click here.Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has said that advertising is the centrepiece of the company’s business model.
But Twitter doesn’t want to run boring display advertising with big banners. It wants ads to feel unobtrusive and part of the system.
So what are Twitter ads, exactly? And how well do they work?
More importantly, how do they perform?
In this note, we look at the three types of sponsorship opportunities Twitter currently offers advertisers. We also look at some case studies.
TWITTER ADS: What Are They?
Twitter ads come in three flavours:
- Promoted Trends. Promoted Trends put a sponsored topic at the top of Twitter’s “trending topics” box, which reflects the most-discussed topics on Twitter at any given time.
- Promoted Accounts. Twitter suggests users for people to follow; promoted accounts puts these accounts at the top of the queue and are a way for brands to gain more followers.
- Promoted Tweets. This is the big one. Promoted Tweets are tweets that are ads. They show up at the top of searches on related topics, at the top of a user’s timeline when the user follows the account and, soon, everywhere.
Here are the details…
Promoted Trends are a sponsored version of Twitter’s “trending topics,” which are lists of what Twitter users are talking about right now. Brands buy placement at the top of the trending topics section (see screenshot at right).
Twitter promotes its trending topics heavily, on its website and in its mobile apps.
Companies can buy “Promoted Trends” by the day, per geography. Twitter was recently selling them for $120,000 per day, per geography.
The appeal of Promoted Trends is that they spark discussion among consumers to enhance the brand’s image. They also allow advertisers to drive Twitter users to their web sites (via links) and amass new Twitter followers. The latter will give the advertiser a direct communication channel with the Twitter unless/until the Twitter user “un-follows” the brand.
So, for example, in the screenshot above, Verizon has bought a “Promoted Trend” placement to take advantage of the start of the NFL season to promote certain services.
Other ways advertisers use Promoted Trends include:
- For events or product launches. For example, Twitter has been known to affect the conversation and buzz around movies, so studios can buy Promoted Trends around a movie that’s opening.
- To piggyback on an existing event. During Hurricane Irene, MyWeather.com used a Promoted Trend to promote itself next to tweets on Hurricane Irene. This is smart because the two services are related, and people are going to be naturally searching Twitter for updates on live news like a hurricane.
OK, so how well do “Promoted Trends” work?
The Bad: Social media can be hit and miss and ROI can be hard to track. In one case study of a campaign by Lexus promoting its CT Hybrid, two things went awry. First, because Promoted Trends show tweets from regular users alongside the brand’s tweet, they can show spam or derogatory tweets. Second, in the Lexus campaign, few people clicked on the link in the promoted trend, although Twitter would argue clicks matter less than overall “engagement” (retweets and replies).
The Good: Some companies have had success with Promoted Trends. An early case was Coca-Cola, which was the second buyer of a Promoted Trend. The ad generated 86 million impressions and a 6% engagement rate (retweets, replies, or clicks), both of which the company said it was happy with.
Another successful case study is Al Jazeera, which promoted its English-language Twitter account during the Arab Spring, SocialFresh writes. Al Jazeera, which wasn’t carried by US cable networks then, used social media marketing to get its online streams in front of American viewers at a time when they wanted Al Jazeera’s coverage.
Mentions of Al Jazeera skyrocketed after the Promoted Trend. Importantly, they also stayed high for a long time, suggesting that the Trend worked in putting Al Jazeera at the top of Twitter users’ minds:
After the Promoted Trend, @AJEnglish grew its follower count 10-fold:
To be sure, Al Jazeera’s success wouldn’t have happened without the Arab Spring and the global excitement happening at the same time, but on a real-time media channel like Twitter, it is up to brands and marketers to take advantage of what’s happening. Al Jazeera’s metrics after its Promoted Trend are still impressive.
The promise of Promoted Trends is a holy grail of social media marketing: The capacity for a brand to generate (mostly) organic social media conversations at will. It seems that the Promoted Trends product doesn’t provide this every time, but that when it does, it’s very effective. If Twitter can refine the product, they will probably have something that’s like crack to marketers.
Last we heard, Promoted Trends were sold for $120,000 a day.
Promoted Accounts are a tool with which brands can pay to gain followers on Twitter.This one is pretty straightforward.
Twitter already recommends people for users to follow. The recommendation is based on a simple algorithm: Twitter suggests that users follow people whom the people they follow follow.
With “Promoted Accounts,” brands can buy their way into the suggestion box and gain followers.
Twitter prices the ad per new follower. The price is set at auction.
Promoted Accounts make perfect sense. Brands are on Twitter to broadcast their message, and getting new followers is how they do that. A lot of ad spending on Facebook is driven by brands getting more fans for their pages; the same logic works here. And brand follows have already been commercialized with things like sweepstakes (“Retweet this and follow us for a chance to win an iPad!”). It’s an organic extension of the Twitter product that makes sense for everyone — Twitter, brands and users.
Twitter promotes its “Who to follow” feature heavily, with a tab at the top of every page. So “Promoted Accounts” are always in front of users. In the screenshot below, see the account at the bottom, with the small “promoted” icon underneath it. (Note: This writer has a browser add-on which changes “Who to follow” to “Whom to follow.”)
Promoted Tweets are the third Twitter ad product, and they are potentially the most powerful.They’re what Twitter expects to be its big moneymaker. Here’s how they work.
Promoted Tweets are tweets that are also ads.
They appear in three places:
- on top of search results for certain terms,
- on top of a user’s Twitter timeline if they follow the account that the tweet originated from, and, starting very recently,
- in the timelines of users who are NOT following the brand’s account.
Twitter has just begun rolling out the last kind of Promoted Tweets — those that appear in the timelines of users who aren’t following the advertiser’s account. According to industry observer John Battelle, Twitter believes putting Promoted Tweets in users’ timelines will be its big moneymaker.
Targeting here will be key, both in terms of advertiser ROI and user acceptance.
Right now, Twitter targets these tweets based on “lookalikes”: users who behave similarly to users who also follow the account. The company is going to have more targeting options in the future.
Based on the kind of Twitter accounts a user follows and other data like key words in tweets, Twitter will be allow advertisers to target ads based on:
- interests (“movies”, “consumer electronics”…),
- audiences (“influencers”, “conversationalists”…) and potentially,
Other obvious options include geotargeting and device targeting.
The broad rollout of Promoted Tweets suggests that Twitter is moving in the same direction as TV, newspapers, and other ad-supported media: people tune in to be entertained and informed. And like the other media, this content is presented with commercial interruption.
As with TV, people like to complain about ads, but the still watch them and are influenced by them. Whenever an online service does something, especially related to advertising, some people get up in arms but we doubt Twitter usage will be seriously affected by the impending broad advertising rollout. Both the history of other services and surveys of Twitter users suggest that when a service rolls out advertising, a vocal minority complains but usage is ultimately unaffected.
And as with TV, newspapers, and other media, impressions work. Twitter’s ad products are still at an early stage, but broader Promoted Tweets or something like them are clearly the path of the future.
If Twitter can get targeting and ROI measurement right, Promoted Tweets should be successful for advertisers and therefore the company as well.
This note was published as part of BI Research, a new industry intelligence service from Business Insider. The service is currently in beta and is free. To learn more and sign up, please click here.
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